Shovel Ready: Cuban Urban Agriculture as Job Creator

CLF’s Sr. Research Program Coordinators Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl and Sarah Rodman are visiting Cuba as part of a Natural Environmental Ecological Management delegation. Members of the group will see first hand large-scale Cuban infrastructure developed to support its 18-year-old, world-renowned sustainable agricultural system in both the rural and urban sectors.

I’ve just returned from eight days in Cuba studying their sustainable agricultural system — especially their urban agriculture sector — and I have several key take-aways.

cubagraphicOne of the biggest insights was the untapped potential of urban agriculture as a creator of good jobs. The Cuban system was reported to have provided over 300,000 employment opportunities and significant community development. (Koont, S. 2009) In a country of 12 million people, that means 2.5% of the Cuban population is employed in urban agriculture and its related industries.

Now, for many reasons, you cannot and should not compare Cuba to the United States with regard to agriculture. The two nations have different economic and political systems, cultures, climate and much more, but that does not mean that Cuban urban agriculture cannot provide lessons to us here in the U.S. I have long been interested in urban agriculture – not only as a way to provide healthy, local produce, but as a community development and youth development tool and, yes, a job creator. This is the mindset I had when I met Miguel Salcines and his Vivero

Kids playing at Vivero Organiponico

Kids playing at Vivero Organiponico

Organiponico.

Vivero Organiponico is a 10-hectare (24-acre) urban farm within Alamar, a neighborhood of Havana. It is surrounded by apartments, houses, parks and the normal activities of a Havana neighborhood. The farm produces 12 to 15 crops for market, from eggplant to tomatoes, to lettuce, cabbage and onions. It sends produce to market 365 days a year. The farm grows intensively, turning over beds at a blistering rate, sometimes getting eleven cycles of greens out of a bed in a single year. It uses no chemical pesticides and no artificial fertilizers, but can draw fertility from its cattle and its large vermicomposting and mycorrhizae systems.

This organiponico is called a UBPC (basic unit of cooperative production) which is a sector of Cuban agriculture where farms are run on a cooperative basis, managed independently by individuals not employed by the Cuban government. The farms’ managers pay salaries and taxes, make profits and set prices. While in certain situations UBPC’s have levels of production that they must meet for the state (often sold to the state below the cost of production), even in those situations they can sell much of their surplus produce into local farmers markets and keep the profit for their cooperatives. Read More >