Thursday, October 29, 2009

Food Security Focus of New UN Programme

CUBA: Food Security Focus of New UN Programmes
By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Oct 29 (IPS) - Three new international cooperation agreements
channeled through the United Nations system in Cuba are aimed at
strengthening food security, especially in the poorest parts of the country.

"Thanks to the joint work of the international community, the United
Nations and the Cuban government, we have been able to provide more
assistance in such important areas as food," the United Nations resident
coordinator in Cuba, Susan McDade, told IPS.

"Four years ago it would have been difficult to imagine this kind of
collaboration," achieved by means of "better coordination" among U.N.
agencies, which has made it possible to mobilise resources towards
sectors of development identified as priorities by Cuban officials, she

McDade, who is from Canada, said the three agreements involve a total of
35 million dollars for projects that will have an impact throughout the
country, but with an emphasis on the easternmost provinces that cover
one-third of the island.

That part of the country, which includes the cities of Las Tunas (662 km
east of Havana), Holguín (743 km), Granma (744 km), Santiago de Cuba
(861 km) and Guantánamo (905 km), is the least developed part of the
island, and the consensus is that it must be given top priority in
development aid plans.

Many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted by the
international community at the U.N. general assembly in 2000, have been
achieved in Cuba, while others are on the way to being met, said McDade,
who is also the resident representative of the U.N. Development
Programme (UNDP).

But "some eastern provinces and municipalities are not making the same
progress," she pointed out.

A study by the National Statistics Office (ONE) on progress towards the
MDGs in eastern Cuba made it possible for U.N. agencies and local
authorities to identify which areas should be especially targeted in
development efforts, including maternal health programmes, promoting
greater access to food, and defence of the environment.

Some of the problems in eastern Cuba are caused by the lack of a habit
of eating vegetables rich in micronutrients and iron, shortages in
protein, especially among the lowest-income sectors, and a higher teen
pregnancy rate.

Studies show there is no "chronic hunger" in Cuba, although there are
certain levels of anemia and scarcity of micronutrients in some segments
of the population, especially children under two, young mothers, nursing
mothers and people with chronic health problems.

The eight MDGs set a 2015 deadline for halving extreme poverty and
hunger rates from 1990 levels, achieving universal primary education,
promoting gender equality and maternal health, reducing child mortality,
combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental
sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

Fighting anemia

The first of the programmes mentioned by McDade, which will involve 8.5
million dollars in aid, is focused on "support for the fight against
anemia in disadvantaged groups in Cuba," which will directly benefit the
24 poorest municipalities in the five eastern provinces and the western
province of Pinar del Río.

That initiative will provide financing for a dairy company in Pinar del
Río to expand production in order to make an iron-fortified porridge
which includes milk, to be provided to children between the ages of six
months and five years, pregnant women, and other people facing a risk of

Boosting decentralisation in the countryside

The second project, called "support for new decentralisation initiatives
and production stimulation in Cuba," will include seven million dollars
in aid to bolster the participation of the small private sector as a
dynamic agent in local development. Individual producers and
cooperatives from five municipalities in five different provinces will
be the beneficiaries.

"This programme is aimed at promoting decentralisation in agriculture,
in line with the government's new policy of promoting economic
activities that contribute to import substitution," said McDade, who
added that small farmers involved in the programme will be provided with
tools, credits and facilities for repairing tractors, among other services.

Both initiatives will be partly financed by the MDG Achievement Fund
(MDG-F), whose main donor is Spain.

The MDG-F is a U.N. instrument that backs up national efforts to meet
the MDGs, fight inequality and increase active participation by civil
society in social and economic development.

Diversification of agriculture

The third agreement mentioned by the U.N. resident coordinator will
involve 20 million dollars in aid from the European Commission,
channeled through the UNDP, up to Sept. 30, 2011, with the aim of
diversifying agriculture.

The plan is to strengthen local food production capacity, while
improving farm management and the availability of local produce in 27
selected municipalities. In addition, efforts will be made to improve
quality and quantity of skilled farmers in another 10 municipalities.

The government of Raúl Castro has made the recovery and increased
efficiency of the agriculture sector, whose difficulties were aggravated
by the damages caused by three hurricanes last year, one of the top
priorities of his government.

The total economic losses caused by the hurricanes were estimated at 10
billion dollars.

The U.N. system worked hard to mobilise international humanitarian
support to help this Caribbean island nation get back on its feet in the
wake of the hurricanes. McDade, however, whose nearly four- year stint
in Havana is coming to an end, says this is one of the pending challenges.

"Although we all hope that Cuba will never again be whipped by three
hurricanes in one month, we can imagine that it will continue to be
vulnerable to such disasters. Looking towards the future, the United
Nations has to perfect its capacity to mobilise more swiftly on such
occasions," she said.

Cuba as well as other nations in the region "are facing tremendous
challenges caused by climate change and its effects," said McDade. "In
my four years here, we have had equally serious problems of flooding and
drought in the eastern region; I saw both extremes."

She said the main climate change-related challenge facing Cuba is
designing an adaptation plan, which involves rational, sustainable use
and management of resources and the inclusion of environmental
considerations in economic planning, among other aspects.

"The key question here and in any country is that the plans are drawn up
at a national level, but the implementation takes place at a local
level, which means close coordination between central and local bodies
is required. I believe Cuba has the capacity to do this, but it is an
area where the U.N. system would like to work more in the future," the
U.N. official said.

U.N. cooperation in Cuba covers programmes and projects in areas of
local human development, natural disasters and risks, the environment
and energy, health and food security, all of which are in line with
priorities identified by the government.

This year McDade will finish her mission in Havana, where she was posted
in February 2006, and will travel to Uruguay to head the U.N. system in
that South American country. (END/2009)

CUBA: Food Security Focus of New UN Programmes - IPS (29
October 2009)

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