Updates on SDG 8 in Cuba
The United Nations (U.N.) Division for Sustainable Development Goals grades member countries on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One can discover the most direct links to potential poverty in a country by analyzing the economy and labor market. The Sustainable Development Report from May 2022 provides updates on SDG 8 in Cuba.

What is SDG 8?

SDG 8 focuses on economic growth and decent work. The factors that influence updates on SDG 8 in Cuba include the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth, the unemployment rate, potential victims of modern slavery and “fatal work-related accidents embodied in imports.” Previous updates on SDG 8 in Cuba also showed progress. Both the 2020 and 2021 Sustainable Development Reports showed that Cuba had met SDG 8 and maintained it.

How Did Cuba Do?

The most recent updates on SDG 8 in Cuba come from the 2022 report, which once again, shows Cuba achieving the goal despite economic setbacks in recent years.

In the last decade, Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) averaged a growth of about 2% a year, according to the World Bank. The Caribbean island nation’s GDP had not seen negative growth in the 21st century until a slight dip in 2019. Like most countries, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a steep drop in GDP in 2020. After recording a -10.9% GDP in 2020, Cuba rebounded slightly in 2021 with a 2% growth in its economy.

The unemployment rate in Cuba is also relatively low, only hitting 3.87% in 2020.  The 2022 Sustainable Development Report places Cuba’s unemployment rate at 2.5% in 2022. Trading Economics predicts that, by 2023, the unemployment rate will drop to 2.2%.

According to the Sustainable Development Report of 2022, 3.8 out of every 1,000 Cubans fell victim to modern slavery. This number likely links to accusations of modern slavery against Cuba in relation to the nation’s international medical outreach program. The most recent allegations pertain to doctors, with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s rapporteur making an official inquiry in November 2019.

Based on reports from Cuban doctors themselves, the United States alleges that Cuban doctors working in other countries are overworked and endure underpayment in the international medical assistance program that brings billions to Cuba each year. The U.S. also alleges that Cuban doctors have to leave their families behind in Cuba to discourage defection while abroad.

As for the factor of fatal work accidents embodied in imports, the 2022 Sustainable Development Report notes 0.2 per 100,000 Cubans. This data is consistent with the 2020 and 2021 reports, indicating stagnation in work-related fatal accident rates.

Potential Progress on SDG 8 in Cuba

One beacon of hope that Cuba is leaning toward to further its economic growth and recovery is the tourism industry. Despite the United States embargo from the Kennedy administration, Cuba used to welcome about 4 million visitors each year from across the globe before the pandemic.

As pandemic restrictions ease, the tourism industry is seeking to capitalize on increased travel. The Cuban government has dedicated 24% of its 2022 budget to tourism, focusing on building new hotel rooms as well as relying on entrepreneurs in the country to bolster the uptick in tourism to the island.

The United States easing travel restrictions to Cuba will help increase the number of visitors to the country. According to an announcement in May 2022, while U.S. citizens cannot travel to the island for tourism purposes, those traveling to Cuba for research or meetings can enter the country.

The State Department announced on May 17, 2022, that it will allow flights from the U.S. to land at other airports in Cuba going forward, lifting a restriction that only permitted flights to land at the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

Barring any unforeseen setback, Cuba expects to increase its GDP by 4% in 2022, according to Prime Minister Manuel Marrero in a report from December 2021. Cuba could maintain SDG 8 for next year by increasing GDP, keeping unemployment low and maintaining the improvements presented in the 2022 Sustainable Development Report. This would mark a small victory for a nation battered by economic stagnation and sanctions from its neighbor to the north.

– Emma Rushworth
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in Cuba
Since the end of the Cold War, food security in Cuba has been a difficult feat. Though the island country still imports 70 to 80% of food requirements, the implementation of creative farming solutions helped Cuba cope with chronic shortages by becoming more self-sufficient. The growth of these practices coupled with social protection programs helped Cuba nearly eradicate hunger in the last decade.

However, Cuba struggles with food insecurity now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic caused shortages in food imports and U.S. sanctions resulted in the inability to produce adequate farming harvests. Facing these challenges, Cubans demonstrate their resilience and their ability to adapt and overcome the struggles they face.

Cuba’s Farming Movement

Cuba’s farming innovation dates back to the end of the Cold War when the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the loss of Cuba’s largest trading partner. At the same time, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Cuba that restricted its food imports even more. These two factors culminated in an 80% loss of international trade, leading to a dangerous food shortage that inspired Cuba’s organic farming movement. To stave off hunger and malnutrition, Cubans turned to organic farming in urban and rural areas. Small and often family-operated urban farms brought nutrients to the inner cities while rural farmers focused on generating a sustainable and high-yield output of staple crops.

To avoid having to rely on imported farming supplies, Cuba’s organic farmers use local supplies in practices like worm compost, biopesticides and soil conservation. Through these measures, Cuba grew its farming sector and became a pioneer in sustainable agriculture, even leading some experts to believe that other countries could successfully apply Cuba’s technique. However, factors such as obsolete farming technology are still limiting Cuba, leading to low productivity and high post-harvest losses, and a minimally diverse diet that contributes to malnutrition. Despite its limitations, Cuba’s organic farming movement has overall contributed to growing food security stability in the last two decades and has become a model for other communities.

US Sanctions and COVID-19

In 2020, food security in Cuba has once again come under intense stress, as the COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with tighter U.S. sanctions. Overall, Cuba’s COVID-19 response has been effective in controlling the virus, but diminished food imports affected food security. To make matters worse, sanctions have disabled Cubans from efficiently producing their own food. The U.S. has held trade embargoes against Cuba since the 1960s, but restrictions have escalated in the last few years. The restriction that is currently impacting Cuba’s food crisis the most is a sanction imposed on companies that transport Venezuela’s oil to Cuba. This oil shortage is making it difficult for farmers to power tractors and other machinery, preventing them from efficiently tending to their crops.

Facing another food crisis, Cubans are once again turning to self-sufficiency and innovation. In an effort to conserve oil, some farmers are returning to traditional methods and utilizing oxen to plow fields. Others are changing the crops they plant and opting for lettuce and cabbage, which are easier to plant and harvest by hand than Cuban staples like rice or black beans. Many residents are repurposing their yards and planting crops like sweet potatoes and other root vegetables to replace staple crops.

Government Reform

The Cuban government has made efforts to support the farming sector and improve food security, but the state’s highly centralized structure is hampering food production by imposing too many controls on farmers. In the past, the Cuban government made efforts to improve food security, such as through social protection programs that include access to monthly food baskets, quality school meals and maternal health care. However, these programs rely on imported foods, causing them to strain the national budget and to be susceptible to disruptions in imports.

It has also made state-owned land easily available to increase the number of farms on the island. However, Cuba’s farming revolution’s strides often go to waste, because the state is responsible for purchasing and distributing food and has received criticism for wasting food and disincentivizing production. As a result of these concerns, Cubans are currently hoping that the current food crisis will push the government to reform its food system, which remains highly centralized.

Cuba has historically struggled with severe food insecurity and frequently has to innovate to feed its residents. Its farming practices have saved Cubans in times of serious need and are doing so now after food supplies have dropped dangerously low due to the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened sanctions. Despite their resilience, Cubans are urging for food system reforms to promote food security in Cuba.

– Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr