Cuba’s agricultural strength lies in its ability to produce organic foods grown on its cooperative farms. But the concept of the cooperative farms is not a new idea in Cuban society. Cuba established the first cooperative farms following the enactment of the agrarian reform laws in 1959 and 1963. The worker cooperative farms were created after the Cuban Revolution following the theory that farmers shared machinery, land and management resources to increase agricultural production.
In 1961, the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP) (Association of Small Farmers) was founded. The government then gave 45% of farmland to farmers who were willing to work on the land as a cooperative. Today, ANAP is responsible for managing resources and the dissemination of agricultural research and technology.
Prior to the legal reforms, only a small fraction (8.1%) of the population owned 71% of the land. The agrarian reform laws led to the redistribution of land to more than 100,000 peasants who started rural farming associations. Later these associations merged into Credit and Services Cooperatives (CSSs) where members could obtain farm supplies and machinery on credit. In the 1970s, some of the CSSs merged to form larger Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPAs) that pooled land resources and began collectively farming and working the land.
In 1993, a new form of cooperatives called Basic Units of Cooperatives Production (UBPC) emerged, whereby members owned all the farm produce, machinery, and farm inputs. The government offered farmland free of charge but the land is not actually owned by the farmer. The farmer takes charge of the land and agrees to cooperative farming. The government then provides support to the farmer by making available low cost loans for farming equipment, machinery and tools, livestock, and irrigation systems. New technology and agricultural research is provided to the farmer by the research institutes. Data published by the National Office of Statistics and Information shows that UBPC‘s control and manage 44.6% of Cuba’s farming land. The cooperative farms accounted for 64% of all agricultural activity in the country.
Today there are more than 5,700 cooperatives across Cuba. Approximately 8o% of all agricultural production is based on the cooperative farming model. The produce grown at these farms provides food for domestic consumption enhancing food security, food for export and provides employment for more than 300,000 people. Crops are diverse, ranging from sugarcane farming, coffee, cacao, tobacco, fruits, grains, and vegetables.
Although Cuba still imports much of its food, the government has implemented measures to help attain food security and to rely less on food imports. Cooperative-based farming is a central part of the plan.
Government motivation for upping the number of cooperative farms include boosting food security, increasing landownership, increasing the open markets where farmers can sell farm produce, provide low-interest loans and affordable credit to cooperative members, enabling participation in the coop organizations, stimulating economic growth and enabling farmers to access agricultural inputs and machinery by pooling resources.
The ability of farmers to sell the produce of the cooperative farms at the local markets, basing the price market prices has been a positive move. This has made cooperative farming lucrative for those who work the land. Earnings can increase based on productivity of the farms. There are reports of farmers on some state farms earning as much as 60 CUCs (well above the average salary) a month along with the benefits that come with the job.
To date, the successes achieved by cooperative-based farming have improved local food production and made it easier for farmers to access farm inputs. Increased food production has led to food import reductions reported at $15 million in 2011. If inefficiencies within the system can be addressed, Cuba could one day achieve total food independence.
At the same, an ecosystem of farm produce markets where prices are solely dictated by supply and demand is taking root across the country. Farmers have also benefited greatly, with over 13,200 farmers receiving training and farm equipment courtesy of a program run by the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture in partnership with the European Union and UNDP. About 366 cooperatives have also received agricultural equipment and training via the program. Landownership among Cuba’s rural dwellers has also improved significantly thanks to the cooperative model.
The American embargo against, however, still continues to negatively effect agricultural production in Cuba. Fruit production, cacao and coffee production, livestock, pig farming, bear the consequences of this policy. Access to new farming technology, delays in shipping from and to Cuba as well as increased shipping costs hinder development.
The world has much to learn from Cuba’s organic, sustainable agriculture and its cooperative farms. Cuba’s agricultural revolution has improved the country’s food security and empowered the urban and rural farmers. The concept of cooperative farming has proven to be a successful, highly functional and sustainable. Removing the barriers of the embargo will allow this rich land to feed its people and export its surplus.