Sunday, August 12, 2018

Cuban success with "Arroz Popular"

Rice growing near Santo Domingo, Cuba (photo by Ziurdraude)

In Cuba, the "arroz popular" (or "cultivo popular") movement is a remarkable example of successful low-input production of rice by small farmers. Rice is a staple of the Cuban diet, and for decades was produced conventionally, with high inputs on large state-owned farms. In response to the crisis of the 1990s, small plots of rice were grown in otherwise unused areas, such as along roadsides or between sugarcane fields. By 2001, the annual production of this "arroz popular" had exceeded the conventional production of rice from large farms in Cuba. In 2008, 75% of the total national production of rice was "arroz popular".

"Fundamental to the Cuban diet, the per capita consumption of rice exceeds 44 kg annually or 265 g per day. The production of rice in Cuba developed for many years on large state farms and it was also one of the crops prioritized by the State. Then it seemed indisputable that to achieve self-sufficiency with this cereal it was necessary to resort to conventional methods of high inputs. Nevertheless, even during the 1980s, when inputs were available, the national demand could not be covered and it was necessary to import 40% of the rice consumed.  Production of this cereal with high inputs proved to be untenable at the beginning of the crisis of the nineties. The new program 'Popular rice' showed that self-managed and low-input agriculture could have a positive impact on national food self-sufficiency. The 'popular rice' production was, in its origins, like the urban agriculture in general, a movement for self-sufficiency. This cereal began to be cultivated in abandoned areas, in small plots between sugarcane fields, roadsides, etc. The movement grew rapidly and achieved unforeseen levels of production and efficiency. In 1997, while the Union of Rice Companies produced 150,000 tons, the 'Popular rice' movement achieved 140,600 tons and involved 73,500 small farmers who obtained, as a national average, 2.8 t/ha without the use of expensive inputs... In 2001, 'Popular rice' represented more than 50% of the total national production; in the year 2008, 75%."

-- Fernando R. Funes-Monzote, from Agricultura con Futuro: La alternativa agroecológica para Cuba, 2009 [translated with help from Google Translate]

Rice growing near Viñales, Cuba (photo by Elgaard)

Manual harvesting has a significant role in this rice production, since machinery tends to be unsuitable for the smaller fields. Studies done in Cuba have concluded that for plots up to 0.25 hectares (0.6 acres), manual harvesting is recommended as the most efficient method (as well as the most economical), and for larger plots of 0.25 to 1.0 hectare (2.5 acres), manual harvesting is still the most economical method.

Unfortunately for the farm workers in Cuba, manual harvesting is typically being done with sickles or machetes. This is one area where scythes can have an important role. (Another important role that scythes would have is to reduce dependency on imports of fuel, machinery, and spare parts that keep the machinery running.)  

With a scythe, rice is harvested at least 3 to 5 times faster than with a sickle (as measured during trials in India). This increased efficiency of manual harvesting with scythes will effectively increase the size of the field where manual harvesting is the most efficient and economical method, further reducing dependencies on imported fuel and machinery.

Beyond the improved efficiencies, the use of scythes is also friendlier to the bodies of the workers. Sickles and machetes require the worker to bend over or squat throughout the day while cutting, while scythes get the job done in less time while the worker is in a more-comfortable standing position.

Alexander Vido, the scythe advocate from Canada who brought scythes to India (along with Sy Schotz, as shown in this viral video), extends a request to Cuban farmers, Cuban agroecologists, and Cuban researchers, asking them to please contact him if they would be interested to see how scythes could be used in Cuba. He asks for an invitation to Cuban farms or research centers, where self-funded demonstrations or trials could be arranged (with all travel, lodging and food expenses paid by the scythe-using visitors from Canada). These activities would be non-commercial in nature, with the goal of increasing awareness of how this tool can benefit small farmers when used properly.

For more information, please contact:

Alexander Vido
71 Linden Avenue
Victoria, BC, V8V 4C9
phone: (250) 598-0588


Quote from Agricultura con Futuro:
La alternativa agroecológica para Cuba
by Fernando R. Funes-Monzote, 2009
pages 27-28

Studies done in Cuba:

"Technológias de cosecha y transporte de arroz (Tabla 3)
Segado o corte de las plantas:
Area hasta 0.25 ha para el consumo -- Manual con hoz...
Area hasta 100 ha para el consumo -- Segadora manual motorizada..."
Mecanización de la producción de arroz en parcelas y fincas pequeñas 
Francisco González Guzmán, Idaibel Navarro Rodríguez, Alfredo Sotolongo Domínguez 
Instituto de Investigaciones de Ingeniería Agrícola, (IAgric), Cuba 
Ingeniería Agrícola, ISSN-2227-8761, RNPS-2284, vol. 1, No. 1 (enero-junio, pp. 33-37), 2011

"...en áreas pequeñas hasta 0,25 ha, lo más eficiente es realizar todas las actividades manualmente y con la ayuda de la tracción animal. El segado de las plantas y la trilla debe hacerse manual.  Se siega con una hoz o machete una vez que el grano este en su madurez optima de cosecha (18 – 20 % de humedad)... Si la cantidad de semillas no es grande y no hay riesgo de perdidas por lluvias, animales u otras causas, se pueden secar al sol primero las plantas segadas y luego su trilla será mas fácil...La transportación de las plantas dentro del campo o al lugar de secado puede ser manual o con remolques de tracción animal.  Los productores individuales que poseen áreas hasta 1,00 ha, lo mas recomendable económicamente es realizar la siega de las plantas con la hoz y el machete, también en limitados casos con una segadora manual o motorizada..."
Tecnologías y nuevo equipamiento para la producción arrocera en Cuba. 
Autores e Institución:
Francisco González Guzmán, Pedro Castro García, Octavio López Sánchez, Idaibel Navarro Rodríguez, José Suárez León
Especialistas del Instituto de Investigaciones de Mecanización Agropecuaria. La Habana, Cuba

[40% of the 'Popular Rice' harvest in some areas of Cuba was done manually,
and the manual harvest of rice required 15 man-days per hectare.]
"Procesamiento de poscosecha del Arroz Popular
De acuerdo con el intercambio realizado con los productores del área de estudio, la situación más común de la poscosecha es la siguiente: ...En Camagüey, alrededor del 60% de la producción total es cosechada por combinadas pertenecientes a entidades estatales o a cooperativas. Cerca del 30% es cosechada manualmente y trillada por medio de trilladoras pertenecientes a productores individuales y menos del 10%, se cosecha y se trilla todo a mano..."
"En Yaguajay alrededor de 60% se cosecha con combinada..."
"Victoria, Yaguajay ... Corte manual... 15 hombre-día/ha"

Harvesting Rice with a Scythe (video from India)
"Using the scythe, we could easily manage to harvest between half to one acre of paddy [rice] in six hours of working, thereby saving a considerable amount of time and effort."

Photograph "Arroz" by Ziurdraude

Photograph "Rice fields in Vinales Cuba" by Elgaard

Monday, August 6, 2018

Combine vs Sickle vs Scythe

The scythe is the clear winner for harvesting grains in India, according to calculations by the Vikalp team (costs listed in Rupees):

Rent = Rs 1,500/acre
Labour = Rs 500/acre
Threshing costs = Rs 0 
Straw wastage = Rs 15,000 worth of straw wastage 
(roughly 30 quintals per acre)
Grain wastage = Rs 3,000-4,500
(roughly 2-3 quintals per acre)
Total cost of harvesting an acre = Rs 21,000 

Rent = Rs 0
Labour = Rs 3,000-3,500/acre
Threshing costs = Rs 3,500/acre 
Straw wastage almost zero 
(entire straw available as fodder)
Grain wastage almost zero 
(grain loss due to shedding is negligible)
Total cost of harvesting an acre = Rs 6,500-7,000 

Rent = Rs 0
Labour = Rs 600-1,000/acre
Thresing costs = Rs 3,500/acre 
Straw wastage almost zero 
(entire straw available as fodder)
Grain wastage almost zero 
(grain loss due to shedding is negligible)
Total cost of harvesting an acre Rs 4,000-4,500 

Furthermore, the above calculations don't include the social and environmental costs, which make the scythes even more advantageous:
Add to this the fact that harvesting with the sickle involves a lot of drudgery and harvesting with combines leads to social evils like unemployment and environmental hazards like “straw burning”.


Photos, calculations, and quotations are from Vikalp