The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

Cuba – World Leader in Sustainable, Organic Farming


This is Part one of  Marcella Pedersen’s five part series on her trip to Cuba.  As someone who is interested in all kinds of farming, Pedersen made it a priority to visit Cuba’s organic sustainable farms.  In this article she provides a little history on how and why organic farms were established and what makes Cuba a world leader in organic, sustainable agriculture.  If you are interested in continuing with the series, you can find it here.

 - Cuban farmers take a multi-faceted approach to pest control, while reducing reliance on expensive pesticides. - Photo submittedCuba is a world leader in sustainable organic farming and, as I am interested in all types of farming, I wanted to see for myself how farmers were managing to thrive in Cuba. The trip was organized by Wendy Holm who had connections with ANAP and co-operatives in Cuba.
For a little background and understanding of Cuban history and challenges, the following is from a website on Cuban sustainable organic farming. I couldn’t say it any better or shorter.
“Cuba was once dependent on imports from the Soviet Union for a large percentage of staple goods as well as fertilizers, pesticides, animal feed and petroleum. The farms were large, high-input industrial farms, many of which grew cash crops in monocultures for export.
“When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba was plunged into a severe economic crisis, where imports of food and other basic necessities, including pesticides and chemical fertilizers, fell overnight. Within a year the country lost over 80% of its foreign trade, which compounded by ongoing US embargos, triggered widespread hunger and malnutrition in what was known as Cuba’s “special period”. Without infrastructure or fuel to transport goods from rural to urban areas, the cities had no way of feeding themselves. The crisis spurred the government into action: switched from the export of cash crops to growing food crops for domestic consumption; mobilizing resources and putting the urban wastelands into use as farms and orchards; offered incentives to encourage people to move back to rural areas to work on the land; and changed many state farms to co-operatives.
“Organic farming was specifically emphasized, and all over Cuba, production was converted from high-input agriculture to low-input, self-reliant farming using a mix of old techniques and new organic farming practices, for example: Composting and vermicomposting; Soil and water conservation; Intercropping; Encouraging natural predators of pests; Replacing synthetic with natural fertilizers; Increasing diversity of crops grown; Integrating grazing animals; Cover cropping to suppress weeds; Rotating crops.
“By 1995, the food shortage had been overcome …. In 2002, Cuba produced 3.2 million tons of food in urban farms and gardens, providing fresh organic produce to the population and improving the diet of Cubans. Gardens attached to schools are more common as local food production, and ecological issues are a required part of the curriculum. Most rural homes produce their own staple foods, including beans and traditional root/tuber crops.
“Future challenges are predictably arising from market forces, which stand to undermine this system: urban farm space will compete for land for development of tourism (which brings in more foreign currency). Simultaneously, the development addresses unemployment, food security, environment, urban migration, community, recycling, and a cleaner environment and quality of life so absent from many developing world urban centers. It also shows how Cuba managed to turn a crisis into an asset.”
Cuban agriculture “works with nature.” In Cuba, one calorie of energy produces 12 calories of food. Canada uses 12 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food.
Cubans are proud of their history and accomplishments. The happiness factor of Cubans: is very high. Our guide says young people are 50/50 on the happiness factor.
As all people are from somewhere else – Spain, Africa, Holland, the United States – the people didn’t have roots in Cuba, nor a strong sense of belonging. During the revolution, they got rid of colonialism, imperialism and exploitation. When Fidel Castro was arrested before the revolution, he said in his own defence, “history will absolve me.” He is a hero to the country and highly respected for caring for the people.
This was a great trip for learning about organic agriculture. Besides the above, what I learned that affected me the most was that my 10- to 15-year-old eczema cleared up in two weeks. The last three days we were at five star hotels that use the same processed food that we have here. On the third day, just as we were leaving Cuba, my eczema broke out again.
Having read Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith, I decided to take GM canola oil out of my diet. As I am a “from scratch” cook, it was not difficult to change to olive and coconut oils. Over the next four months, I discovered that when I was on the road, my eczema broke out again and again. Now, when at home, it clears up.
I am now convinced completely that genetically modified canola oil, corn products and soya products are the culprit for my eczema. Fifteen years of needless suffering for me as Monsanto and the like experiment on the population as a whole. To think that children 15 years and younger could be having problems because of this change in our food.
I would be interested in hearing from others who have gone off of GMs and found their health Organic is the only way to go for better health.
Watch for Trip to Cuba: Part II, co-ops in Cuba; Part III, farm/urban life in Cuba and Part IV, crocodile farm preserve.

Author: Daniela

I will forever be grateful that I was introduced to the utility and beauty of hand crafted products early in life - from the symbolic motifs sewn into the coarse linen fabric of Croatian traditional wear to the colorful Kilim carpets that decorated the parquet floors in my grandmother's living room. I treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," the smell of the flower stalls in the open air market where my grandmother bought produce early every morning for the day’s meals and the summers spent at my great grandmother's where the village wags would come to gossip over thick, black Turkish coffee in her cool stone kitchen. Someone noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world - one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

10 thoughts on “Cuba – World Leader in Sustainable, Organic Farming

    • not only is this enriching the soil, means of reclaiming dead earth(barren) a good means of reusing our biodegradable waste, intelligent means of clearing our daily waste, an eyesore in Indian cities
      so lets all go organic, here is a word of caut

      • here lies the word of caution in developing countries where the bulk of the population is struggling for their daily bread how about such fashionable veggies!!!!

  1. Pingback: Cuba – World Leader in Sustainable, Organic Farming « Camel, food security and climate change

  2. Daniela,

    I caught your post on organic developments in India on the ‘wordpress reader’ and haven’t checked it out yet. But Cuba popped to mind – somewhere I’ve bookmarked an article found a year or so ago on Cuban organic programs. I thought “I should find the link and send it to Daniela.” What a delight when I scrolled down on the reader and found you’re already ‘on it’ – Great post !

    Cuba is an inspiration to me, could be to many of us, as a model of what can be done when access to ‘standard benefits of industrial imports, etc., are denied’. I’m often impressed too with pockets of similar resilience and determination in stories I come across of people in India, (communities in Africa too, now that I think of it … I so admire innovations that seem to incorporate community cooperative intelligence — maybe Detroit will develop as one of the US centers for this!)

    In contrast – this story reveals something of how ‘remote bureaucracy’ might relate to agriculture:


    My thoughts on Syria these days – very troubled at what may develop.

    Thanks for the ‘boost’ of humanity on a better track via these organic program posts!

    • What I find tragic is the narrative that’s perpetuated in our press about Cuba and other “poor” countries around the world. We are so arrogant in assuming they can’t survive without us intervening and pushing our technology down their throats. There was a great Ted Talk given by an Italian who worked with NGO’s in Africa to teach the Africans in a particular village how to grow crops. He explains how they showed the townspeople what to plant and where. He went on to talk about how big and beautiful the plants grew in that warm and humid climate and how gigantic the cantalopes were. And, just when they got ready to pick them, the hippos came up from the river and ate everything in the garden. He asked the townspeople why didn’t they say something. They replied you didn’t ask us. And that was the crux of his talk. From this experience he developed a new model. When he was in a new place he would take the time to get to know the people, listen to the ideas of their entrepreneurs and help them with seed money, etc. to establish their businesses. He gave examples of businesses they helped start that were very successful and helped build vibrant communities. I don’t think I posted it here and I’ve been sorry ever since because I think he was spot on.

      I try to highlight stories here of alternative solutions to today’s problems. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of Vandana Shiva. She has been so emphatic about the fact that you can’t solve a problem by using the same thinking that created it. There are so many committed and creative people out there who are doing great things. I’m so happy that in the process of writing this blog I’ve been able to learn about them and share their stories.

      • I just spent a few minutes trying to track down the TED talk you describe. It’s a perfect story to fit your observation: “… so tragic is the narrative that’s perpetuated in our press about Cuba and other “poor” countries around the world. We are so arrogant in assuming they can’t survive without us intervening and pushing our technology down their throats.” I was raised in the rural American Midwest, by and among “salt of earth” people. Both within my family and due to my family’s ‘culture’ I’ve always been something of an ‘outsider’ while also being ‘inside’. (I was an ‘outlier’ within my family, and my family’s culture held us somewhat ‘outside’ surrounding community culture and certainly ‘outside’ mainstream American rising consumer culture!) All that experience as an outsider very likely significantly shaped my early-formed world view – which was to begin to relate to myself as a “universal family” person. This in turn, quite early, led me conclude “my country above all others on all matters” was not a logical fit (with my universal family status.) At the same time, I had no cause to think of American ‘global presence’ as anything but what we were taught – noble, benign. I had vague awareness that the land we ‘owned’ and farmed had come to us in a way that created great sadness in those who’d walked the prairies before, even that some kind of injustice was involved, but was not at all inclined to ‘think politically’, and politics were not discussed in my environment. — University experience introduced me to political questions about US international policy (Vietnam) but I still wasn’t a ‘political thinker’. I got most of my awakening by eavesdropping on conversations of students who *did* think politically, (none from backgrounds such as mine – most from places like New York and Chicago.) I was a part of the out-migration to Canada in the late 60’s, and picked up more ‘hints’ from listening to political conversations around me, wasn’t hearing or thinking about US involvement in Latin American upheavals at the time. Returning to the States in 2005 was a culture shock on two counts especially – the reality of living in a nation where “support our troops” was paramount over “what are we doing to Iraqi people”. (The latter not a question that could be raised in my new community – similar to my Midwestern childhood community.) That I could feel deep compassion for *everyone* caught in the war – both ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ seemed impossible to explain. The second culture shock ‘biggie’ was the health care debate, how it was ‘managed’ so single-payer would be left out of the discussion and ‘a public option’ also quickly was taken off the table. The mystery of American dominant culture, the inconsistencies between what was touted as its “beacon to the world” vs what the people either chose or allowed, fully captured my attention. I’ve since spent hours, days, weeks, months combing the net, trying to piece understanding together. My own professional training includes a lot of psychology (Adlerian and late 20thC insights) – I’ve blended these with what I’ve learned from taking in university history lectures, and interviews with authors in fields of history and politics among others. I think I’ve developed some ‘on target’ insights but the prognosis, right now, may not be good.

        I do not believe a culture like the US culture (so isolated and also so large and powerful) can become more reflective and appropriately mindful until/unless many more individuals better understand the “psychology” of themselves and the “consensus reality” which they create and draw confirmation from. (I think this is true of *all* societies, but US size, power, and approval of itself as “exceptional” makes it an especially troubling problem.)

        I think I’m responding to what you’ve raised in both your replies.

        At the ‘grassroots’ community level – many Americans are in tune with the inspirations you find and share, especially in urban regions where ideas can be more vigorously discussed, and gathering to accomplish projects is easier. And especially among younger Americans, there is much more awareness of humanity at a global level.

        I’m still concerned, however, at ‘scope and pace’, and ‘power and momentum’ of what has become “The American Capitalist Way”, and is now quite global.

        My study of history has brought me awareness of American interference in *many* nations – from early in our history right through, with increasing damage to populations and cultures among other peoples. (The US has not done this alone – other nations, have participated – but US has been the ‘seat’ of these “initiatives”). Ordinary American citizens have been unaware of most of this – and that’s part of the problem too.

        All this long reply comes back around to “exceptionalism”, “arrogance”, “not asking and not listening”. — I’m afraid there’s a larger reason the only American solution to the gassing deaths in Syria is bombs. Or at least there’s sufficient evidence to take the possibility very seriously. For all my study, I can’t claim to speak with a scholar’s authority – but I’ve pulled together some ‘components’ in a post on Syria to try to ‘suggest’ there’s something ‘real’ to be noticed. Assad may be a ‘creep’ in multiple ways, but he’s also a convenience, IMO. (And – as your friends say – he *has* protected the Christian communities — threat from religious extremists in the Middle East is another factor, which, from what I gather, the proposed bombing would do nothing to ease, and could make much worse.)

        If, out of your own interest, you want to consider what I’ve put together, here’s the link:

        I would not expect you to re-blog it. I think your blog’s focus contributes deep and meaningful information. I’m not sure entanglement with ‘explosive’ geopolitics is a good fit. I view the information and inspirations that come from your efforts as an “over here – see what we could be doing instead” alternative. We badly need spaces that reveal what we could be doing instead!

    • I’ve reposted a couple of things about Syria, but have pretty much stayed away from it because I’m not sure how I feel about it. I have a friend in California whose family is from Syria and he supports Assad because they are Christians. The world said “never again” after Hitler, but have not stepped in to stop these kinds of atrocities. Another close friend of our family years ago talking about some conflict in Africa said this is the consequence of colonialism.

      What I have yet to hear in our press is that the riots in Egypt started because of the high cost of food. People were waving bread in the air. There was a small piece somewhere that asked if Syria erupted because they are experiencing a drought and their food prices went up. And, while people starve, the elite of the world are profiting off of the high cost of food. That’s why I post so many articles about cooperatives. I believe that democratizing the distribution of capital through cooperatives will go a long way toward solving wealth disparity, joblessness, and diminishing the power these huge multinationals hold over governments, workers and consumers.

  3. I apologize! I should have thrown the ‘return’ key a few times in the opening paragraph of my very long reply! Also meant to say I never, in my life, intended to become so “political”! It’s been a surprise and even something of an adjustment for me! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s