The author has known Jose Antonio Espinosa (Ñíco), president of the “Camilo Cienfuegos” sugar cane cooperative in Bahia Honda, for some thirty years.
In the 1980s he implemented an idea she had observed when visiting the Romana sugar mill in the Dominican Republic: the use of free-choice cane juice and a restricted amount of soybean meal for pigs, only Ñíco didn’t have soybean meal on the cooperative, so he planted, and boiled soybeans. In the year 2000, Dr. Norman Uphoff from Cornell University presented the Cubans with a new method for producing rice, first developed in Madagascar, called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), renamed in Spanish, el Sistema Intensivo de Cultivo Arrocero (SICA).
Ñíco followed the advice on SICA, improved the cooperative’s paddy yields substantially, and ended up having to practically double his concrete, rice drying pad! Now, in 2012, smack in the internet age, which Ñíco with his eighty plus years has avoided, he is the leader for the Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative in Cuba.
When Ñíco first heard of SSI in June of 2011, he had only one idea in his mind: what a great system for “repairing” his cane fields after the harvest, filling in gaps where individual plants had died. When he was a youngster, his father’s cane fields used to last 20 and 30 years, but no longer. In the coop, no one speaks or reads English, however, when they opened Dr.
Biksham Gujja’s “Manual on SSI” in their computer, the pictures were enough! They immediately started a bud-chip nursery. The first cane saps were planted on September 11th, 2011, in a single hectare, on a non-irrigated plot, with spacing of 1.4 m x 0.6 m between seedlings in the row. This cane should be harvested in February 2013, and Níco has already estimated 100 t/ha compared to his overall average this current year of 58,2 tons.