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Organic Agriculture in Cuba During the Special Period

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Organic Agriculture in Cuba During the Special Period describes how Cuba produced food during the Special Period in Time of Peace, a period beginning in 1990 when imports of food, fertilizer, animal feed, and oil collapsed.[1]

Cuban Agriculture Before the Special Period

As of 1989, 30 percent of Cuba's agricultural land was devoted to sugarcane, which was used to generate 75 percent of the nation's export revenues. In turn, Cuba imported 57 percent of its food.[2] Cuba boasted the most tractors per person and per unit of area, and the second highest average grain yields within Latin America. Nearly half of Cuba's fertilizer and 82 percent of pesticides, both which Cuban agriculture heavily depended upon, were imported.

"Cuba had embraced intensive agriculture, with the accelerated introduction of high-tech methods and chemical inputs in search of higher yields and greater labor productivity. But our agriculture eventually had to confront the declining response of crops to even higher rates of chemical fertilization, worsening soil degradation (compaction, salinization, and erosion), growing resistance of pests to pesticides, more frequent pest outbreaks as natural mechanisms of regulation broke down, an overemphasis on extensive monoculture, and higher wind speeds and other climatic changes due to deforestation, among the many negative effects of industrial agriculture."[3]

In 1989, 78 percent of arable land was owned by the state, 10 percent belonged to Agriculture Production Cooperatives (CPAs), and 12 percent to Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCSs).[4]

For more information, see the article on Cuban Agriculture 1959-1989.

Imports and Food Production in the Special Period

"With the 1989 collapse of the centrally planned economies of Eastern Europe and the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost both its major markets and its primary source of foreign assistance. As a result, the Cuban economy collapsed, and the full effect of the U.S. embargo became evident. The loss of cheap Soviet oil also triggered a Cuban energy crisis. Cuban foreign trade fell 75 percent, and economic output fell 50 percent.
"By 1994, agricultural production had fallen 54 percent from 1989 levels. Particularly hard hit were sugar and tobacco production. Food consumption fell 36 percent. Daily caloric intake fell from 2,908 calories per day in the 1980’s to 1,863 calories per day in 1993. (The USDA-recommended minimum is 2,100-2,300 calories per day.) For those most dependent on state rations—the very old and the very young—consumption fell to 1,450 calories per day."[5]

Between 1989 and 1993, Cuban imports fell by 75 percent and exports fell by 79 percent. In 1993, consumers could not even find "sufficient goods in stores on which to spend their salary." Exports began to recover in 1994 and by 1998, they accounted for 15.8 percent of GNP.[6] Given the importance of food, foodstuffs increased from 16 percent of total imports in 1990 to 28 percent of the reduced total imports from 1993 to 1995.[7]

Between 1989 and 1998, production of various foods changed as follows:[8]

  • Roots and tubers: 114% (Production in 1998 was 114% of production in 1989)
  • Vegetables: 116%
  • Beans: 181%
  • Rice (wet husks): 63%
  • Citrus, fresh: 79%
  • Other fruits: 51%
  • Milk: 62%
  • Eggs: 61%
  • Poultry: 28%
  • Beef: 48%

Agricultural statistics fail to include production from gardens, backyards, patios, and "other small holdings," a significant omission, as the urban sector produced 800,000 tons of produce in 1999.[9] Urban agriculture in Cuba is organic, using no chemical fertilizer or pesticides.[10]

The drop in animal products is in large part due to the loss of imported feed, crucial to maintaining the intensive systems that were common prior to the Special Period. Beef production also suffered a blow because thousands of males were suddenly needed for animal traction and could not be consumed as food once the Special Period began.[11]

Vegetable production suffered an initial drop, falling by 34 percent between 1989 and 1995, due to previous resistance on agrochemicals which were no longer available. Roots and tuber production actually increased during that period by five percent, mostly due to an increase in potato production. However, in the latter half of the 1990s, vegetable, root, and tuber production increased, resulting in 1998 harvests that exceeded 1989 harvests.[12]

Urban Agriculture

Since the start of the Special Period, "Cuba has developed one of the most successful examples of urban agriculture in the world." However, it must be noted that Cubans include suburban and peri-urban areas in their definition of "urban agriculture." Urban agriculture was one of Cuba's solutions to its shortage of oil and other imported inputs in the Special Period because "urban production minimized transportation costs and smaller-scale production minimized the need for machinery." In Cuba, urban agriculture is organic, both because synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides are in short supply, and because Cubans do not want toxic chemicals used near population centers.[13]

Havana is home to 20 percent of Cuba's population but constitutes only 0.67 percent of the nation's total area (and 0.4 percent of its agricultural land). Thus, it has a harder time than other parts of Cuba in producing its food for its population locally. For example, in 2001, Havana only produced 171 grams per person per day of vegetables, far less than the next lowest producing province, Santiago de Cuba, with 415 grams. Still, Havana has rapidly increased its vegetable production over the past two decades. By 2005, it had achieved production of 240 grams of vegetables per capita per day, still less than the amount produced in other provinces, but above FAO recommendations for vegetable consumption.[14]

All in all, from 20,700 metric tons of vegetables produced in Havana in 1997, annual production surpassed 100,000 tons in 2000, and surged beyond 250,000 tons in 2003. In 2005, Havana produced 272,000 metric tons of vegetables. As production increased, so did the agricultural workforce in Havana, growing from 9000 in 1999 to 23,000 in 2001, and surpassing 44,000 in 2006. "Urban agriculture in Havana is more labor intensive than in the rest of the country. Although Havana has only 3 percent of urban agricultural land in Cuba, it employs about 12.5 percent of the county’s urban agricultural work force."[15]

Organic Practices Adopted

Organopónicos

As early as the 1970s, Cuba was aware of the risk it faced if the U.S. imposed a complete blockade on Cuban trade. Cuba's Ministry of Defense began looking at how the nation could cope with a complete cut-off of petroleum imports. At the Armed Forces Horticultural Enterprise, a woman only identified later as "Ingeniera Anita" had successfully experimented with growing vegetables without petrochemicals. Raul Castro, then minister of defense, visited and saw her work on December 27, 1987, a few years before the start of the Special Period. He "suggested the desirability of generalizing this method of cultivation," a method later known as organopónicos.[16]

"Thus, beginning December 1987, four years before the demise of the Soviet Union, the so-called organoponicos, rectangular-walled constructions—roughly thirty meters by one meter—containing raised beds of a mixture of soil and organic material such as compost, started being installed in armed forces facilities.
"It was, however, not until the end of 1991, that the first “civilian” organoponico in Havana was put into operation in a two-acre, empty lot across the street from the INRE Headquarters in the Miramar district of Havana. Since then, the organoponico has become one of the mainstays of vegetable cultivation in Cuban urban agriculture."[17]
"By 1994, an organization was created to oversee the systematic introduction of organoponicos and intensive gardens into urban agriculture. In 1997 this was converted into the Urban Agriculture National Movement."[18]

Throughout Cuba, organopónicos are established "typically in units between one-half and several hectares in size."[19] Cubans also make use of "intensive gardens," which are identical to organopónicos but without walled beds.

Biological Pest Control

Prior to the Special Period, Cuba had already adopted Integrated Pest Management (IPM). (For more information, see the article on Cuban Agriculture 1959-1989). Between 1991 and 1998, Cuba imported between 6,000 and 12,000 tons of pesticides per year, averaging 8,375 tons per year, down from 20,000 tons imported in 1990.[20]

To produce food without pesticides, Cuba immediately stepped up its production of biological pest controls, expanding its network of Centers for Production of Entomophages and Entomopathogens (CREEs). By 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture operated 227 CREEs (up from 103 in 1989) throughout the country and the Ministry of Sugar operated 53 in sugar-producing areas.[21]

Intercropping

Intercropping

Government and Organizational Reforms

Cuba's success with organic agriculture was intertwined with successful changes in organization and government reforms.

"The new model, however, cannot be simply reduced to its technical dimension - agroecological management of production systems -, as is often the case with technological change in other parts of the world. Rather the technical dimension is intimately entwined with something as fundamental as changes in the relations of production, which makes the change process in Cuba a more integral one, and differentiates it from experiences elsewhere."[22]

Government Reforms

The Cuban government responded to the crisis with a series of reforms. It "rationed food, fuel, and electricity and gave priority to domestic food production, development of tourism, and biotechnology. The collapse of the sugar sector and its poor prospects emphasized the need to diversify agricultural production."[5]

In 1993, the government began breaking up large state farms, instead forming cooperatives known as Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) which were allotted land in usufruct. "State enterprises still provide marketing, technical assistance, production services, and agricultural inputs. Producers are allowed to sell surplus production after delivering a contracted monthly quota to the state."[5]

At the outset of the special period, "small farmers were the minority in both employment and total acreage, and in general were less technified and had fewer material resources. Nevertheless, the productivity of private farmers was greater than that of state farms in certain key commodities, and they reached the same or higher yields with fewer inputs. With only 20 percent of the total agricultural area, private farmers contributed 35 percent of national production, using less than 20 percent of the resources invested in agriculture."[23]

In 1993, at the start of the reforms, the government owned more than 75 percent of arable land. By 1996, it only had 33 percent, held in state farms, New Type State Farms (GENTs), and "self-provisioning" farms for the army, workplaces, and public institutions.[24]

Farmers Markets: In 1994, the government allowed the formation of farmers' markets. As of 1998, farmers markets handled 25-30 percent of the farm products sold to Cuban consumers.[5] Farmers markets are dominated by the private sector, accounting for 70.7 percent of farmers' market sales as of 1996. The state sector accounted for 25.7 that year, with cooperative farms (CPAs and UBPCs) making up the rest.[25]

Individual Usufruct Farmers: Beginning in 1993, the state gave up to 27 hectares each to individual families in permanent and free usufruct to grow crops like coffee, tobacco, and cocoa. By 1996, there were 43,015 usufructarios, as these farmers are known. Additionally, individuals in urban areas could receive up to 0.25 hectares in usufruct to grow food for themselves and their neighbors.[26]

Cooperative Farm Structures

UBPCs: Many of the state farms were broken up into Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs) at the end of 1993. "In 1997 there were 2,654 UBPCs with 272,407 members occupying 42 percent of the land."[27]

CPAs: Between 1989 and 1997, the amount of land under control by Agriculture Production Cooperatives (CPAs) changed little, from 10 percent to 9.4 percent.[28]

"In 1997 there were 1,156 CPAs with a total of 62,155 members, who owned 9.4 percent of the agricultural lands. The CPAs had shown a steady decline in membership from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, when they began to rebound. The recovery came about as new members joined, with backgrounds in the most diverse array of occupations. They were drawn to farming by the advantages of rural cooperative life with respect to income, access to affordable food and, to a lesser degree, housing."[29] (In 1998, there were 1139 CPAs on 709,944 hectares with 62,925 members. Each CPA averaged 623.3 hectares and 55.2 members.[30])

CCSs: In 1989, 12 percent of the land was occupied by private farms organized into Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCSs).[31] By 1997, they still held the same percent of Cuba's land. As of 1997, there were 2,709 CCSs with 159,223 individual farmers among them.[32] (In 1998, there were 979,888 hectares under 2578 CCSs with 168,484 members in total. The average CCS included 65.4 members and the average member farmed 5.8 hectares each.)[33])

Farmer to Farmer Training

[34]

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles

References

  1. Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Excerpt from Cuba: Between Reform & Revolution, Chapter 12 - Socialist Cuba, Section XII - Pages 381-387.
  2. Peter Michael Rosset, Braulio Machín Sosa, Adilén María Roque Jaime & Dana Rocío Ávila Lozano, "The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty," Journal of Peasant Studies, Volume 38, Issue 1, 2011, p. 161-191.
  3. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 68.
  4. Machin Sosa, B., et al. 2010. Revolucion agroecologica: el movimiento de campesino a campesino de la ANAP en Cuba. Cuando el campesino ve, hace fe, Havana: ANAP and La Via Campesina.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Cuba’s Agriculture: Collapse & Economic Reform," USDA, October 1998.
  6. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 41.
  7. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 47.
  8. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 44.
  9. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 45.
  10. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 54.
  11. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 45.
  12. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 45.
  13. Sinan Koont, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, Volume 60, Issue 08, January 2009.
  14. Sinan Koont, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, Volume 60, Issue 08, January 2009.
  15. Sinan Koont, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, Volume 60, Issue 08, January 2009.
  16. Sinan Koont, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, Volume 60, Issue 08, January 2009.
  17. Sinan Koont, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, Volume 60, Issue 08, January 2009.
  18. Sinan Koont, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, Volume 60, Issue 08, January 2009.
  19. Sinan Koont, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, Volume 60, Issue 08, January 2009.
  20. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 111.
  21. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 114-115.
  22. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 68.
  23. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 58.
  24. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 59.
  25. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 65.
  26. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 64.
  27. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 62.
  28. Machin Sosa, B., et al. 2010. Revolucion agroecologica: el movimiento de campesino a campesino de la ANAP en Cuba. Cuando el campesino ve, hace fe, Havana: ANAP and La Via Campesina.
  29. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 61.
  30. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 73-75.
  31. Machin Sosa, B., et al. 2010. Revolucion agroecologica: el movimiento de campesino a campesino de la ANAP en Cuba. Cuando el campesino ve, hace fe, Havana: ANAP and La Via Campesina.
  32. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 63.
  33. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 73-75.
  34. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 82.

External Resources

Books

  • Peter Rosset and Medea Benjamin, The Greening of the Revolution: Cuba's Experiment with Organic Agriculture

External Articles

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1998:

1996: