AGRICULTURE IN CUBA TODAY
Cuba is now one of the world leaders in biofertilisers, with
a highly impressive production of organic food. This agricultural
approach has breathed new life into rural communities and
done a great deal to stem rural migration to urban areas.
It is the envy of international organizations promoting organic
farming and sustainable development. Cuban farmers and researchers
are applying traditional and alternative technologies to food
production and forging ahead towards their ultimate goal of
area in which an innovative approach has been applied is that
of urban agriculture. Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean,
housing 20% of Cuba’s population. Food shortages and
the lack of fuel for distribution had a catastrophic effect
on the city in the early nineties so the establishment of
private gardens, state-owned research gardens and popular
gardens employing around 25,000 urban farmers has been of
inestimable value in maintaining the capital’s food
supplies. The popular gardens range in size from a few square
metres to large plots of land which are cultivated by individuals
or community groups. They yield important food supplies to
local communities in addition to the medicinal plants prescribed
for all manner of ailments by local yerberos.
In 2006 one cannot yet declare that everything in the Cuban
garden’s lovely, but it would be churlish to deny the
agricultural achievements of recent years:
By 1999, there were gains in yields for 16 of 18 major crops,
potato, cabbage, malanga, bean and pepper yields having higher
yields than Central America and being above the average yields
in the world.
By the end of 2000, food availability in Cuba reached daily
levels of 2600 calories and more than 68 grams of protein
(the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation considers
2400 calories and 72 grams of protein per day to be sufficient).
By 2002, 35,000 acres of urban gardens produced 3.4 million
tons of food. In Havana, 90% of the city's fresh produce came
from local urban farms and gardens, all organic. In 2003,
more than 200,000 Cubans worked in the expanding urban agriculture
In 2003, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture was using less
than 50% of the diesel fuel it used in 1989, less than 10%
of the chemical fertilisers and less than 7% of the synthetic
insecticides. A chain of 220 bio-pesticide centres provided
safe alternatives for pest control.
The ongoing National Program for Soil Improvement and Preservation
benefited 475,000 hectares of land in 2004, up 23,000 hectares
in 2003. The annual production of 5 million tonnes of composted
soil by a network of worm farms is part of this process.
the time of writing, the Cuban government is heavily committed
a close partnership with Venezuela and potentially with other
left-wing Latin American governments. Agreements with Venezuela
include the constitution of a bilateral enterprise to promote
agricultural development, training and biodiversity. For several
years Cuba has been exporting its city farming ‘revolution’
to Venezuela, despite sceptical remarks from Venezuelans about
why so much effort should be put into urban farming when there
are thousands of miles of fertile farmland so far uncultivated
in the country.
It is to be hoped that in the wake of new international economic
agreements, the important progress made in Cuban agriculture
will not be relinquished to renewed reliance upon costly imports,
a facile short-term solution with –as has already been
observed in Cuba - catastrophic long-term implications. It
remains to be seen whether the Cuban administration will have
the vision to continue to espouse sustainable agriculture.
In the long term, when the United States’ trade embargo
is finally lifted and cheap agricultural products become widely
available, it is unlikely that Cuban farmers will be able
to compete without returning to intensive agriculture, unless
skilled marketing initiatives are applied to promote the currently
excellent standards of Cuban organic produce.