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Deforestation is an environmental threat not even in Cuba alone but also worldwide. The effects that it causes are always in one way or another felt by the farthest of the States in the entire universe. To this effect, this paper addresses the impact of deforestation in Cuba and the solutions available to manage the impacts.
The political shifting dynamics of Cuba influenced the countries environmental aspects. The different political eras brought about great impacts to its natural resources. The changes in political dispensations in Cuba immensely influenced the environmental management of the natural resources throughout the Cuban development as a country.
Over the three political eras, which include Neo-colonialism influenced by the United States, the Revolutionary era followed closely by the coming of the Soviet Union communist regime, deforestation has been a major concern. Currently, the Special Period also has had great impact on the environment’s management of the natural resource. Cuba was known for its forestry cover that deteriorated with time.
Forests are very essential in the regulation of the climate and maintenance of the biosphere integrity. Forests are beneficial to humans in many different ways. For instance, they are an important source of timber and food. Additionally, some of the plants found within forests have a medicinal value.
They also provide good sports for recreational activities. The richness in ecosystem led to deforestation of the Cuban ecosystem. Research has shown that deforestation plays a great role in increasing anthropogenic carbon emissions. This is detrimental even to the human health in Cuba and its environs.
Causes of deforestation
One of the most significant aspects during the political eras in the nation that characterized the political development was the fluctuation in deforestation. Rudel (1994) notes “there is a socio-economic connection as far as deforestation is concerned. This is so because as the increase in the living standards leads to equal increase in the consumption of forest products” (p. 7).
The political dispensations as well as the socio-economic structures in Cuba were always significant in the management of the Cuban environment. This, in return, led to great destructions of the forest cover.
From the beginning of the 20th century, Giraldo (2007) says, “Cuba has experienced great improvement in the management of its environment demonstrating a vast improvement in the socio-economic situation of the country” (p. 98).
According to Hornborg, McNeill, and Martinez-Alier (2007), the connection between the environmental changes and the societal processes defined the political ecosystem that Cuba has gone through during the three political eras (p. 87). Cuba is among the best islands that one could ever want to live in though the Spaniard colonial landowners destroyed most of its natural resources.
They burned down forests and obtained from the ashes enough fertilizer to enhance the growth of the highly lucrative coffee trees. It was later that Cuba was transformed into a land that exported the largest number of sugar, tobacco and coffee. All of which was achieved through destruction of the forests to pave way for the monoculture agricultural venture.
According to the Government of Cuba, “the total forest cover fell from 89.2% in 1812 to 54% in 1900” (1993, p. 1). During the Spanish era, the forest cover fell by almost 35% due to the quest for timber. After the Spanish era, the United States took over bringing up an Amendment that ensured that they had the control over the Cuba’s natural resources.
This Platt Amendment caused the most deforestation. Cuba got involved with many countries for its sustainability that saw a lot of its economy get back on track. Later, Cuba was forced into self-reliance, which translated into over-reliance on agriculture leading to further deforestation to create more room for the venture. This led to destruction of water catchment areas, soil erosions among others.
The forests of Cuba under Spanish Colonization were seen as nothing more than “lumber to build sugar mills, firewood to fuel them, and sources of stunningly fertile soil” (Monzote, 2008, p. 45). Additionally, the Spaniards used the forests to build their ships and lumber destined for Spain.
They had no respect for the country’s natural state. With time, the population increased and this caused the need to expand the agricultural sector to cater for foreign markets and its bloated population.
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There was a decrease in timber production due to the increased human action to the forests. However, the increase in not only coffee but also sugar plantations helped to curb the extreme effects of deforestation in the nation.
The Cuba’s natural conditions revived in the nineteenth century and this led to the increase of deforestation to produce more sugarcane annually. The regeneration of the forest cover accounted for around 38 percent of the sugarcane production worldwide and around 25 percent of the total sugar supply (Hagelberg & Alverez, 2006, p. 24).
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Cuba exhibited a significant loss of its forest cover-38 percent. It was caused by the burning down of forests that occurred during the war that broke up that time. The social and political shift also led to deterioration of the forest ecosystem.
During the Neo-Colonialism, the United States managed everything and owned everything including the waters, the fertile lands for sugar cane production among others. It was during this period that degradation and deforestation was on the highest mark.
The merciless cutting down of trees to create more land for the sugar production was the benchmark in the Neo-colonial era. Additionally, exportation of wood and other forest products was very high. Moreover, charcoal, majorly used as the main source of cooking, destroyed the forests a great deal.
Deforestation in Cuba went a long way and many a time, the Cubans felt the need to reverse the situation though this was not possible then. There was a lot of foreign interference that hindered enactment of any conservatory law. It was in the year 1926 that President Machado approved the Decree 495 that prohibited any clearing of high woodlands whether private or government owned.
It was later enacted into law. Later on, the Revolution era brought about some equality as far as employment was concerned and improvements in education sector. The State took control over all the natural resources of the country and started saving forests and encouraging afforestation. Many policies were formed and the exportation of timber was banned.
When Castro got into power, he encouraged reforestation through construction of very many tree nurseries. However, poor education led to destruction of many seedlings. The forests cover nevertheless after training of the locals, increased by 5 percent. This increase in forest cover was because of the great management of timber harvest and reforestation.
Additionally, there was introduction of protected areas of forests with establishment of the first national park. The enactment of Law 33 enhanced the conservation of the protected areas. Houck (2000) says that, “the law outlines the rational use of natural resources pertaining to sustainable forest protection activities” (p. 56).
There were also establishment of legal frameworks pertaining environmental issues among which was the Law of Agrarian Reform. Additionally, there was the establishment of an advisory body called COMARNA that addressed forestry, fisheries among other areas. For every forest harvested, an equal quantity was planted.
The Special Period was majorly characterized by economic crisis that evolved by the Cuban State being dependent on itself for sustainability. During this period, there were no international ties whatsoever.
This led to the nation over depending on the forests for medicine, food, water and other needs eventually leading to more devastation to the forests. Deforestation surpassed afforestation efforts for people ended up depending on charcoal fully for fuel. Even so, there was a twenty-two percent increase in forest cover.
Graph 1. Forest Cover (percent) of Cuba’s Territory (World Resources Institute, 2003)
Policies to manage the impact
Additionally, some trees became extinct because of their over-usage like their leaves being used as fillers for pillows and mattresses and their trucks for construction of houses. Nevertheless, Cuba continued enforcing more stringent laws and policies for environmental conservation.
Some Laws included the Law of the Environment that addressed air, water, pollution, forests among others. Another legislature was the Forestry Act that ensured that the forest cover was addressed as well as providing framework for wood species preservation.
In order to satisfy the human needs in Cuba and the world at large, modification of the forest ecosystem was done. This coupled with the political interventions led to the destruction and construction of the Cuban forests. Cuba was known for its forest cover and many people depended on the forests for sustainability including non-citizens like during the Spaniard era where a lot of timber was transported to Spain.
It is clear that the population growth in the Cuban State brought about deforestation to create land for more arable farming than any other land use. However, the consequences of the farming brought about extensive deforestation and environmental damage (Williams, 2006, p. 32).
Later, colonialism and neo-colonialism aggravated the situation of deforestation. The situation worsened in the 1900 when the United States took ownership of the State managing everything including the people. It was until the State became sovereign managing all its resources without any interference from other countries that the forest cover got back on its feet again.
Forest management cropped up even in the education curriculums resulting into reforestation and even people started living as a community. Basic needs were provided that had demanded forest clearance like provision of alternative energies led to no more charcoal burning. Other agricultural techniques that demand lesser portion of land led to the conservation of the forests.
The improvement in environmental education that encouraged the central value of the forest ecosystems in Cuba, as well as the improvement in environmental law, policy-making and implementation led to sustainable forestry practices.
Additionally, deforestation, as an environmental concern with global effects, talks among the United Nations Forum on Forests have been conducted that will ensure a common forestry law.
The Law gives all the nations the freedom to maintain their forest cover and in case of a breach in the case, the Law allows punishment to the deviant nation accordingly. This will ensure that the countries that have great forest conservation techniques maintain the spirit because of their independence from political and social interference.
Giraldo, G. (2007). Cuba Rising in Major UN Indices. Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba Review, 6(2), 62-100.
Government of Cuba. (1993). Cuba: National Systems of Protected Area. Document: Information on Environmental Protection and Development Cuba, 10(1), 1-8.
Hagelberg, G. B., & Alvarez, J. (2006). Historical Overview of Cuba’s Costs of Sugar Production: Implications for the Future. University of Florida: Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Hornborg, A., McNeill, J. R., & Martinez-Alier, J. (2007). Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change. United Kingdom: Altamira Press.
Houck, O.A. (2000). Environment Law in Cuba. Land Use and Environmental Law, 16(1), 1-82.
Monzote, R. F. (2008). From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba: An Environmental History since 1492. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Rudel, T. (1994). Economics of Climate Change: The Contribution of Forestry Projects. Washington DC: Springer Publishing.
Williams, M. (2006). Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
World Resources Institute. (2003). Forests, Grasslands, and Dry lands- Cuba. London: Oxford University Press.