Roundup: Concerned over climate change, Cuba seeks to protect crops

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HAVANA, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Cuban authorities are working to mitigate the effects of climate change as it results in flooding, drought, acidification, salinization and soil erosion and leads to smaller harvests in the island country.

Unexpected variations in sowing and harvesting periods, alterations in the dynamics of pests and disease, and the extinction of animal and plant species also affect the country's agriculture sector.

Droughts are longer and more frequent now in Cuba, with dry landscapes advancing from eastern to western Cuba, while extreme weather events are intensifying.

Cuba is especially concerned about hurricanes because of their direct impact on agriculture, said Sergio Rodriguez, director of the National Research Institute of Tropical Viandas (INIVIT).

"We have to continue designing strategies to prevent or mitigate the impact of these meteorological events. Diversifying production with crops that are more resistant to cyclones is the way to do it," said Rodriguez, who is also a member of the country's parliament.

Building windbreaks, for example, could be another solution.

"There are useful plants for human consumption that would fulfill the same function, such as tamarind trees. We must look for alternatives, because what can't happen is that every time a hurricane whips across our fields, we lose all the bananas," he said.

About 76 percent of Cuba's arable land does not have very productive soil, a situation compounded by high temperatures that vary little between night and day.

Crops such as rice, potatoes and tobacco, and pig farming, all central to Cuban agriculture, are particularly vulnerable to higher temperatures.

"Each centigrade rise in temperature means a 10-percent reduction in yield," said Rodriguez, who advocates adopting innovative techniques, including mixed crop-livestock farming, to protect and boost production.

Cuba needs a strong and diverse agro-industry suited to the characteristics of each territory to guarantee the availability of vegetables even out of season, he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, has designed a series of strategies, known as Life Task, as part of the State Plan for the Confrontation of Climate Change.

The goal is to present a comprehensive program to prevent and confront threats and vulnerabilities in the short- and long-terms.

Life Task prioritizes safeguarding agriculture and forestry in 73 towns located along a coastal margin vulnerable to "saline intrusion," where saltwater can contaminate freshwater aquifers due to storm surges or rising sea levels.

Cuba's agricultural surface measures 6.6 million hectares, roughly half of which lies in those 73 towns, and more than one third is vulnerable to saltwater infiltration.

Its agriculture is also affected by an aging and obsolete irrigation system, and poor management of land with water availability.

Climate change, according to experts, could cost Latin America and the Caribbean around 100 billion U.S. dollars in losses a year by 2050, taking into account smaller agricultural yields, and damage from floods and droughts. Enditem

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