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.
This is the first of a few blog posts from the island of Cuba, where we are lucky enough to be studying the world recognized, sustainable model of Cuban agriculture. Before I begin reporting on some of what we have been exposed to so far, I think readers should have a short background on how the sustainable agriculture system developed in Cuba.
With the collapse of the communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba lost 80 percent of its export and import market practically overnight. Cuba had a heavily industrialized, export-oriented agriculture system, dependent on petroleum inputs related to fertilizer, pesticides and fuel. During the three decades from the Cuban revolution in 1959 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba averaged 1.3 million tons of chemical fertilizers, $80 million dollars worth of pesticides and 600,000 tons of feed concentrates.
Cuba exported large quantities of sugar to the Soviet Union based on very favorable trading terms, allowing Cuba not only to receive enough oil for its domestic purposes, but as a revenue stream selling surplus oil on the open market. Even though Cuba was very productive as an agricultural system, it was heavily dependent on food imports, which accounted for 57 percent of the calories of the Cuban people before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, from the 1990’s to the mid 2000’s was interestingly called the “special period in peace time” when caloric availability in the country dropped significantly, along with the weights and the health of the Cuban people.
With no subsidies from the Soviet Union, and a serious lack of resources in the form of oil, fertilizers and pesticides, Cuba began developing a low-input, high yield, semi-organic agriculture system that has taken root throughout the country, with impressive production coming from urban centers. Reports show over 50 percent of Havana’s fruits and vegetables, for example, are grown within Havana city limits. Urban farmers in Cuba alone provide nearly enough produce to meet the 300 grams of vegetables daily
that are recommended by the UN FAO. Cuba’s agriculture system is a source of pride with much information being disseminated from the Cuban government about the harmfulness of chemicals in agriculture and the healthfulness of Cuban food. In addition to healthy foods, the system has provided over 300,000 new employment opportunities and significant community development. Read More >