Life or Death: Cuba’s Urban Farming

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. 

3 thoughts on “Life or Death: Cuba’s Urban Farming

  1. Hello!
    I thought that your blog post about farming in Cuba was very interesting. I had never heard of Organoponics before reading your post. It is great to learn about how this country has found a way to still be sustainable and feed their people. They have definitely had to overcome many obstacles. It is sad to think about the losses that many citizens of the country had to endure because of their leader’s poor decisions and them being a communist country. It just goes to show how people can adapt and overcome problems they may face. I feel like this would be a great agriculture system for people in urban areas in our country to do.
    Great Job!


  2. Hello,

    When alluding to how the United States should assess the prospects of widely adopting sustainable urban farming, it raises a good point about the barriers to establishing such a food system. In Cuba, the switch urban agriculture and organoponics was a desperate move in order for the country to feed its own people but proved to be overall successful and has been shown to be a consistent form of agriculture even in the midst of improved urbanization. The United States has yet to be in a desperate state allowing the persistence of social barriers to incorporating urban agriculture such as having to struggle to purchase and keep land and residents being unable to accept agriculture near them. Hopefully the United States does not endure a struggling period such as Cuba but it is clear that since there is evidence that organoponics and urban agriculture can be sustain an entire country, there should really be an effort on part of United States government and the citizens of metropolitan cities to consider a major shift in their food systems.


  3. The example of Cuba in regards to its food systems showcases the potential ways every country can grow organic food. Urban agriculture has taken root in Cuba and although it’s not a perfect model, it has achieved a level of success unseen here in the United States. One of the reasons this is government support, playing a role in helping to maintain the progress and it may be the thing needed to take urban agriculture even further in the U.S. Another reason for its success would be the adaptability of the farmers to grow different plants based on what little resources they have. One visitor details her experience in Cuba and what she encountered while visiting various organopónicos.


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