Monday, March 28, 2016

What will happen to Cuba's sustainable [although not perfect] Agroecology ???

Since reading glowing News Reports lately over the thawing of cold war relations between the United States and Cuba where both sides will soon be holding hands singing "Oh Lord Kumbaya" together, I personally find more interesting news is emerging that is shedding light on Cuba's Agroecology & the benefits discovered by peasant farmers being forced to adapt to the abrupt end of Soviet era dependence with regards synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. They basically had to fend for themselves after communism's collapse and revert back to a more localized group of numerous smaller farms working together in urban farming for the benefit of their fellow citizens. 

Melanie Lukesh Reed (Aug 2015)

Visiting an Organopónicos farm, Alamar Cuba

When I think of Cuba, I think of older 1940s & 50s automobiles and trucks, 1930s era Art Deco styled buildings , etc. While I'm not overly interested in the ideological and philosopical historical squabblings of both sides, I am fascinated by the successes of peasant farmers who've been forced out of necessity to be more self-reliant, creative and innovative because they were forced to go that direction. So my interest lays more with something the peasant farmers have done in Cuba. They call them, Campesino-to-Campesino, which means farmer to farmer. A sort of cooperative infrastructure on a social scale. From the 1990s, out of shear necessity “Agroecology Revolution" was developed as a means of supplying food to their nation. Cuba’s farmers shifted to organic fertilizers, traditional crops and animal breeds, diversified farming with crop rotations, and non-toxic pest controls emphasizing the use of beneficial plants and insects. And it's that use of beneficial plants and insects that intrigue me the most. I've noticed this in a number of photographs posted over the internet where numerous biodiverse flowering perennials are grown which in turn attract not only polinators, but also important predatory insects. Below is one example photo of one of the neighbourhood urban farms with beneficial plants grown in among and around crop plants.

 Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

There was an article in the online journal of "The Conservsation" which highlighted the potential dangers to Cuban agriculture as a consequence of more normalized relations between the United States and Cuba. First the history they referenced about how Cuba developed agroecology out of necessity after the Soviet system collapsed after the welfare gravy train aid from their Soviet friends all stopped.

The government devoted 30 percent of agricultural land to sugarcane for export, while importing 57 percent of Cuba’s food supply. Farmers relied on tractors, massive amounts of pesticide and fertilizer inputs, all supplied by Soviet bloc countries. By the 1980s agricultural pests were increasing, soil quality was degrading and yields of some key crops like rice had begun to decline.
When Cuban trade with the Soviet bloc ended in the early 1990s, food production collapsed due to the loss of imported fertilizers, pesticides, tractors and petroleum. The situation was so bad that Cuba posted the worst growth in per capita food production in all of Latin America and the Caribbean.
But then farmers started adopting agroecological techniques, with support from Cuban scientists.   
Thousands of oxen replaced tractors that could not function due to lack of petroleum and spare parts. Farmers substituted green manures for chemical fertilizers and artisanally produced biopesticides for insecticides. At the same time, Cuban policymakers adopted a range of agrarian reform and decentralization policies that encouraged forms of production where groups of farmers grow and market their produce collectively.

Cuban Produce Market - image by Nancy & Joseph Gill (May 2012)

How Peasant Farmers Made Agroecology Farming a Success
As Cuba reoriented its agriculture to depend less on imported chemical inputs and imported equipment, food production rebounded. From 1996 though 2005, per capita food production in Cuba increased by 4.2 percent yearly during a period when production was stagnant across Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the mid-2000s, the Ministry of Agriculture dismantled all “inefficient state companies” and government-owned farms, endorsed the creation of 2,600 new small urban and suburban farms, and allowed farming on some three million hectares of unused state lands.
Urban gardens, which first sprang up during the economic crisis of the early 1990s, have developed into an important food source.   
Today Cuba has 383,000 urban farms, covering 50,000 hectares of otherwise unused land and producing more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables. The most productive urban farms yield up to 20 kg of food per square meter, the highest rate in the world, using no synthetic chemicals. Urban farms supply 50 to 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in cities such as Havana and Villa Clara.
The Paradox of Cuban Agriculture - Stats on productivity
The Risk of a Marriage Alliance with America's Industrial Agriculture
Now Cuba’s agriculture system is under increasing pressure to deliver harvests for export and for Cuba’s burgeoning tourist markets. Part of the production is shifting away from feeding local and regional markets, and increasingly focusing on feeding tourists and producing organic tropical products for export.   
President Obama hopes to open the door for U.S. businesses to sell goods to Cuba. In Havana last Monday during Obama’s visit, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed an agreement with his Cuban counterpart, Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, to promote sharing of ideas and research.
USDA - March 2016: Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Historic Agreements for U.S.-Cuba Agriculture Sectors
“U.S. producers are eager to help meet Cuba’s need for healthy, safe, nutritious food,” Vilsack said. The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, which was launched in 2014 to lobby for an end to the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo, includes more than 100 agricultural companies and trade groups. Analysts estimate that U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba could reach US$1.2 billion if remaining regulations are relaxed and trade barriers are lifted, a market that U.S. agribusiness wants to capture.

November 2015.  US Department of Agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Alabama
 Congresswoman Terri Sewell tour a Havana farmers' market

Here is what has happened with other poorer developing countries who form alliances with industrial Ag Business Interests
When agribusinesses invest in developing countries, they seek economies of scale. This encourages concentration of land in the hands of a few corporations and standardization of small-scale production systems. In turn, these changes force small farmers off of their lands and lead to the abandonment of local crops and traditional farming ways. The expansion of transgenic crops and agrofuels in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia since the 1990s are examples of this process.
Is there really any need to rehash what has happened with the health and damage to both man and nature in those South American countries, or the increased wealth obtained by industrial nations corporate entities ? Nature and poor people are the real losers. It never has been about just wanting to feed the world.
If U.S. industrial agriculture expands into Cuba, there is a risk that it could destroy the complex social network of agroecological small farms that more than 300,000 campesinos have built up over the past several decades through farmer-to-farmer horizontal exchanges of knowledge
Then as the article further states, the richness of biodiversity would ultimately disappear as it has in South American agriculture. So also would the diversity of crops marketed. Industrial Ag loves monocultures that they can control.
This would reduce the diversity of crops that Cuba produces and harm local economies and food security. If large businesses displace small-scale farmers, agriculture will move toward export crops, increasing the ranks of unemployed. There is nothing wrong with small farmers capturing a share of export markets, as long as it does not mean neglecting their roles as local food producers. The Cuban government thus will have to protect campesinos by not importing food products that peasants produce.

You can read the rest of the article (Here). The ugly unsustainable topic now with most all of the well established giant Biotechs and new comer Biotech wannabes is something called Bio-Diesel for an energy hungry consumer planet where everyone wants a piece of the 'good life' pie in hopes of upgrading their lifestyles. Nothing wrong with that, but to satisfy those needs it is proposed that there are a number of plants around the globe which which hold promise for the world's bio-fuels. They would fill the bio-diesel need for all the world's consumption needs. Well at least partly. It would require millions more acres of raw land to be developed [this means more wildlands need sacrificing] into more industrial monoculture behemoths. And with all that land there would also be huge water requirements, far more than they are already wasting and scraping the bottom of the barrel now. Let's face it, these people have no clue on what the real solution is, but the potential for a fistful of them to enrich themselves off these phony schemes seems worth the gamble to them. But hey, with all that science-based, peer-review and Consensus behind them, they'll sure give it a try. Sad thing is most people will blindly fall for this propaganda. But then a handful will learn from the Cuban experiment and hopefully create their own version of biomimetic success. Look at what the prevailing Scientific Orthodoxy has brought us below. Who should you really believe ?

Some frightening history not to forget when it comes to resisting the Anglo-American World Power's quest to stay that way
Some time back around the middle of 2014, several journals came out exposing the US government's efforts to pressure the Central American country of El Salvador to purchase Monsanto GMO seeds or face a withholding of foreign aid. I'll simply let you read the accounts for yourself:
U.S. Government To Pull Foreign Aid In El Salvador For Refusing Monsanto Seeds
The US Wants To Force GMO Seeds On Salvadoran Farmers, But They're Resisting: Report
US pressures El Salvador to buy Monsanto's GMO seeds
Evidently the Public Relations flack was so negative that the US Embassy down there El Salvador posted an explanation on their website as to why they were legally justified in taking the tough position on this:
So the justification here for their position was a little trade agreement between the USA & Central American countries & Dominican Republic called CAFTA-DR. I doubt many even remember this. But it may sound vaguely familiar to the one with the USA, Canada & Mexico called NAFTA. Lately there are others notorious trade agreements making the News, but you may remember that with NAFTA the sale of American Farmer government subsidized corn hurt many of the indigenous peasant maize farmers throughout Mexico who could not compete with the American's cheap corn. The US response was purchase and grow America's GMO seeds and synthetic chemicals and get bigger harvests which would offset the lower corn prices. While the P.R. on all these agreements is that it's for the good of the people and their economy, historically this is never how things work out. Many of these countries now have buyers remorse. So who knows what Cuba may be getting themselves into when signing on the dotted line. Quite simply this is how this world now works. Like everything else going haywire around the globe, this is now the "New Abnormal."
Update April 1, 2016:
U.S. companies make case for keeping Cuba organic

Some Interesting Reading References you can track on your own
The Conversation: Cuba’s sustainable agriculture at risk in U.S. thaw
The Slate: What Cuba Can Teach Us About Food and Climate Change
The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty
The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants
Lessons from Cuba - Cuba's Surprise Harvest


  1. I worry about this as well Kevin. EVERYTHING is in jeopardy. Ecology etc. I wanted to go this year and work with the birding community there before things change. In some ways, Cuba was better for not joining the Western civilization.

    1. Actually, a fascinating side effect of doing things with an organic approach is that Cuba has some of the richest pristine ecological sites in the world. For no other reason than the poisons for profit that effect the mighty North America and Europe don't exist there. I guess that is why Cuba ecosystems are part of that UNESCO heritage site designation. I feel sorry for the poor folks who will most likely lose their small farms


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