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Sustainable agriculture in Cuba

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Cuba is an island in the Caribbean, located approximately 100 miles from the United States. It is home to a population of over 11 million people, 78% of which live in urban areas[1]. Born out of necessity, it has become a leader in sustainable and urban agricultural practices.

Background[edit]

Prior to 1991, Cuba relied on the Soviet Union as a trade partner for almost all of their imported goods[2]. As the Soviet Union unraveled, oil imports decreased by almost 90 percent, from 13 million tons in 1989 to 1.8 million tons in 1992. Shipments of capital grade consumer goods, grains, and foodstuff declined and imports of raw materials and spare parts essential for Cuban industry ceased altogether. Fertilizer imports declined by 80 percent, from 1.3 million tons to 25,000 tons; animal feed supplies fell by 70 percent, from 1.6 million tons to 450,000 tons. [3] 

Special Period[edit]

This created a time of extreme hardship in Cuba and strict measures were enacted, that were generally reserved for wartime.  Since it was a time of peace, this period of time was officially dubbed, "Special Period in Time of Peace". It was marked by a 20% decrease of the average caloric intake of Cubans [4], and widespread food scarcity causing Fidel Castro to declare 'the food question' a number one priority in 1991.[5]

Restructuring Agriculture Systems[edit]

The Cuban government created the Department of Urban Agriculture and the National Urban Agriculture Group in 1994, who helped to restructure Cuba's model of agriculture from an industrialized, conventional model to a focus on small-scale, urban, and mostly organic techniques.  [6]


Urban Agriculture[edit]

With almost 80 percent of Cubans residing in urban areas one of the main initiatives of the agriculture groups was to create "new land". This "new land" came in three forms.

  1. Organoponicos. Organoponicos are characterized by raised beds on non-arable lands such as land that has been paved or has poor or contaminated soil.  The boxes are filled with soil and organic matter.  
  2. Huertos Populares. or Popular Gardens.  Are gardens that were created by taking vacant land and lots and putting them into food production.  Like the organoponicos, the gardens are state owned and cultivated by individuals or community groups. 
  3. Private Gardens were encouraged by the government with an extensive support system including extension agents and horticultural groups that offered assistance and advice. Seed houses throughout the city sold seeds, gardening tools, compost and distribute biofertilizers and other biological control agents at low costs, which would have otherwise been hard to come by. [7]

Today Cuba is filled with more than 7,000 urban allotment gardens that range from small organoponicos to gardens that take up entire city blocks. [8]

In 2002, 35,000 acres (140 km²) of urban gardens produced 3.4 million tons of food. In Havana, 90% of the city's fresh produce come from local urban farms and gardens. In 2003, more than 200,000 Cubans worked in the expanding urban agriculture sector.[9]

Organic Agriculture[edit]

With being cut off from a supply of fertlizers, pesticides and other inputs, Cuba had to default to organic and sustainable agriculture practices.  Peter Rosset of the Institute for Food and Development Policy states that this is “the largest conversion from conventional agriculture to organic or semi-organic farming that the world has ever known.”  On a national scale, Cubans are utilizing sustainable agriculture techniques including:

  • Vermiculture  Each organoponico has a worm bed for recycling waste and creating compost.  There are also approximately 175 vermicomposting facilities around compost that in 2003, created over 1 million tons of compost. [10]
  • Natural Fertilizers (such as composted horse manure)
  • Integrated Pest Management- Systems such as crop rotation, inter-cropping, and insect traps are used, as well as Centres set up by the government that distribute beneficial insects and botanically based pesticides.  These labs are called Centres for the Production of Entomophages and Entomopathogens (CREE). 


References[edit]

  1. http://www.indexmundi.com/cuba/demographics_profile.html
  2. Marlin-Bennett, Renée. "Sugar Trade: Contention over Rules". Food Fights: International Regimes and the Politics of Agricultural Trade. Taylor and Francis. 83-84.
  3. Pérez, Louis. "Cuba's Special Period". Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. Oxford University Press, 1995. 381-387.
  4. City and environment
  5. http://www.cityfarmer.org/cuba.html
  6. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/OrganicCubawithoutFossilFuels.php
  7. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/OrganicCubawithoutFossilFuels.php
  8. http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/280951_focus13.html
  9. Cuban Ministry of Agriculture
  10. http://www.monthlyreview.org/0104koont.htm