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There's no hunger in Cuba?

The hunger map developed by the World Food Program to monitor food security globally states that there is not.

A man rummaging through a garbage bin, Old Havana, 2016.
A man rummaging through a garbage bin, Old Havana, 2016.

In Cuba there is no hunger … at least this is what can be inferred from the hunger map developed by the World Food Program (WFP) to monitor food security globally through a platform that is updated in real time and provides reports on the date of each consultation.

According to what one can observe on the map, Cuba appears in a light green tone, which means that food shortages on the island are moderately low in most of the territory and, in a few areas, low or very low. That is, the percentage of people suffering from insufficient food consumption is, supposedly, between 10 and 20%.

This conclusion clashes, however, with the data issued by the Social Rights Observatory, which, in July 2021, found that 73% of Cubans considered their diets, and those of their families, deficient, adding that 50% of respondents reported having two or fewer meals a day.

And, although the nutritional value of food is not being discussed, it is possible to state that the discrepancy is very significant between the data provided by the hunger map and the findings of the Cuban Observatory of Social Rights' survey. So, how does the WFP obtain data for the island, and how reliable is it?

According to the WFP, there are three possible ways to collect information about food consumption in different countries around the world: first, through continuous monitoring via Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI); second, through a predictive model based on machine learning that estimates the food security situation; and third, through the Proteus composite index, which measures food security in 185 countries.

Only 36 countries in the world have data collected through telephone surveys; the other 70 countries for which reports are issued show the records based on predictive analysis; in the rest of the countries the WFP is unable to collect data and, therefore, takes the Proteus index as a reference.

Thus, is possible to state that the inconsistencies in the data regarding Cuba and its food insecurity are the product of the methodology used by the WFP, taking into account that the island falls in the second group of countries, to which predictive analysis is applied, based on population density, rainfall, vegetation status, conflicts, market prices, macroeconomic indicators and undernourishment, among other variables.

When looking at the data presented on the hunger map, for Cuba the main cause of the measurement's failure is found: although in Cuba, as a result of the "Ordering Task" in 2021, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) disappeared, the platform shows that the exchange rate remains constant at 24 Cuban pesos for each CUC or dollar, when the CUC disappeared and the dollar went from 65 pesos in October 2021 to 105 pesos in March 2022, without taking into account that this currency was prohibited.

Thus, the data that the WFP uses to make the predictions is erroneous and does not allow us to gauge the reality of what is happening in Cuba; although inflation appears in the model, the exchange rate remains fixed and does not allow us to record Cubans' loss of purchasing power in the national currency. Not to mention measures such as the MLC stores created by the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel, which have served to divide the population between those who have access to foreign currency and those who only receive income in Cuban pesos.

Although Artificial Intelligence can be very useful to food security monitoring and early warnings, it is worth asking why Cuba was not among the countries that obtained data through telephone surveys, when it had been recognized on several occasions by officials at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for its food-related tasks.

The answer is, surely, that this would involve recognizing that we are dealing with a dictatorship, and any attempt at independent monitoring would run into State Security, which would surveil the people who could participate, the answers that these people could provide, and, therefore, the results that could be found. In any case, analysis reveals that the WFP's decision to use Artificial Intelligence promotes false beliefs about food security in Cuba.

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