Current Ideas / Dimas Castellanos
One hundred and twenty-five years after his death on August 11, 1888, the scientific results that the eminent chemist, physiologist, agronomist, industrial technologist and science writer Alvaro Reynoso y Valdez bequeathed us are still on the waiting list. While the official Cuban press pays exaggerated attention to events and people linked to politics and wars, it limits mention of Reynoso as part of the celebrated anniversaries without investigating his work or pressing for his contributions to become productive results.
Alvaro Reynoso, one of the Cubans who collaborated through science for the progress and formation of the basis of the Cuban nation, studied at San Cristobal (Carraguao) college, graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the Havana Royal and Literary University, continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he graduated in 1856 and obtained a doctorate, becoming one of the best chemists of his era.
From the earliest years of study he began to publish his scientific results: a new procedure for the recognition of Iodine and Bromine; diverse new combinations of ammonia in ferrocyanides; action of the bases on salts and in particular on arsenides; separation of phosphoric acid from its combinations with metallic oxides; the presence of sugar in the urine of sick hysterics, epileptics and its relationship to respiration; the effect of bromide on poisoning by curare (a poison used by Indians to poison their arrows); studies about the artificial breeding of freshwater fish, and others.
On graduating in 1856 some twenty of his works had been presented in specialist publications in France and Spain. He was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Madrid and the Royal Academy of the History of Spain, he received the Royal Order “Professor of Chemistry Applied to Agriculture and Botany” from the Havana General Preparatory School and the “Professor of Enlarged Organic Chemistry” at the Central University of Madrid, among many honors.
On returning to Cuba in 1858 with a laboratory endowed with the most modern equipment and instruments, an excellent mineralogical collection and a valuable scientific library, he took possession of the Chemistry Chair and in 1859 replaced Jose Luis Casaseca as the director of the Havana Institute of Chemical Investigations, an institution that he converted into one of the world’s first agronomic stations.
Parallel with his investigative work he dedicated himself to writing. In 1868 he began to collaborate as scientific writer for the Marina Daily, where he had a column in which he published articles about drinking water; he reviewed the first trial carried out in Cuba in April 1863 of the Fowler steam-powered plow, with which he began the mechanization of sugar cane in Cuba; he was a writer of the Annals and Memories of the Royal Development Board and the Royal Economic Society; he published in the Magazine of Agriculture of the Ranchers Circle on the island of Cuba and in other press organs.
Among his published works are: Details About Various Cuban Crops, where he compiled his contributions about non-sugar cane agriculture such as corn, coffee, cotton, tobacco; Progressive Studies on Various Scientific, Agricultural, and Industrial Subjects, a collection of articles published in the press about the cultivation of sugar cane in all its phases, as well as experimentation plans by the Institute of Chemical Investigations and the planting of sweet potatoes, yams, corn and rice destined for human and animal consumption.
In the middle of the 19th century, when Cuba was first in the world in production of sugar and the last in productivity, supporting his thesis that the true making of sugar is in the reeds, he devoted himself to resolving this contradiction. The results were gathered in his crowning work Study of the Culture of Sugarcane where he integrated all the related operations with the culture and harvest of the grass, from the negative effect of the logging of virgin forests to fresh grinding for avoiding alteration of the juices. This work published in 1862 was re-published in Madrid in 1865, in Paris in 1878 and in Cuba in 1925 where it was re-printed in 1954 and 1959 in addition to being published in Holland.
An aspect of his ideas which is barely mentioned, is that Reynoso considered the autonomous participation of the Cubans in the political estate reform of the colony as a legitimate demand. That’s why, in his systematic analysis he never avoided the topic of agricultural property. He considered, just the same as Francisco de Frias and Jose Antonio Saco, the need to establish a sugar cane agriculture with native small farmers and immigrants, where the incentive of ownership, much different from the slave system, was a basic component to push forward the modernization of the agricultural economy.
However, in the year 2001, when due to the continuous decrease in sugar production, less than 3.5 million tons, the then Sugar Industry Minister, General Ulises Rosales del Toro announced two projects to reverse the situation: one, to restructure the sugar industry aimed at achieving industrial performance of 11% or extracting from each 100 tons of sugar cane, 11 tons of sugar; and the other one baptized with the name of the distinguished scientist with the objective of reaching 54 tons of sugar cane per hectare. With both projects, as announced then, Cuba could produce 6 million tons of sugar (the amount produced in Cuba in 1948).
Towards that end, instead of taking into account all the elements which participated in the production process as taught by Reynoso, some 100 sugar factories were closed, with the land distributed for the use of other crops and sidestepping the damaging state monopoly on land ownership. The amount of 2002-2003 harvest – the first after the implementation of the “novel task and one of the worse of all times” – was 2.1 million tons, barely half of the production in 1919.
From there and until the present time the industry inefficiency, the unavailability of sugar cane, the low results of land usage and the high cost of production per ton has repeated year after year. In the last harvest, 2012-2013, the plan of 1.7 million tons was not reached for many reasons, but especially because of the unresolved problem of the land tenancy was attempted to be resolved through the leasing approach known as usufruct, maintaining the inefficient State as owner and the economy subordinated to politics and ideology; which shows not only in the sugar production but in the agricultural production and all facets of the economy.
Taken from: Diario de Cuba
14 August 2013