April 27, 2010

Cuba urban farming – what can we learn from Cubans?

Cuba and especially Havana was famous for centuries from beautiful cultural heritage, then for some time everyone knew who was Fidel and recently Cuba is most famous from Cuba urban farming - most spectacular organic urban farming revolution ever happened on the Planet.
In 90-ties, the food system relying heavily on import collapsed and oil supply was suddenly shortened, Cuba faced dramatic shortages in food supply. Before crisis 50% of food was imported from Middle and Eastern Europe. Another 50% produced locally could not get to the city because of lack of gasoline. Literally there was no gasoline to transport the fresh food to the city.
People having bicycles were in much better situation, they could get to countryside and buy fruits, vegetables and rice. That economic disturbance started very spontaneous green revolution. Cubans had to learn how to grow vegetables. The government cancelled all laws which banned urban farming in the city. Anyone who declared to produce food, got the a piece of land to take care of. Even the lawns in front of ministry of agriculture were turned to veggie patch.

Food production in Havana multiplied 50 times in 5 years. Today 80% of Havana’s fresh food is produced within city limits. All intensive organic. Pesticides are banned, because of the threat of water contamination.

The world is today at oil peak, the moment when demand exceeds supply. This means that from today, the oil surplus will get smaller every year. This sounds pretty boring – I know. I felt same reading this sentence few times before until I saw the diagram based on US military report published recently by The Guardian. When I opened the link to article today, I can see the diagram being removed , but seeing it 2 weeks ago and reading that part was real eye-opening:

“The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.”

From now on I believe, that oil peak is not a distant threat. It can knock my door in few years. This is why it is better to be prepared and learn how to grow your own fruits and vegetables.

If you want to know more about Cuba urban farming and what you can learn from Cubans:

Another interesting video about Cuba urban farming you may watch here.


Noel Morata said...

aloha ewa,

i'm impressed how self sufficient people can be in spite of lacking resources...i love those amazing vegetable beds...yes if only people can consciously think about growing and making their own instead of being mass consumers....life would be different.

Ellada said...

Hello,from Greece.
In the Greek TV, they talk about the organic garden of Cuba.
And the presenter was impressed by the work in the garden.
Have a great day.

Patrick said...

I've heard a lot of conflicting information about this, and I think there's a lot of relevant information that people don't often talk about.

I think the organoponicos in the in cities are a bit of a success story, but apparently these days they grow mostly lettuce and tomatoes and little else. Cubans apparently don't eat many other vegetables. Most Cubans prefer meats and beans, which are mostly produced outside of cities. If you ever talk to a vegetarian who's visited Cuba, you'll hear about how difficult it is to find vegetarian food.

It's also apparently not true that most food is grown organically these days. It's true, in the beginning of the Special Time, there were severe shortages of agricultural chemicals and things were mostly organically grown then. In recently years however, these chemicals have become available again, and many farmers have chosen to go back to old ways. My understanding is organic food is now a speciality item, like it is in most of the rest of the world.

There are conflicting reports about how much food is imported by the Cuban government, but some reports suggest as much of 80% of their food is now imported. It's apparently just easier and cheaper to import it, then for them to produce it themselves.

It's not that a lot of lessons weren't learned, and a lot of good things did come out of the Special Period, but I think some things that people say probably just aren't true.

Ewa said...

Hi Patrick,
Thank you for commenting. I think this was spectacular way of getting out of real trouble - which is also a good example to us. For me this was great inspiration to grow more vegetables in my garden and trying to be more self-sufficent.
Already in those videos they were mentioning something about changes that were planned.

freerangegirl said...

Hi Ewa
Ive read a lot about the Cuban gardens and would love to see them. I have heard they are amazing and would love to see more of this type of initiative in the UK - but whilst we still fly our beans around the world before they land on our plates I cant quite see it! Love the blog.