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The Rise and Fall of Dairy Cows in Socialist Cuba

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The Cuban revolution of 1959 represents in some sense a reaction against the traditional and omnipresent dominance of sugar cane agroindustry in the countryside and national economy. The first agrarian reform of 17 May provoked reaction from estates under foreign and local ownership and the confrontation with the US government, who supported their companies and maintained a secular control over Cuba’s economy. Consequently, the revolutionary government moved towards new alliances with the communist block and proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution. With this new support and because of difficulties with programmes for agricultural diversification and industrialisation, from 1964 there began a new age of sugar exportation under the control of the State, as an engine of the economy. At the same time, the government developed programmes for other crops and the modernisation and diversification of livestock production to create the basis for industrialisation. Until the 1980s, the intensification of Cuban agriculture depended on the huge increase of mechanisation, chemical fertilisation and irrigation in order to increase yields and replace human and animal labour. Besides increasing agricultural exportation, the goal was the growth of local food supply, for example of animal protein sources. This model had some achievements, but in parallel increased dependency on external inputs and created different environmental problems. Finally, the vulnerabilities of this model were evident after the crisis of the Cuban economy in the 1990s, when the support of the former Soviet Union ended. Intensive agriculture suffered a big collapse, mainly in the export-oriented crops and intensive livestock markets, opening a new age for an agricultural model less dependent on external inputs, with more attention to local resources, and the beginnings of some level of recovery from centuries of ecological deterioration in the rural landscape.
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Keywords: Cuban revolution; environment; export-oriented crops; livestock; sugar cane

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2016

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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