Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network

The primary goal of the Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network is to connect sustainable agriculture stakeholders in the United States with their counterparts in Cuba for the purpose of exchanging information and providing mutual support in their pursuits of agroecological farming practices. We anticipate the development of collaborative education, research and/or marketing initiatives emerging from many of these relationships. 

Cuba developed its agroecology system out of necessity in a petroloeum-scarce economy. Their experience is unique and invaluable. We want to encourage them to share what they've learned with a receptive audience. Visit the Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network site to learn more about the network. 

Background on Cuba's Agriculture and Agroecology:

Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices. It builds on traditional peasant agriculture and applies core ecological principles including: cycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; enhancing soil organic matter and soil biological activity; diversifying plant species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; integrating crops and livestock and optimizing interactions and productivity of the total farming system, rather than the yields of individual species. 

Cuba's preeminent role in agroecology was a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the immediate disinvestment in its Soviet-subsidized petroleum-based agriculture infrastructure. Cubans were faced with the choice of finding new ways to grow food without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or starving. Sustainable agriculture became the only option for feeding themselves. 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, agricultural production rebounded from the shock of the Soviet bloc collapse, and Cuba achieved the best agricultural growth rate of any Latin American country. Much of that can be attributed to the adoption of policies that encouraged individual and cooperative forms of production beginning in the ’90s.

There are 383,000 urban farms, covering 50,000 hectares of otherwise unused land and producing more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables with top urban farms reaching a yield of 20 kg/m2 per year of edible plant material using no synthetic chemicals—equivalent to a hundred tons per hectare. Urban farms supply 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in cities such as Havana and Villa Clara.

Agricultural Cooperatives 

Agricultural cooperatives have emerged as one of the most visible and successful examples of Cuba’s emerging Social Solidarity Economy (SSE), a strategy designed to address the shortcomings of socialism without fully embracing capitalism. Fueled by land policies that make acquiring land for farming fairly easy, cooperatives are flourishing.

Farmers are allowed to remain on the land as long as they meet minimum requirements with respect to overall production and commitments to sell to public institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.) and the state. Failure to meet these requirements can lead to the land being given over to others. This tenure uncertainty has not discouraged cooperatives from investing in building and nurturing the natural assets or infrastructure of their farms, including its farmers. 

Campesino a Campesino (Farmer-to-Farmer) Movement

Campesino a Campesino may most succinctly be described as farmer-led alternative agriculture and popular education

The movement “works” with the two hands of ‘production and protection’. By focusing on overcoming limiting factors to production and on strengthening the weak ecological functions in the agroecosystem, farmers first reduce and then substitute external for internal inputs. To the extent possible, they gradually eliminate inputs altogether by redesigning the farm system to rely primarily on ecosystem functions. 

Please visit the Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network site for further information