Cuba Rediscovers the Value of Root Crops

Crop productionMarketing and market information


What makes a crop valuable?

Today I am going to talk about how the people of Cuba rediscovered the value of root crops. In Cuba, taro, potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes and other root crops had lost popularity in recent times.

But for many years – in fact, for most of Cuba’s history – farmers grew a large quantity of root crops. These crops were highly valued because they were nutritious, tasty, plentiful and grew well in Cuba’s climate.

Thirty years ago many farmers stopped growing these important root crops. Why?Harvey Harman, a farmer who shares ideas and information with the Farm Radio Network, asked why this happened. He learned that the government of Cuba had encouraged farmers to grow crops that were considered more valuable – export crops such as sugar cane, tobacco, coffee and pineapple. It is true these crops had more cash value. But they didn’t feed local families.

So to feed the Cuban people, the government imported food such as meat, dairy products, bread and pasta. People’s diets changed.

But then, in 1989, trade with other countries almost stopped for political reasons. Much less food arrived in the country. The government declared a food crisis. Without imports there wasn’t enough food for everyone, because of course, farmers had stopped growing basic food crops. It was time to start again.

Today farmers are growing root crops and other staple crops again. And the government supports them. No longer are these crops considered second class – they are valuable and their production is a priority. They grow well and they help to feed the population.

Does this story sound familiar to you? Perhaps you now grow crops for export – crops such as coffee, sugar cane, tea, tobacco, pineapple and banana. You may not grow so many vegetable and root crops to feed your family. You might be eating a lot of imported food such as bread, pasta, and dairy products.

Remember the problems of the Cubans and how they learned the hard way the value of the old crops. It makes sense to plant and use crops that grow well in your climate. Your parents, grandparents and generations before them carefully observed and selected the best crops for your region.

Consider growing root crops again. They are nutritious. They are tasty. And they store well without refrigeration.


Contributed by: Harvey Harman, Operator of Sustenance Farm, North Carolina, USA. Based on interviews with farmers, gardeners and government workers in Cuba.