Posted May 24th, 2009
By Fernando R. Funes-Monzote, PhD., Agro-ecologist
The news that the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) will soon be introducing certain transgenic species and plants on a commercial scale in Cuba has met with optimism by some and concern from others. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the population has not been informed. Unlike some other countries, there has not been a national debate in Cuba about the production and consumption of transgenic foods. Some even say that we have been consuming transgenic food for some time without knowing it. It seems that CIBG will soon be receiving a license to cultivate transgenic corn in Cuba on thousands of hectares and that the introduction of the technology has the complete support of the State.
As a scientist dedicated to agriculture both Cuban and worldwide, I believe that we need an open and profound debate regarding the use of transgenics for food production in Cuba. My relative ignorance of the sophisticated techniques and biotech processes used to create the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) is, I believe, compensated by my knowledge of agro-ecology. I write this analysis convinced that without recognizing many of the environmental-ecological, economic, organizational and social phenomena related to agricultural activity, it is impossible to design an effective strategy for technological development. I am also certain that there is no single technology that can, by itself, solve the agricultural problems here in Cuba or in any other country. This is why we need an integrated/holistic focus that will allow us to make conscious and holistic decisions.
In this analysis I do not wish to antagonize, judge or devalue the work of scientists that, from their perspective, believe that their contribution can help the country’s agricultural development. I have no doubt about the scientific competence of those involved in the Cuban biotech project, nor do I doubt the competence of the authorities in charge of putting the proper biological security measures in place. However, I do believe that it is necessary to consider certain relevant agro-ecological factors before making any decisions that might put the health of the human population and our ecosystems at risk.
The problems facing Cuban agriculture do not lie in the technology itself, but rather, they are intimately linked to the way that the natural resources and materials available are used and the conventions of farmer’s lives. The large-scale irreconcilable socioeconomic and environmental problems of monoculture and conventional agriculture impede the potential development of agro-ecology, and should be attended to immediately so that the doors will be definitively opened to a new Cuban agriculture.
The future of Cuban agriculture will depend on the model used by humans, their needs, aspirations and capacity for transformation being at the center of the priorities chosen. Cuba’s experience with transgenic crops will be similar to those of other countries, where agriculture has less and less of a future, displacing entire populations from the countryside as their land and their ability to develop in a healthy and sovereign manner gets ripped away from them. The agro-ecological models offer a mosaic of options to solve each problem and an alternative for future food production for the world and the Cuban population. This agriculture should be designed and sustained by the farmers carrying it out, with just, equitable and supportive conditions, which in turn will guarantee a better world for present and future generations.