At last week’s Cuba Summit conference in Washington, DC, Fernando Monzote, Cuban farmer-entrepreneur, said organic farming is having an impact and creating opportunity in Cuba.
According to the United Nations, Cuba’s transition to organic agriculture has had a positive impact on people’s livelihoods by guaranteeing a steady income for a significant proportion of the population under embargo conditions. Cuba lost its main supplier of fertilizers and pesticides when the Soviet Union collapsed, so the challenges required an “a lo Cubano” solution – the special way Cubans improvise under conditions of scarcity.
The UN says the lack of pesticides for agricultural production will have a positive long-term impact on Cubans’ wellbeing since such chemicals are too often associated with various adverse health implications such as certain forms of cancer.
It is regrettable situation that Cuba’s population of 11 million people imports 70 to 80% of its domestic food requirements despite having productive soil and severe underemployment. With rapid growth in tourism, feeding tourists as well as its own population is an epic challenge faced by the Cuban government. What’s more, importing food consumes precious hard currency.
The province of Pinar del Rio is particularly inventive in organic farming with an aim to resolve Cuba’s food production problems. Noelia Víctores, the provincial agricultural coordinator, reports that there are now more than 5,800 producers affiliated with the initiative, working with a variety of techniques including soil conservation with the incorporation of organic material and creation of living barriers to prevent erosion; the production of natural fertilizers with earthworm humus; using biological means to control pests; and the development of renewable energy sources, among others.
According to a report in Granma, a garbage dump located on the shores of the Guamá River near of the provincial capital of Pinar del Río was transformed into a viable farming project which now provides 120 varieties of seedlings.
“There are some who use up to 12 different practices,” she explained. This all began in 1997 with the collapse of the USSR and subsequent loss of agricultural inputs – and also because of the pressing need to care for soils.
“Farmers who traditionally used these types of techniques were identified, and they joined the movement,” Víctores explained, and via workshops and training, the ranks grew over the years.
“It is not only a question of resources, but to have healthier food, as well,” she said.
Most farmers lease land from the government and supply a portion of production to the Cuban government. What’s left over is available for sale directly to consumers and also to hotels with a need to feed tourists high quality food. Yet the lack of domestic wholesale agricultural markets makes sales to lucrative urban buyers out of reach for most farmers. But as with most things in Cuba, there is overwhelming will to succeed.