Viva la Revolucion!

by Jeanne

Cuba_map Friday night I attended a lecture featuring David Suzuki, a leading Canadian environmentalist.  In my view his lecture was a bit too general and simplistic for the environmental sophisticated audience.  However he tossed out an interesting statistic in the Q&A section in response to organics, food and consumption that piqued my interest.  Eighty per cent of food in Cuba is organic. 

In 1990 with the collapse of trade relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba was at the brink of a national food crisis. Also in place was a 30-year economic embargo by the U.S.  With the loss of the of its trading partner came the loss of importing
food. In addition, part of this import mix was $80 million annual dollars in pesticides.

Cuba was also faced with some of the same problems we face in America including mono cropping and rural-urban migration.

In "Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food and the Environment", Peter M. Rosset outlines the case study for sustainable agriculture in Cuba:

In response to this crisis the Cuban government launched a national effort to convert the nation’s agricultural sector from high input agriculture to low input, self-reliant farming practices on an unprecedented scale. Because of the drastically reduced availability of chemical inputs, the state hurried to replace them with locally produced, and in most cases biological, substitutes. This has meant biopesticides (microbial products) and natural enemies to combat insect pests, resistant plant varieties, crop rotations and microbial antagonists to combat plant pathogens, and better rotations, and cover cropping to suppress weeds. Synthetic fertilizers have been replaced by biofertilizers, earthworms, compost, other organic fertilizers, natural rock phosphate, animal and green manures, and the integration of grazing animals. In place of tractors, for which fuel, tires, and spare parts were largely unavailable, there has been a sweeping return to animal traction.

One of the biggest challenges faced by supporters of organic agriculture is the established agroindustry, which claims that organic, small-scale, sustainable methods of food production are not economically viable. The popular perception is that toxic chemicals, the demise of the family farm, and the consolidation of the control over our food system into a few, powerful, transnational corporations are all necessary if we are to feed the world’s growing population.

In a 2000 report Havana there were 8,000 organic gardens cultivated by 30,000 people and producing a million tons of food annually.  Gardeners are mostly growing lettuce, tomatoes, bok choy, onions, chard, radishes, cabbage and broccoli.  The government deregulated prices and the created farmers markets, which legalized direct sales from farmers to consumers. Some of the urban gardens, called organiponicos (state-owned urban gardens), were established as employee-owner cooperatives with the members sharing in all the profits made. Farmers markets followed next door to the garden sites throughout the city.

Cuba, with a population of 11, 141,997 (2000) has actively turned that myth promoted by corporate agriculture into a reality by proving that small to medium sized farms can feed a nation. 

Cuba Organic Support Group