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12. Cuba Leads the World in Organic Farming

Third World Resurgence, Spring 2000 Issue #118/119
Title: Cuba’s Organic Revolution
Author: Hugh Warwick

Sustainable Times, Fall 1999
Title: Farming With Fidel
Author: Alison Auld

Designer/Builder, August 2000
Title: Cuba’s New Revolution
Authors: Stephen Zunes

Corporate media coverage: Gannett, 9/15/99, Dallas Morning News, 1/25/98 p. 35A, The Economist, 4/24/99, Lewiston Morning Tribune, p. 1A. Associated Press 6/5/00

Faculty Evaluators: Tony White, Ph.D. and Albert Wahrhaftig, Ph.D.
Student researchers, Bruce Harden, Dana Balicki

Cuba has developed one of the most efficient organic agriculture systems in the world, and organic farmers from other countries are visiting the island to learn the methods.

Due to the U.S. embargo, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was unable to import chemicals or modern farming machines to uphold a high-tech corporate farming culture. Cuba needed to find another way to feed its people. The lost buying power for agricultural imports led to a general diversification within farming on the island. Organic agriculture has become key to feeding the nation’s growing urban populations.

Cuba’s new revolution is founded upon the development of an organic agricultural system. Peter Rosset of the Institute for Food and Development Policy states that this is “the largest conversion from conventional agriculture to organic or semi-organic farming that the world has ever known.” Not only has organic farming been prosperous, but the migration of small farms and gardens into densely populated urban areas has also played a crucial role in feeding citizens. State food rations were not enough for Cuban families, so farms began to spring up all over the country. Havana, home to nearly 20 percent of Cuba’s population, is now also home to more than 8,000 officially recognized gardens, which are in turn cultivated by more than 30,000 people and cover nearly 30 percent of the available land. The growing number of gardens might seem to bring up the problem of space and price of land. However, “the local governments allocate land, which is handed over at no cost as long as it is used for cultivation,” says S. Chaplowe in the Newsletter of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association.

The removal of the “chemical crutch” has been the most important factor to come out of the Soviet collapse, trade embargo, and subsequent organic revolution. Though Cuba is organic by default because it has no means of acquiring pesticides and herbicides, the quality and quantity of crop yields have increased. This increase is occurring at a lower cost and with fewer health and environmental side effects than ever. There are 173 established ‘vermicompost’ centers across Cuba, which produce 93,000 tons of natural compost a year. The agricultural abundance that Cuba is beginning to experience is disproving the myth that organic farming on a grand scale is inefficient or impractical.

So far Cuba has been successful with its “transformation from conventional, high input, mono-crop intensive agriculture” to a more diverse and localized farming system that continues to grow. The country is rapidly moving away from a monoculture of tobacco and sugar. It now needs much more diversity of food crops as well as regular crop rotation and soil conservation efforts to continue to properly nourish millions of Cuban citizens.

In June 2000, a group of Iowa farmers, professors, and students traveled to Cuba to view that country’s approach to sustainable agriculture. Rather than relying on chemical fertilizers, Cuba relies on organic farming, using compost and worms to fertilize soil. There are many differences between farming in the United States and Cuba, but “in many ways they’re ahead of us,” say Richard Wrage, of Boone County Iowa Extension Office. Lorna Michael Butler, Chair of Iowa State University’s sustainable agriculture department said, “more students should study Cuba’s growing system.” (AP 6/5/00)

Note: While two national wire services covered this story, very few newspapers actually picked it up. The Washington Post, (11/2/00 p. A29), gave an anti-Castro spin to the story by focusing on community gardens as necessary to off set food shortages and nutritional problems. The gardens were depicted as contributing only “slightly” to food production in a socialist agriculture system with problems of “inefficiency and lack of individual incentives.” Nothing was said about the successful transformation of Cuban agriculture to a mostly organic system.

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