Marabú slowly devours Ciego de Avila’s farmland
A glance at the above false-color satellite mosaic of central Cuba shows croplands in a checkerboard, textured pattern of green and red hues corresponding largely with sugarcane fields, citrus orchards (around Ceballos) and other crops to the north, east and southwest corner of the picture.
There’s also a large homogenous green patch extending from the west and northwest part of the image to engulf the city of Ciego de Avila. This likely corresponds to pasturelands that are partially infested with marabú, an invasive thorny bush that forms impenetrable thickets and renders farmland unusable in a matter of a few years.
The detail above shows how the plant invades grazing land and makes it disappear under an thorny blanket, impenetrable to people and cattle alike.
Marabú infestation is one of the most urgent problems facing agriculture in Cuba. Estimates of the infested area range from 850,000 to 2 million hectares (2.1 4.9 million acres). That’s equivalent to 13% to 30% of Cuba’s total agricultural land.
Marabú (Dichrostachys cinerea) is an African plant, imported in the late 19th century as an ornamental. It was soon spread by cattle to all farmland.
The weed was kept at bay by private farmers using patience and hard work, but as most lands passed to state rule, machinery, fuel and chemicals did the bulk of the eradication job.
Things got much worse after the onset of the Special Period in 1990, when heavy machinery, fuel and chemicals to keep marabú under control vanished overnight. And after the sugar industry was downsized in 2002, the government abandoned one million hectares of sugarcane that were rapidly claimed by bushes.
Today marabú spreads at a rate of 43,000 hectares (106,000 acres) per year — way beyond what can be cleared under current conditions. Pasturelands are preferred by this nightmarish plant as cattle spread the seeds in their feces and germination occurs in a matter of weeks or months.
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