Life or Death
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba commercially grew sugar cane. It was well known that Cuba traded this crop for staple items like rice, wheat, machinery, gas, and cattle. Unfortunately, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the implementation of the United States trade embargo, Cuba’s agriculture fell short soon after. Many farmers in Cuba struggled to farm and therefore did not have any other choice than to leave their tractors without fuel to operate. Additionally, their cows died as a result of a lack of imported pesticides and fertilizer to grow the food they needed in order to survive. In order to survive, Cuban people completely transformed their agriculture system and began turning plots of land into farms.
What is Organoponicos?
When making the transition from conventional farming into sustainable urban agriculture in order to feed the isolated country, Cubans developed a farming method called organoponicos. The term of Organoponicos refers to producing more food with less. Organoponic gardens helped turn poor soils into thriving farms. Through this method, farmers were able to grow more food with less. Farmers opted for using organic methods such as using crop residue, household waste and animal manure to build soil fertility. It was common for organoponic gardens to develop with furrow in the soil with a barrier of reused material like wood, stone, bricks, or concrete. Farmers focused especially on high yielding vegetables like lettuce, chard, radish, beets, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, and peppers.
Havana’s Thriving Markets
Havana, Cuba has implemented national agriculture programs for urban and peri-urban areas. The Cuban government has played a strong role in advocating for urban farming. This encouraged universities to focus on soil fertility and natural pest prevention. For instance, this was achieved when marigolds were planted within lettuce patches to help repel harmful insects by feeding on cash crops. Using the organoponicos method, the city of Havana in Cuba has been successfully able to produce over 90% of its fruits and vegetables. In fact, Miguel Sacianos, owner of the Vivalaro farm, has produced enough produce to feed 80,000 residents.
What we can learn from Cuba’s Urban Agriculture
Through Cuba’s extremely successful agricultural transition, we can learn that through crisis and governmental support the implementation of methods can accelerate a new food system.
In addition, it shows that communities and even countries as a whole can make the transition from large industrial agriculture and into sustainable urban farms. Until this day, Cuba’s agriculture has been able to sustain itself because it has focused on growing for and within the local community, biologically intensive farming, and encouraging a variety of farmers to grow instead of one large industrial farm. I believe that the United States can reflect on this approach by supporting urban agriculture through backyard farming and community supported agriculture to redevelop food systems.