For Cuba, it’s a National Policy

Cuba’s severe shortage of food in the 90s forced the government to free farmers to try all kinds of farming in urban and rural lands. The experiment was a success, and the country is now self-sufficient in food

Forced by the collapse of the Soviet Union to be self-dependent in food, Cuba turned to urban farming in the early 1990s. Its experiment in Organóponicos, as its system of urban organic farming is called, has been a resounding success in the small island nation. The country now boasts self-sufficiency in most food items. Cuba’s move to transform run-down city plots into vegetable gardens and a series of other measures are good lessons for developing countries, which import much of their essential food requirements.
The small island of Cuba is probably the only country globally that made urban farming – where food is grown and distributed around a village, town or city – a national policy. Facing a US trade embargo, socialist Cuba relied on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) for much of its food and oil imports, while domestic agriculture was made of Soviet-style giant farms. In exchange for subsidized oil, chemical fertilizers, and other products, Cuba exported sugar.
In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cuban economy was hit, with the loss of subsidized Soviet oil leading to a food and transport crisis. Imported food constituted more than 50 percent of an average Cuban’s food calorie intake. Protein intake fell dramatically.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation calculated that calorie intake plunged from 2,600 a person in the late 1980s to between 1,000 and 1,500 by 1993.
Creation of “Organoponicos” With the Soviet Union lost as an ally and food in short supply, Cuba turned
to Organóponicos. The government encouraged anyone interested in farming to lease land and also pushed organic farming.Farmers by necessity had to make their own bio- manures and pesticides. With no oil available, tractors were of no use, and they went the old-fashioned way of farming, and used oxens. By the mid-1990s, the food shortage was over.
The government’s moves to promote farming in towns and cities through cooperatives, some as small as three or four families, were multifold.

Among measures it took:

1. Leasing unused urban areas in cities for farming
2. Making food production the highest priority
3. Developing farmers markets
4. Encouraging farmer-to-consumer sales
5. Forming a network of officials to assist and advise people
6. Encouraging holistic ways to make compost and bio-fertilizers
7. Promoting organic techniques of farming
8. Enacting laws regarding the use of chemical pesticide in city limits, so farmers are not exposed to it.

By 1998, seven years after it began its foray into urban farming, Cuba became self-reliant in producing the day-to-day necessities such as fruits and vegetables. Crops such as cassava, potatoes, beans, plantains, citrus and other vegetables were rotated and plentiful. On a pure aesthetic level, urban farming provided greenery throughout the city limits. Shaded farming and even cultivation in apartments are encouraged throughout the year when the sun is severe.
Havana, the capital city of 2.5 million people, now has a large number of backyards and rooftops where people grow vegetables and fruit, and there are thousands of organoponicos throughout the
country. Farms are found around factories and offices in Havana, as well as outside the capital.
Not only was the farming urban, in many cases, it was also chemical-free, thanks to the loss of the Soviet subsidies and the massive imports of pesticides and fertilizers. The many farms around the country, and Havana, are a testament to sustainable farming.
Developed and developing economies around the world can learn a lesson from the Cuban model of urban farming.
A country like Cuba, isolated from much of the world, was able to break the barriers posed by over dependence on oil by completely redrawing policies around distribution and the growth of food.


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