How Cubans converted their island to organic farming

How Cubans converted their island to organic farming

By Frédérique Basset Kaizen

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and two years later the Soviet Union collapsed.

Cuba then loses its supplier of oil, agricultural material, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

With the disappearance of the USSR and the Eastern countries that bought their products at constant prices, the island also lost important markets, especially sugar, 85% of whose production it exported.

All the ingredients had been assembled for the country to fall into chaos, all the more so since the US blockade had been tightened.

A new era begins for Cuba, the "special period in peacetime" announced in 1992 by Fidel Castro and which will last five years and, in other words, a period of serious economic crisis: gross domestic product (GDP) falls by one 35%, foreign trade 75%, purchasing power 50% and the population suffers from malnutrition. "They didn't know it was impossible, so they did it" (Marc Twain) He makes a virtue of necessity.

The population starts to grow fruit and vegetables in order to satisfy their food needs. «The Cubans were hungry.

It is the Cuban population who took the first steps occupying land in a spontaneous movement, ”explains Nils Aguilar, director of the documentary Cultures in transition.

Thousands of “organoponic” gardens flourish on small plots of land, on terraces, between houses, in old landfills, in the middle of lots, that is, in the smallest free space. In addition to agriculture, the raising of small animals is usually also practiced: chickens, rabbits, ducks, pigs. "The main actors in the agroecological movement are the peasants themselves," says Dorian Felix, an agronomist specializing in tropical agroecology, on a mission in Cuba sent by the Terre et Humanisme association.

«They experimented with these practices, validated them and spread them. His mobilization and that of the entire civil society was and continues to be very important.

The rise of urban agriculture The government then embarks on a forced transition.

Food production becomes a national issue. Starting in the 1990s, the accent was placed on local production, from local resources and for local consumption.

The State distributes land to those who want to cultivate it and develops a local food and biological agriculture: since it does not have oil to operate the tractors, animal traction is used; lacking chemical fertilizers and pesticides, compost, natural insecticides and biological control are rediscovered. "It is a true green revolution", confirms Nils Aguilar.

“In this country everyone is involved, I was surprised to hear a taxi driver praise the feats of agroecology! Cuba develops agribusiness agriculture and shows that these techniques can feed the populations. Today the agricultural labor force has multiplied by ten.

Former soldiers, officials and employees have converted or reconverted to agriculture, since many of them had been peasants before. Each school cultivates its garden, the administrations have their own garden that supplies vegetables to the employees' canteens.

An unprecedented phenomenon, urban agriculture has developed like nowhere else in the world.

The island has some 400,000 urban farms covering some 70,000 hectares of previously unused land that produces more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables.

Havana is capable of supplying 50% of organic fruit and vegetables to its 2,200,000 inhabitants, and the rest is supplied by cooperatives in the periphery. Cuban green revolution In 1994 the productivist state farms were progressively transformed into cooperatives to supply food to hospitals, schools and kindergartens. The rest of the production is freely sold in the markets.

University students, researchers and agronomists help to spread the techniques of agroecology.

A network of stores sells seeds and gardening tools cheaply, while providing customers with expert advice.

And in all the cities of the country, organic farming is taught through practice, on the ground.

Much more than a simple transfer of technological knowledge, it is about «producing by learning, teaching by producing and learning by teaching».

The impact of this green revolution is multiple: reduction of soil, air and water pollution; recycling of waste, increasing biodiversity, diversifying production, improving food security, living standards and health; job creation, especially for women, youth and retirees.

A less centralized policy is also established, which gives more room for maneuver to self-managed individual and collective initiatives.

The dominant slogan is: "Decentralize without losing control, centralize without killing the initiative."

In the cities, this principle has made it possible to promote production in the neighborhood, by the neighborhood and for the neighborhood, encouraging the participation of thousands of people willing to join the initiative.

Today Cuba produces more than 70% of its fruits and vegetables for its consumption, which does not guarantee total food autonomy, to the extent that it still depends on imports, especially rice and meat. But, according to the UN criteria, "the country has a high human development index and a weak ecological footprint on the planet."

If food imports were to stop tomorrow, the inhabitants would be much less in danger than those of a country like France, which only has a few reserve days in its supermarkets (according to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council Ile-de-France, CESER for its acronym in French, the region only has four days of food reserves).

A crisis has been necessary for Cuba to discover the virtues of agroecology, permaculture, agroforestry and even silvopastoralism. Still, has the island achieved its energy transition? Only in part.

Oil consumption resumed in 1993 thanks to (or because of?) National production and the help of Venezuela that provides it with about 110,000 barrels of oil a day.

But you can bet that the country will no longer be able to turn back.

And it is that, beyond the agricultural revolution, individual and collective initiatives have shown that Cubans could take charge of their destiny, a true cultural revolution!

Video: How to Start a Farm From Scratch Beginners Guide to Growing Vegetables for Profit (June 2021).