Peasant Agriculture and Environment in Cuba

Peasant Agriculture and Environment in Cuba

By Ms.C. Alberto Matías González

Parents instilled in their children that they should be professionals, that any job was preferable to being a peasant. From a young age, children were told to be doctors, surveyors, or anything else related to the urban industrial world.

Cultural transformation, peasant agriculture and the environment in Cuba: 45 years of Revolution

The issue of the peasant has been taken up by social theory from the most diverse perspectives and research disciplines, allowing to form a theoretical framework that gives light to many of the questions raised today about a class condemned, according to many, to "disappear" , but that it continues to exist and as studies indicate its recognition and legitimacy in today's society is strengthened.

It is indisputable that there are many differences among the peasants of different times and regions, depending on the crops they practice, the techniques they use, the links they establish with the rest of society, the climate and the relief where they live, the belief systems established between them, at the time and social systems, etc., but despite the diversity of the material and cultural supports in which they develop, there are common elements that identify them and that at the same time facilitate an approximation conceptual.

Generally, the peasant is understood as one who has some access to land (Bartra, A., 1998) who works on his own, using the help of his family and focusing his attention on guaranteeing subsistence and survival, "the only characteristic shared by all peasants throughout the world "(Berger, J., 1979).

Within established agricultural practices, those developed by peasants are recognized because they have many points of agreement with current proposals for sustainable development for agriculture for having cultivated for centuries a tradition of spontaneous sustainability that conventional agriculture has not completely erased.

In the Cuban case, the evolution of peasant agriculture and its environmental impact has been characterized by the incidence of its own cultural factors. Describing those that we consider most significant is the intention of this article, emphasizing the stage of the Revolution.

Studies born from the social sciences about peasant problems generally avoid the environmental context in which these communities operate; Sociology and economics have directed their efforts towards aspects related to social mobility, socio-class structures, problems related to the workforce, the question of gender, economic efficiency, and so on. From the perspective of agricultural sciences, then the issues related to the natural environment are addressed, but unrelated to the social context. That is why it can be said that there is a gulf between both approaches.

I believe that we should begin by highlighting the role of the instituted agrarian policies, as promoters of new productive structures, as well as the ideologies that sustain them. Cuban rural society has participated in profound structural changes due to the agrarian development models implemented by the Revolution. Due to its importance and repercussion, I believe that three essential events must be pointed out: the commercial protection policy for national producers, the Agrarian Reform laws and the policies to encourage cooperativism.

With the triumph of the Revolution in January 1959, a policy of protection was established for national producers, limiting the entry of many foreign agricultural products. Agrarian development in a protected market allowed creating spaces for crops that, although practiced previously, did not have a significant weight in the economic income of the peasants; this in the economic sense obtained benefits for these farmers. On the other hand, the weak supply of many of these products in the market stimulated the rise in prices, which also reported benefits that had a favorable impact on their standard of living.

The introduction of new productions generated greater agricultural diversity, which, although it resulted and has allowed the peasant family to reproduce, also limited the spaces dedicated to raising larger cattle; with this, traditional fallow practices are altered, which are very favorable from an environmental point of view, since they allow the protection of the soil. In addition, the diversification of production has demanded a more intensive use of the land and with it the evils that its wear and tear implies, due to erosion and loss of fertility, as it is not accompanied by environmental concepts in its management.

Together, the facilities provided by the market in which they participate do not pose environmental requirements, everything they produce is sold and at a good price; neither do consumers include the ecological issue among their criteria for selecting a product. This is an unfavorable element as a driving force behind environmental awareness.

This type of market also makes possible the coexistence of obsolete technical systems of very traditional and ecologically unsustainable agriculture due to the economic waste of resources, with modern technical systems, born under the influence of the Green Revolution, which also and in many cases they are environmentally unsustainable, yet economically viable, as they increase yields.

In the case of the Agrarian Reform, the first law was approved on May 17, 1959, which declared that in Cuba (Valdés, 1990; Castro, 1974), there should not be properties of more than 30 caballerias and that no peasant should pay rent for the lands that he works with his effort and that of his family. As a consequence of this law, more than 100,000 peasants received their property titles. This measure reaffirmed, in a spontaneous way, the sense of identity of many producers with the land, which was expressed in the change of the rural landscape; When they felt like owners, they improved their homes, introduced new crops, fruit trees appeared in the house's bateyes, etc.

Regarding cooperativism, it should be noted that from the agrarian reform laws, associative forms began to be stimulated: the Credit and Services Cooperatives (CCS) and the Agricultural Associations, which converge in the movement cooperative of the 70s and 80s through the Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA), and in the 90s the creation, from state lands and the agricultural workers who worked on them, of the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC), born as an alternative to the crisis of state agriculture, which began after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe.

The CCS are administrative and productive institutions that bring together individual peasant owners who socialize some services, technical means and state and financial commitments, and have their own legal personality. After the 90s, the idea was reinforced and with it the support for family farming with the delivery of new lands in usufruct and the strengthening of these institutions.

The CPA constitutes a higher level of socialization, since the land they work and all the means of production are socialized, they are owned by the associates, who joined it voluntarily.

Regardless of the success or not of cooperativism, there is no doubt that they have been vehicles for the transfer of technology as forms of productive organization, a process that has undoubtedly had a significant environmental influence as a result of the fact that farmers' farms interact with CPA.

A significant element of this technological and thus environmental influence has been the process of universalization of the use of the tractor in agriculture. The CPAs together with the state agricultural companies have been the classic examples of excessive use of the tractor; the State gave priority to it based on a productive model that focused its attention on large-scale agriculture, based on the use of science and technology. These types of productive institutions that were conceived for this purpose exerted a significant influence on the rest of agriculture. Today the peasants are the owners of many of these tractors.

From another angle and related to the things previously raised, it should be noted, as another element, the influence of modernity, an ideal of universal culture that has marked the design of technologies and technical practices in recent centuries. It is the proposal that feels your hopes of liberating man on the basis of the domination of nature and human society, using science and technology. The correctness or not of these ideals is not going to be evaluated, but what is clear is that the current deterioration of the environment has among its causes having assumed in an exaggerated way many of the proposals and behaviors of this ideal and that the term mastery of nature was actually understood, in many technical practices, as enslavement of nature by man.

The idea of ​​progress is one of the values ​​shared by modernity, which emerged in the 18th century, associated with the path of prosperity and civilization, and with the recognition that humanity advances from the past to a better future, passing through stages. technically less developed to more developed stages, where the agricultural is the backward and the industrial is the symbol of prosperity, therefore everything that brings agriculture closer to industry is part of that path to progress.

This idea of ​​modernity, widely elaborated and embodied in theories and treatises and disseminated by the media as a totalizing and universalizing proposal, takes existence among the peasants as part of their logic of thought and action. Unaware of their academic frameworks, they assume their spirit making them, in many cases, pass as the achievement of their own initiatives, without realizing that hidden behind multiple configurations are the strategists of ideology, of whom they hardly have news. This ideology projected negative images towards the peasant, from the urban.

By what means and in what way did the current Cuban peasants seize this ideology. To answer these questions, it is necessary to inquire into the cultural history of formation of the existing system of social relations. I consider the main factors:
* Parents instilled in their children that they should be professionals, that any job was preferable to being a peasant. From an early age, children were told to be doctors, surveyors, or anything else related to the urban industrial world. This spirit was stimulated with the triumph of the Revolution on January 1, 1959, when facilities were provided to study and many young children of peasants took that path and became facilitators of the proposals associated with the paradigm of industrial agriculture.
* Compulsory Military Service played its part. The young children of peasants who reached the age of 16 had to join it; generally, they went to military units that were almost always located in areas that put them in contact with the urban and many times outside the regions where they lived. There they were linked to the cities, they obtained new experiences that they applied later on their return. Some did not return as farmers, they learned professions that allowed them to find work in the cities; many of these returned after several years dedicated to non-peasant work.
* The state policy in favor of the application of the achievements of modern science and technology, the state institutions participated in this ideal, which was reflected in the official documents of the State and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Thus, for example, in the Theses and Resolutions, approved in the First Congress of the PCC in 1975, it is expressed: "The wide use of chemical agents and the scientific determination of their more rational application is another expression of the technical progress of agriculture", P. 633; and in the Program of the Communist Party of Cuba it is stated that "The agricultural sector will base its expansion fundamentally on the increase in yields. For this, this sector will have to go to a more intensive stage of its development; the main factors of its growth will be given by the concentration and specialization of production and the massive expansion of technical scientific progress ", p. 33. It is evident that at the institutional level this discourse of modernization was assimilated, which cannot be dissociated from the fact that it is the policy of the State of a country mired in the backwardness of centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism and it is logical that it should be sought in science and technology a lever out of underdevelopment.
* The influence of the Green Revolution, first from the United States and later from the USSR (which despite the differences in systems from one country to another was the same proposal, Altieri, 2001) induced peasants to consume agricultural inputs from chemical origin and mechanization.

* The fact that the youngest peasants have gone through the Schools in the Field, institutions that apply the Marti principle of linking study with work from an educational perspective, generated links with the agricultural practices of state companies, closely associated with gigantism and the methods of the Green Revolution. For many, it was in these institutions that they first carried out agricultural activities as part of a responsibility: there they learned.

It should be noted that among the peasants this modernizing spirit has been partial; The tractor coexists with the ox yoke, the rustic and traditional pig farming with influences from industrial farming, etc.

Already in the 90s and caused by the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe and the increase in pressure from the United States government on Cuba considerably increased the limitations in the supply of fertilizers of chemical origin, fuel and spare parts. for the operation of tractors. These circumstances, together with institutional interest, have favored the search for alternatives in agroecology, based on the dissemination of techniques such as compost, green manures, vermiculture, biological controls, scientific rotation of crops, etc.

These proposals have not been taken up with much passion by the peasants; At first, it is more of an initiative promoted by the State, educational institutions, NGOs, the media and the peasant-to-peasant movement, which have found an echo in peasant leaders from different regions and have spread slowly . However, this constitutes a promising environmental perspective considering the meaning and warmth with which its promoters have welcomed it in the country.

The agroecological initiative in peasant agriculture must overcome other limitations associated with the lack of economic incentives for organic products and the fact that, although at the country level, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has decreased. Part of those destined for the use of state-owned companies and UBPCs are diverted through informal markets at the hands of the peasants and since there is no data on the magnitude of this phenomenon, due to the complexity it represents, it is very likely that, far from diminishing its use has increased in recent years in the peasant sector.

It can also be noted as an element of significance the fact that the belief system, in relation to agricultural techniques, differs among peasants from father to son. Children are more prone to innovation and the introduction of techniques influenced by the Green Revolution, which has been conditioned by having been more exposed to modernization. Given a change in technical decision-making in favor of the youngest, they are the ones who decide the most, which favors the assumption of more agrarian attitudes. The negative side is that there is a loss of authority of those who preserve many of the beliefs and behaviors of agricultural practices conservation of natural resources.

We cannot fail to mention the policy of the Revolutionary Government towards the development and consolidation of a legal system, with a constitutional basis, to protect the environment in which the peasants live, which incorporates laws, decrees and resolutions to protect, conserve and maintain resources natural (La O Sosa, 1997), such as waters, soils, flora and fauna. All of this shows a concern of the state and of Cuban society to protect natural resources.

Today, Cuban society is called to continue rescuing the traditional spontaneous environmentalism of the peasants to break with a cultural context that assimilated part of the rapid effects of modernization with its burden of fungicides and pesticides, and its environmental damage. That tradition exists, yet its effects are tenuous; The claim for the environment reaches the peasants through the forms instituted by the state and not through that tradition, despite the activity of the peasant-to-peasant movement.


Altieri, M. (2001); With Miguel Altieri, Without ancestral knowledge, agriculture is lost. Interview conducted by Carlos Amorío. Available at:
Bartra, Armando (1998); "Dataterra" Agrarian Reform and Democracy Seminar: a perspective Civil societies: Institute of Studies for Rural Development
Berger, John (1979); Puerca Tierra, Historical Epilogue. Available at:
Castro, Fidel. (1974); Speech commemorating the death of Niceto Pérez, the 15th anniversary of the first Agrarian Reform Law and the 13th anniversary of the ANAP, May 17, 1974.
La O Sosa, Mario. (1997); Compendium of Cuban agrarian legislation. National Directorate of ANAP. Havana city,
Communist Party of Cuba. (1975); Program of the Communist Party of Cuba. Editorial Social Sciences
Communist Party of Cuba. (1975); Thesis and resolutions of the first congress. Editorial Social Sciences
Valdes, Orlando. (1990); The socialization of the land in Cuba, Social Sciences Editorial.

* Assistant professor at the Sancti Spíritus University Center; teaches the subject of Social Problems of Science and Technology. He graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Education from the Félix Varela Pedagogical Institute in Villa Clara in 1982. He obtained the academic title of Master's degree in Science, Technology and Society, at the University of Havana, in 2002. He is currently a doctorate in curricular doctorate Environmental management and sustainable development, at the Spanish University of Girona.

Review by Tania Fernández P. for Ecoportal.

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