In Cuba, the ox is mightier than the tractor. An ox is viewed as a way to step up food production while conserving energy. Cuba may rely more heavily than ever on oxen to save fuel normally used by heavy machinery.
President Raul Castro is promoting the beasts of burden as a way for the economically strapped communist country to increase food production while conserving energy.
He recently suggested expanding a pilot programme that gives private farmers fallow government land to cultivate — but without the use of gas-guzzling machinery.
“For this programme we should forget about tractors and fuel, even if we had enough. The idea is to work basically with oxen,” Castro told parliament on the 1st August, 2009. “An increasing number of growers have been doing exactly this with excellent results.”
Though the island gets nearly 100,000 free barrels of oil a day from Venezuela, it also has begun a campaign to conserve crude. The agricultural ministry in late June proposed increasing the use of oxen to save fuel, as Cubans have seen a summer of factories closing and air conditioners at government offices and businesses shutting off to save oil. The ministry said it had more than 265,000 oxen “capable of matching, and in some cases overtaking, machines in labour load and planting.”
In the farming initiative that began in 2008, about 82,000 applicants have received more than 1.7 million acres so far — or 40 percent of the government’s formerly idle land. The programme seems to have slightly increased production of potatoes and tomatoes in season, but the government has provided no official figures.
Shortages in Cuba are not new. And neither are oxen. Thousands of Cuban farmers have relied on the beasts in the half century since Fidel and Raul Castro took over the country.
“The ox means so much to us. Without oxen, farming is not farming,” said Omar Andalio, 37, as he carefully coaxed a pair of government-owned beasts through a sugarcane field last week.