Sustainable Agriculture – Cuba’s Urban Organic Farming

organoponico-vivero-alamar-cubaEast of Havana, in Alamar, one of Cuba's most well known organic farms, Organoponico Vivero Alamar, is situated. Photo: M. Hernandez, Cuba Business Report.

Necessity is the mother of all invention,” so goes the wise old proverb and, out of necessity, something innovative usually evolves.

Will Cuba begin exporting it’s organic produce to the United States?  Perhaps that is not the question to ask.  More specifically the question should be, when will Cuba start exporting its organic produce to the U.S.?

According to USA Today,  organic farmers in Florida are worried about the possibility that Cuba could begin exporting their organic produce in the near future.  Cuba is seen as having a very well-developed organic farming sector which could present strong competition to organic farmers in the U.S.

The benefits of not being able to afford the costs of toxic pesticides are multiple. However, it was not only the costs of pesticides which pushed Cuba to create organic farms, but it was also a question of how to feed its people.

Cuba’s unique system of organoponicos, (urban organic farms) was created out of a desperate need to feed its citizens.  With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 – 1991, Cuba was unable to feed its citizens. It lost approximately 80% of its trade. Its source of chemical fertilizers and fuel dried up. There was hunger in these difficult years in Cuba. Caloric intake, as estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) dropped from an average of 2,600 calories per person in the 1980s to only 1,000 to 1,500 calories a day in 1993. Out of necessity the concept of urban organic farming, ‘organoponicos‘ was born.

In Havana, over 35,000 hectares (87,000 acres) of land is being used for urban farming. More than 44,000 people are farming this land. Source   Today, Cuba still rations basic food staples staples and imports 70 -80% of its food requirements, but urban farming has grown in leaps and bounds. The concept of urban farming evolved from the simple and urgent need to feed the people.

Organic urban agriculture uses water efficiently, does not use agro-toxins and takes great care in irrigation. Diversity of crops and animals, and soil fertility is of chief concern. Organic farms depend on the continuous learning and adaptation of new technologies and agricultural research.  Over the years, Cuba became an expert in worm composting, biopesticides, integrated crop rotation and soil conservation.

One of the most famous of Cuba’s organicopocos is the farm at Alamar, east of Havana. The Vivero Alamar was created in 1997 by Miguel Salcines, a former agronomist for the Ministry of Agriculture and three other people. It was developed as a way of feeding the people of Alamar.

Since its beginnings Vivero Alamar has expanded from a small plot of land to over 25 acres. The farm produces vegetables, herbs, fruits, and animal stock. It provides employment for more than 160 people.

Today, organic farming forms a part of Cuba’s agricultural enterprises in its investment portfolio. Organic citrus fruits are currently exported to Europe to be used in organic fruit juices. This year’s agenda for the organic farms includes improving on watering systems, micro-industries to process fruit, plans to export organic avocados and the expansion of orange plantations.

Cuba’s organic farms not only feed the people, but also supplies numerous restaurants, paladars (private restaurants), and the tourism industry’s hotels. All commercial operations meet the international organic certification standards at both the farming and processing levels.

In March of this year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Cuba for the sharing of research and ideas. In an interview with Modern Farmer on his official visit to Cuba where he toured the organic farms and markets, Secretary Vilsack said,

“I think they have an incredible opportunity in the future to be a major supplier of value-added organic products, simply because they have not utilized modern agricultural processes, have not used chemicals and pesticides and so forth that have been used in other parts of the world, including the US.”

As the demand for organic produce increases in the United States and relations between the U.S. and Cuba move forward, it is probably only be a matter of time before Cuba begins exporting their organic produce.  By the same token, US agriculture will probably be supplying more of Cuba’s food requirements in the way of wheat, rice and chicken.

workers-at-organoponico-vivero-alamar-cuba

Workers at the Organoponico Vivero Alamar. Photo: M. Hernandez, Cuba Business Report.

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