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In Cuba, the agroecological farming revolution

In Cuba, the agroecological farming revolution


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The NGO Greenpeace visited the island to learn about this plan. Today half of the products are organic. Agroecology today provides 50 percent of the food consumed in the country.

At the beginning of this year, the Rainbow Warrior, the well-known ship of Greenpeace, one of the most prominent environmental organizations in the world, docked in Cuba, the Caribbean island, in search of a treasure: knowledge.

Farm after farm, NGO experts went after the secret of Cuba's agroecological policy, a country highlighted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for its commitment to producing vegetables and fruits without using chemicals or affecting the soil . “A person needs a farmer four times a day: every time he eats.

Not so much like that, it requires a lawyer, unless you have a lot of problems ”, jokes Franco Segesso, an Argentine expert in agriculture and who learned about Cuban experiences to make recommendations to South American countries such as Colombia.

Segesso explains here what lies behind 25 years of a revolutionary project in terms of the environment and food production.

At the beginning of this year, the Rainbow Warrior, the well-known ship of Greenpeace, one of the most prominent environmental organizations in the world, docked in Cuba, the Caribbean island, in search of a treasure: knowledge.
Farm after farm, NGO experts went after the secret of Cuba's agroecological policy, a country highlighted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for its commitment to producing vegetables and fruits without using chemicals or affecting the soil . “A person needs a farmer four times a day: every time he eats. Not so much like that, it requires a lawyer, unless you have a lot of problems ”, jokes Franco Segesso, an Argentine expert in agriculture and who learned about Cuban experiences to make recommendations to South American countries such as Colombia.

Segesso explains here what lies behind 25 years of a revolutionary project in terms of the environment and food production.

Why visit Cuba to learn agroecology?

We want to show the world how - due to the economic situation - agroecology emerged as a way out of the crisis on the island. The first years of the revolution, even before, Cuba bet on the intensive model in agrochemicals, mainly for tobacco and sugarcane. But with the economic crisis, added to the fall of the Soviet Union and the blockade of the United States, the island was forced to produce with the inputs it had locally. Several local and scientific organizations, which had been insisting on this model, were listened to, because they presented a production solution without external inputs. Our interest was to show how agroecology, in times of crisis, becomes visible as a solution to these problems.

At what point does this trend emerge?

In the 90s, public policies began to move stronger, as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union, which was where the chemical inputs came from. Today, the result of the bet is a national program for urban and peri-urban agriculture that is recognized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as one of the most important in the world. It employs 350,000 people and is also strongly committed to the peri-urban areas that today make agroecological farms provide 50% of the food consumed locally.

In the whole country or just in Havana?

The program is national, but it is managed by the municipalities. In addition, it is a strategy of alliance with local institutions; for example, universities and organizations such as the National Association of Small Producers of Cuba, which is associated internationally with the Via Campesina alliance. The agroecological system in Cuba, with only 25% of the cultivable territory, manages to supply 50% of the fruits and vegetables that are consumed locally.

Who makes this feat possible?

Small farmers. First of all they produce a healthy diet for themselves and are responsible for 90% of fruits and vegetables. They are a very important segment to take into account in food production. Globally, this policy is also very important, because of the 800 million people who suffer from hunger in the world, about 400 million are small and medium farmers. What this program has shown is that it is possible to give them a livelihood.

What makes this model so successful?

The program is conceived as a priority for national security. Cuba prioritizes the public purchase of food from schools, hospitals, psychiatric centers and the armed forces. It is essential that other countries in South America adopt this model. And I say this because both countries like Colombia and Argentina have agro-export models in which the productive matrix responds to external demand and not to local consumers. By thinking of food as a security issue, it inverts the prism of analysis and decision on which policies to adopt around agriculture. For example, in Colombia agroindustrial development that may occur in post-conflict areas is being discussed ...

What can we learn from Cuba in this regard?

The Cuban program has four bases: seeds, water, ecological management of pests, and comprehensive crop management. The latter has to do with the diversity of crops that are planted. And as for pests, it is related to preventing them through diverse production and soil quality. In relation to seeds, work is being done with the diversification of the points for their production and an attempt is made for Cuban farmers to produce their own seeds, not the State. In Colombia and Argentina there are debates about the laws that threaten the autonomy and sovereignty of the country, because their use is delivered through the intellectual property rights of the seeds. These four bases are what allows to have a model of agriculture on a human scale, and not an industrial one, to feed its population.

In the use of water, what is Cuban policy aimed at?

In Cuba there are times of drought in different places. What was done were small dams and polyculture is encouraged, because with healthy soil less water is consumed. In fact, it is between three and five times less than what another type of technique spends. Many times it is thought that water management is only irrigation, but it has to do with the efficiency of land use. Agroecological systems are based on energy efficiency in their operation and consumption. For example, we have seen many cases of farms with biodigesters, where animal excreta and crop residues are used to generate electricity, much of it with solar panels. Those are strategies that agroecology embraces and is certainly not seen in agribusiness.

Regarding water, it is also key that they do not use chemicals or abuse antibiotics in animal production, because in this way the excreta or the use of pesticides could reach the rivers and then that water could not be used.

When this transformation began, how did you manage to put aside the agrochemicals you depended on?

The first strategy was to convince the producers to return to the field and not use them anymore. The Campesino-Campesino strategy was established, in which training does not come from outside, but the farmers themselves train each other. In this way, teaching and convincing to understand among peers what are the improvements offered by the ecological system becomes more attractive. In terms of pest management, what happens is that since there is a more diverse production model, the damage from pests is not that much, because a healthy crop is a reflection of a healthy soil. It is like a person when they are not well nourished, since they have a greater chance of suffering from diseases. And if we add diversity of crops to that, when a plague appears it does not attack all production. There is balance. They have also employed an efficient microorganism strategy and decoy plants for pests.

How did Cuba manage to organize its citizens?

The cooperative strategy was very important. Two laws also allowed the delivery of land when there was the great expropriation. What was done with this was a process of handing over public lands to peasants who intended to produce cooperatively.

How did the country achieve the financial sustainability of these farms?

The products are bought by state companies to feed schools and other entities. For example, the previous government of Brazil also applied it and made direct purchases for schools from agricultural producers.

Another thing that has been done to increase the profit of the producers is the direct points of sale on the farms and also in the cities. This strategy is key to applying it in Argentina and Colombia, because with the points of sale intermediaries are avoided.

Another thing we recommend is participatory certification. Normally in Latin American countries there is organic certification, which gives it the seal of organic origin. Most of that production is not for domestic consumption, but for export. This causes prices to rise and controls are not sufficiently accurate. Now, participatory certification is based on a local consumption matrix, where the same producers in the region regulate each other. There is also a key actor and they are consumer organizations, which must do the control, and the last guarantor is the State itself or a university.

After 20 years, what has agroecology left to Cuba environmentally?

Much of the Cuban soils have been very deteriorated by industrial agriculture of sugar cane and sugar crops. Some of the farms we visited were for sugarcane production, and the small producers, with several years of work, managed to recover that soil.

What role has scientific research had in the implementation of the agroecology plan?

We visited Cuban scientists during our tour and they have insisted on this system, because the efficiency of agroecology has been achieved with tests in the territory, through the creation of experimental stations.

Faced with climate change and future scenarios, how does the plan help?

Agriculture is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gases: it is quite a lot. For this reason, FAO has repeatedly called attention to the agro-industrial sector for the production of meat, corn and soybeans, since it is very inefficient. As the food strategy is a national security issue, they have relied on agroecology as a way to minimize the impacts of climate change.

Laura Betancur Alarcón


Video: Mayan Farmers Visit Cuban Farms (May 2022).


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