SF Bay Area

Organic Agriculture in Cuba

Family run organic farm called Finca Paraiso.

The Cuban revolution in 1959 brought sweeping land reforms and social programs aimed at eradicating rural poverty. However, agricultural policies were deeply influenced by the global trend toward industrial-corporate agriculture known as the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution has negative effects; it produces massive unnatural mono-cultures crops that require vast amounts of land, large quantities of water, petrochemical fertilizer, pesticides and farming equipment. Plus all this equipment requires burning fossil fuels, contributing to pollution, and global warming. The high cost of industrial-corporate farming is beyond the means of small farmers.

 The collapse of the former Soviet bloc between 1989 and 1991 led to a collapse in Cuba’s subsidies and foreign trade in a context of the crippling economic blockade maintained on Cuba by the US since 1960. GDP plummeted 35% by 1993 and there were critical scarcities of hydrocarbon energy resources, fertilizers, food imports, medicines, cement, equipment and resources in every sector.

The Cuban government responded to a food crisis in September 1993 by eliminating the majority of state farms and turning them into basic units of cooperative production. Much of the 80 per cent of all farmland that was once held by the state was turned over to the workers and re-established as worker-owned enterprises. Although peasants did not own the land, they were allowed to rent the land indefinitely and free of charge as long as they continued to meet production quotas for their key crops.

Food crops produced in excess of these quotas could be freely sold at farmers markets, thereby providing a price incentive for farmers to effectively use new technologies such as organic fertilizers, pesticides, compost, the integration of grazing animals, and crop-rotation techniques. Tractors were replaced with human and animal labor. Farmers also revived traditional techniques such as inter-cropping, earthworms and manuring in order to increase production yields.  

Public policies also supported urban organic agriculture through the Programa Nacional de Agricultura Urbana (National Programme of Urban Agriculture) in 1994, which was designed to encourage urban farmers to produce diversified, healthy and fresh products. Havanans transformed their vacant lots and backyards into small farms and grazing areas for animals. This resulted in 350,000 new well-paying jobs (out of a total workforce of 5 million), 4 million tons of fruits and vegetables produced annually in Havana (up tenfold in a decade) and a city of 2.2 million agriculturally self-sufficient inhabitants.2

While ensuring national food security under a trade embargo, Cuba’s transition to organic agriculture has also had a positive impact on people’s livelihoods by guaranteeing a steady income for a significant proportion of the population. Moreover, the lack of pesticides for agricultural production is likely to have a positive long-term impact on Cubans’ well being since such chemicals are often associated with various negative health implications such as certain forms of cancer.

Cuba is a Green/Peace Economy success story. With the loss of capital to support state-industrial-corporate petro-chemical depended, ecological degrading farms, lead Cuba to the creation of an alternative model of development that places ecology and the Cuban people at its core.

Sources:

UN Green Economy Success Stories.

1. Rosset et al., Surviving Crisis in Cuba : The Second Agrarian Reform and Sustainable Agriculture, (p.226), Available at:http://www.foodfirst.org/files/bookstore/pdf/promisedland/12.pdf
2. Andy Fisher, The Exceptional Nature of Cuban Urban Agriculture, (2010), Available at:http://civileats.com/2010/04/21/the-exceptional-nature-of-cuban-urban-ag…

Helen Yaffe: Cuba’s green revolution-achieving sustainability.

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