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Case #903

Title:
Cuba's Big Organic Revolution

Summary:

The island of Cuba was threatened with famine in 1991 when its main sponsor, the former Soviet Union, collapsed. Because of the trade embargo, Cuba was forced to look to its own resources. It began an organic revolution that has changed the island in a dramatic and positive way.

Ten years later, Cuba is leading the world in organic farming. In Havana alone there are over 8,000 officially registered organic gardens providing food for the city without high transportation costs. This was necessary because of the difficulty of importing petroleum. Cuba's urban gardens and ecological farms now feed the population almost as productively as during its greatest years of prosperity. They have found a way of defying food shortages that have crippled other countries around the world.

Food First is a NGO think tank and education-for-action centre working to find value-based solutions to hunger and poverty around the world, with a commitment to establishing food as a fundamental human right. To help others learn from Cuba's success, Food First has set up a Cuban Organic Farming Exchange Program arranging visits for farmers and researchers to see first hand what a food system looks like when government supports organic farming and urban agriculture.

Comments:

THE STRATEGY: Before the crisis, Cuba was the first country in Latin America to extensively introduce improved varieties, mechanisation, pesticides, herbicides, irrigation and all of that kind of stuff. When the crisis came, all of that was too expensive to import so Cuba had to find replacements. It moved from large farm systems to small farm systems because they realised that they can operate on alternatives much more efficiently. "Since they could not import pesticides they developed biological, non-toxic, locally produced pesticides. Since chemical fertiliser could not be imported anymore, they switched to massive production of compost. Because of the difficulty of importing petroleum, they shifted much of the production of fresh vegetables into the cities. This tremendous movement of urban agriculture has transformed Cuban cities, making them more beautiful. It also makes healthy fresh produce directly available at affordable prices. (Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First)

WHAT WORKS: *** Cuba has shown us that there is a different way - developing self-reliant systems based on local resources and local capabilities. *** It has an ability to come up with solutions because of the high standard of education of the population. What they have shown is that maybe it is possible to do better on your own than by opening your borders to a flood of cheap imports from the north." *** Agriculture in Cuba has had to adapt significantly. They have had to revert to ancient techniques, substituting chemical fertilisers with organic material, in order to attain a similar or higher level of production than before. Nurseries produce high quality young plants to sell to local farmers and state industries in order to assure a good harvest. They also have a seed bank up and running. Natural ways of combating pests are used. *** This (national, organic) system is not only ecological and sustainable," says the Cuban agronomist Eddie Menendez. " We can maintain it without the kind of huge imports (of chemicals) that push product prices up. We have an organic, biological product at prices acceptable to the population. It's a clean product and at low cost. We are trying to bring all this about from within Cuba - to resolve the problem internally."

IMPORTANT POINTS: *** Most Third World countries are going into a phase of intensified free trade, looking for more foreign aid assistance and getting deeper into debt. ***"Cuba has shown us that there is a different way - developing self-reliant systems based on local resources and local capabilities. ***"We are seeing a general rural crisis in so many countries in the world, in Mexico, Thailand, India, Brazil - even in the United States. This crisis has been exacerbated by free trade policies where the US and the European community are dumping cheap food, which means local producers cannot compete. They go out of business and join the ranks of the hungry. Cuba was forced to look inward because of the trade embargo. *** Food First is a NGO think tank and education-for-action centre working to find value-based solutions to hunger and poverty around the world, with a commitment to establishing food as a fundamental human right. *** See also, Case History 0509
Location: Cuba
Action: Political, Direct, Economic/Business
Setting:
Extent of Action: National
Issues: Agriculture, Resources
Year(s): 1991
Outcome successful
Source: Lightly, #20, Summer 2002, P. 11

Contacts:

Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, 398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94608, USA., WEB SITE : http://www.foodfirst.org, EMAIL: foodfirst@foodfirst.org
Prepared By: sl, 11/09
Rating: 1
 
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