When Reyna and twin daughters Liudmila and Liuwitza took over their piece of land it was nothing but a lifeless field of wood-like weeds Cubans call “marabu.”
It took them a year to clear it and plant crops.
“We decided to get a farm because the food situation here is a bit difficult,” she says. “I could support myself, but I also have to think of my grandchildren, my daughters, my family, and my community.”
Wearing a white straw hat to block the afternoon sun, Reyna, 65, shows how the farm has started to pay off – for the family and the community near Bartolome Maso nestled in the Sierra Maestra mountain range in southeast Cuba.
“We have 65 goats and sheep on the farm, and a cow that has given birth twice. From her we get milk – not only for our own consumption but also to supplement the diet of local children, because there is no milk in the shops for them. We also produce yucca, corn, bananas and other fruits and vegetables that we eat and provide to the cooperative.”
Reyna applied for a grant under a 2008 law that distributes idle state land to people willing to farm it – part of a series of reforms to reduce Cuba’s dependence on food imports. She also joined one of many cooperatives that are part of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).
Supported by Oxfam since 1997, the ANAP works with cooperatives to encourage and help women become food producers. They learn environmentally-friendly farming techniques and participate in workshops on economic empowerment and gender-based violence.
‘We are equal’
Reyna is a leader to other women farmers. She is independent, outspoken, and never misses an assembly.
“I want to know what is going on firsthand and if I don’t agree, I say so. We have to be independent and make men understand that we have the same rights and that we are equal.”
Although she still faces such big challenges as obtaining a much-needed irrigation system, Reyna is optimistic. She hopes a recently-signed agreement to breed and sells pigs will bring in extra income to reinvest in her farm.
“We just started not long ago and the results are not that big yet because at the beginning everything is an investment. But we are confident in the future. We have seen the results in other cooperatives and they have been very good. We will keep working together to improve our situation. It’s the only way.”