Organic Agriculture in Cuba
Cuba’s transition to organic agriculture emerged as a necessary response to the food crisis that gripped the nation in the early 1990s. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and a longstanding trade embargo that severely constrained industrialised agricultural practices on the island, Cuban producers turned the declining availability of pesticides, fertilisers and petroleum into an opportunity to shift towards organic production with numerous environmental, social and economic gains.
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 organic technologies such as biofertilisers, earthworms, compost and the integration of grazing animals. Farmers also revived traditional techniques such as intercropping and manuring in order to increase production yields.1
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’ wellbeing since such chemicals are often associated with various negative health implications such as certain forms of cancer.
- 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-agriculture/