When many countries in the world prioritize organic productions, Cuba applied them urgently due to the special period. Recovering it, but above all not damaging it further is at the center of the debates
“To be fair, with chemistry the plant responds faster, but with organic fertilizer better quality is achieved. For example, the tomato obtained with the chemicals is larger. However, with organic ones the quality is remarkable: the peel is softer, less acidic and juicier ”.
This is how the farmer Gaspar (Nardo) Brito Cepero, producer of different varieties of seedlings in the town of Ceballos, municipality of Ciego de Ávila, whose patio is a National Reference in the Urban Agriculture Program, told this newspaper about his experience.
This guajiro, who has one hectare cultivated completely with organic fertilizer, was one of the many questioned in search of answers about its use in Cuba, an initiative known since ancient times that became general throughout the country when the special period forced to look for alternatives to produce in agriculture.
The haemorrhage of chemicals that Cuban soils received for years, the waste of these, to the point that some were even used to "cool beers", was abruptly cut off by the East-European collapse.
With an import of 80 or 90,000 tons, today the purchase of chemical fertilizers has been gradually recovering and reaches about 165,000 tons. But the future predicts that this figure could continue to grow.
It is no secret to anyone that with the reduction of these chemicals during the special period, the yields of agricultural products also decreased. And it was organic fertilization, as an alternative, which made it possible for production not to decline completely.
This variant even allowed the soil to recover a large part of all that organic matter that it had lost for decades due to its overexposure to chemical products, following a model where without industrial fertilizers it was hardly possible to sow.
Today, given the possibilities of rescuing the production of nitrogen fertilizers with the plant that is being built in Cienfuegos, the expansion of the production capacity of Rayonitro Matanzas and that of ammonium nitrate in Nuevitas, it is necessary to think in parts.
Undeniable is that chemical fertilization can achieve really high benefits in the crops to which it is applied, but there is a risk of deteriorating the soil in the long term, in a country that has more than 75 percent of its lands considered little productive and with its soil as the most affected resource, as recognized by CITMA authorities. Figures from that agency indicate that 60 percent of the soils are degraded, which has serious effects on agricultural yields.
«There are many farmers who use organics, but there is no awareness or knowledge. People are not psychologically prepared to use organics. With chemicals you get great yields and with these profits. However, the productions obtained with organics have higher quality, but they are not recognized. In other words, the prices still do not benefit agro-ecological productions, despite the fact that they are clean and do not harm people, "says Avilanian producer Gaspar (Nardo) Brito Cepero.
This situation, paradoxically, contradicts the country's initiative to promote agroecological production, which, however, does not find a monetary differentiation when it reaches the national market.
Also, although the misuse of chemical fertilizers is penalized, those who prioritize organic ones are rarely rewarded with better prices, not even taking into account that they are safeguarding the soil.
This is the case, for example, in Guantánamo, a province in urgent need of improving its very eroded soils, which today uses whatever resources nature and traditional productions provide to use as organic fertilizer; Such are the cases of coconut carapace, cocoa acorn, coffee husk and to a lesser extent, sugar cane cachaça.
In fact, the use of earthworm humus, the so-called compost, in this territory alone amounted to 150,000 tons in the past year, an advance that corresponds in turn to the rise of urban agriculture in the territory, which is increasingly demand more compost.
Only for the production of humus, Guantánamo currently has about 400 centers, between large, medium and small. And the accelerated development of the production units extends to the CPA, UBPC, CCS, farms, organizations, all the organoponics and intensive gardens, as well as numerous individual farmers and homes, says engineer Teudis Limeres, director of the Station Provincial of Soils.
Limeres explained that more important than the figures are the knowledge and the increasingly widespread application of these fertilizers in the municipalities, through an organized program, which also entails the efficient use of technology to produce them with quality.
Guantánamo, for example, has five centers of vermiculture of national reference, and has a production plan of 1,080,000 tons of compost, as well as high figures for obtaining biofertilizers such as azotobracter, rhyzobium and phosphorin, aimed at improving crop yields.
This concern about agro-fertilizers at Guantánamo is neither fortuitous nor exaggerated. During the years that the country had a shortage of chemical fertilizers and used organic matter as an alternative, it was of great value not only for its fertilizing action, but also for healing the soil.
But although this "solution" worked very well, these "green manures" offer low levels of the potential elements that the plant needs to grow and reproduce. Therefore, a large quantity of these products is required for the crop to offer the same performance as when a chemical fertilizer is applied.
Given the increase in chemical fertilizers entering the country, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Soil Institute have made it clear that their policy is not to enhance one over the other, but to reach a balance in their use.
Dagoberto Rodríguez Lozano, director of the Soil Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, assures that «there is a diversity of crops that due to their short reproductive cycle and high yield potential, would never achieve high benefits only with organic fertilization alternatives.
"We would have to go to the use of chemical fertilizers, based on real soil studies, but with a renewed concept: integrated fertilization."
This balance between the chemical and the organic is still a dream in many places. Studies in the country have resulted, according to researcher Olegario Muñiz, that "chemical fertilizer is conveniently used when the doses to be applied are known according to the type of soil and the problem it has."
“The use of humus, compost and biofertilizers can reduce limiting factors and have growth stimulants, but if we combine both types of compost, it is more convenient for the soil. That is a renewed trend, not only in our country, but in many other Latin Americans.
That is why the Ministry of Agriculture, faced with the possibility of acquiring certain quantities of chemical fertilizers in the coming years, maintains the position of preserving the production and application programs of organic and biological fertilizers, because if we did not, we would fall into the abuse of chemical agents.
Currently, according to researcher Oliverio Muñiz, more than 75 percent of Cuba's agricultural soils are affected by at least one limiting factor that restricts production, such as low organic matter content, acidity, stoniness, compaction, poor drainage. , salinization or others.
If we take into account that the intensive use of chemical fertilizers is considered among the factors that most influence the acidification of Cuban soils, it will not surprise us that the Soil Institute reports a total of 3.4 million hectares affected throughout the country. country, represented by 14 types of soils.
Only in the western region these lands occupy 25.48 percent of the area; 28.91 percent in the central region, and 9.89 percent in the eastern region.
That is why the strategy, at least at the national level, seems to be clear in numbers. Reports from the Soil Institute indicate that in 2008 there will be an increase in the amount of chemical fertilizers that are introduced into the country, but there are already around 6 million tons of humus, and 15 million tons of compost.
But what happens in practice? Does the peasant, the direct producer, know what is the best fertilizer to use? Do you have accurate data on the soil you work with and what it needs?
Old maps, a lost world
One of the factors that acts contrary to the intentions of the researchers and the proper application of fertilizers, is that the agroproductivity studies date back to 1989, and the control of fertility cycles have decreased throughout the country after the special period .
Although according to Miguel Soca, deputy director of Technical Services at the Soil Institute, "sampling was never stopped, the number of samples being studied did drop, and there are severe damage to logistics and laboratories."
The maps that were made in 1989 have gradually lost their validity, and although today we want to apply a fertilization that takes into account the levels that the soil really needs, in 2008 these values are not valid because they are outdated, especially those of fertility , erosion and poor drainage, as they are constantly changing. Hence, constant monitoring and modernization of data is required.
In 2007, according to Miguel Soca, 80,691 hectares were sampled from all over the country. If we analyze that the number of hectares planted is 3.5 million, this sampling, to have a high level of updating, still leaves much to be desired. It is also supposed to be done frequently, taking into account climatic events, to be able to adjust the dosage of chemical fertilizers, compost, humus and others.
To this is added that the previous data are only of agricultural productions that receive fertilizers, those strategically promoted, such as those of various crops, rice, citrus and coffee, which according to the director of the Soil Institute represent only 20 percent of the total of crops in the country. What happens in the rest of the soils?
Monitoring the conditions of a tropical country like ours requires strong investments, a consistent laboratory logistics that is now just beginning to improve, through the services of 13 laboratories still victims of the impact of the special period.
Organic, Biological and Chemical
"The fertilizers that Cuba's soils receive the most today are organic ones," was the response of all the specialists to questions related to the subject.
This statement seems true when we observe that the production of green manure is increasing. This year, for example, 6 million tons of worm castings and 15.6 million tons of compost have been obtained, both for traditional and urban agriculture.
"Of course, it is definite that more organic fertilizers are produced than the chemical ones that are bought, but in recent years investments for the latter have increased," says the deputy director of Technical Services of the Soil Institute.
It is true that in some crops such as potatoes or tomatoes, organic fertilization is not enough, “since it can solve production levels perhaps up to 30 or 40 percent. That is why the idea of integrated, organic, biological and chemical fertilization arises ”, says the specialist.
The country fundamentally bases its chemical fertilization on carriers such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium supplementation, especially for intensive and extensive agriculture, which mostly buys these components abroad separately or integrated into a formula.
There are also formulations that are made in Cuba, based on agrochemical studies on the island. "By raising the fertility of the soils, we know in which parts of the country there is more nitrogen, less potassium, more phosphorus, and based on that condition a mixture is formulated and the crop that carries it is recommended", explains researcher Muñiz .
Carrying out these formulas has made it possible that there is not a "fertilized" recipe for all lands, or for all crops, but depending on their characteristics. Even doing it in Cuba would save the country a lot of currency. But the installed capacity of the fertilizer factories today does not give an answer to formulate what is being imported, for which they are bought already mixed and that reduces their effectiveness.
Studies have also been carried out in the country to reduce imports through the use of phosphate rock and zeolite, thus applying national alternatives that act as soil improvers. But "native" solutions, including the use of minerals such as calcium carbonate, which counteracts the acidity of the soil, are charged by "national" suppliers in "convertible currency", causing many of the companies that have this problem they cannot solve it on their lands.
Everything is not so gray, because the solution is being sought through the subsidy by the State or the signing of agreements with the Ministry of Basic Industry (MINBAS) so that these products can be purchased in national currency. At the same time, chemical amendment programs with the use of dolomites, magnesite and phosphoric rocks, phosphate limestone and zeolite, widely used and known in agriculture, are examined.
And it is that despite the increase in the obtaining of fertilizers in the country, the demand is still very high, for which they do not supply enough and Cuba continues to deliver to the soil one of the lowest NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) indices of Latin America, according to FAO data.
Biological products such as phosphorin, rhyzobium, azotobracter, microrriza or azospiril, which have had very good acceptance among farmers, have unfortunately decreased in their volumes due to a logistics problem in the laboratories. Last year the plan was only fulfilled by 89 percent, due to the lack of reagents, glassware, supplies and equipment.
Law against order
The protection of the soil resource has been the subject of permanent concern of the Cuban State. Proof of this is the creation of educational research and development institutions, and the state service provided in this branch.
However, the intensive use of soil by agriculture has caused soil degradation, loss of its initial properties and of many of its physical and chemical qualities, which are manifested in low crop yields.
The National Soil Conservation and Improvement Program, funded by the State, includes approximately 22 actions to protect this resource and then, with the application of organic matter, chemical amendments and with the collection of obstacles, control the damage caused in areas that they have lost their productive potential.
To measure the impact that this program has had, research has been carried out on crops and it has been appreciated that in about 20 years the soil has recovered some of its indicators. For example, organic matter has risen, Ph has shifted to more suitable levels, the physical condition of the soil has improved and the productive potential has increased.
The program receives approximately 15 million pesos from the State, although for this year it is expected to increase, with the growth also of the shares.
Last year 554,000 hectares were planted already benefited by the program, and work was carried out in nine prioritized basins in the country, including for the first time that of Mayarí. Some 154,000 hectares also benefited from the Turquino Plan.
This program has been aimed essentially at conservation works, drainage works, sowing across the slope, living barriers and plant covers, carried out by the same company, but subsidized by the State and controlled by the Soil Institute. Even so, the program lacks a lot, as problems such as the salinity of the soils or acidity still have to be solved.
The Ministry of Agriculture and the Soil Institute have also given their contribution, not only legislative and regulatory in the use of fertilizers, but also in training, explaining and convincing producers why it is not convenient to apply overdose.
In addition, Chapter 1ro. Decree 179, on the standards of application and quality of fertilizers, organic fertilizers and amending materials for agricultural purposes, is being modified at this time, and sanctions and fines for noncompliants will be intensified.
The soil examination system, which formerly reached the province, was lowered as of 2007 to the municipality and to the company in some cases. Operational work controls are already in place at production sites through municipal technicians.
«There are 145 technicians, in 144 municipalities; We also have soil technicians in companies, and in the UBPC a movement of activists is being created, in charge of using Decree 179, from which they are empowered to impose fines, when there is illegality or misuse of the land, "he explained to JR the deputy director Miguel Soca.
However, these and many other measures still seem insufficient, largely because the soil will take many years to recover, and to a large extent because the economic pressure to produce more makes many turn a blind eye to regulations and standards. and seek in any way to increase their profits.
Even if they are state producers, when they are strongly questioned for not obtaining what is expected of them, no one is surprised that they prefer to "shake hands" with chemical fertilizer, fast guarantor of higher rates, rather than balance with organic, which more convenient to the ground.
The right balance between the two, reflected in research and documents, then depends on many questions that must be analyzed in depth.
We must also weigh the criteria of those who are directly in the field, such as Nardo, for whom the difference in yields between organic and chemical crops in the cultivation of seedlings is not so great, and to top it off, the abuse of chemicals could harm the population. .
«I see the greatest impact on people's health. With organic ones, you have the security that you are eating clean food. Also, lately I've seen chemical-based pest treatments that make me wonder. For example, with the avocado bug, which to combat it, they drill holes in the bush where they inject the chemicals, and that takes away the useful life of the plant. For me that is a great danger.
Sonia Regla Pérez Sosa, journalism student, Luis Raúl Vázques, Lisván Lescalle, Marianela Martín and Amaury E. Del Valle, published in Juventud Rebelde, Cuba.