The Cuban Experiment in Urban & Organic Agriculture: A Report-Back by Brian Tokar of the Institute of Social Ecology
When Cuba found itself abruptly cut off from trade with the Soviet bloc in 1989, the country entered into an economic crisis of unprecedented severity. Already sidelined from international trade due to US embargoes, Cuba became, almost overnight, a country detached from the rest of the world. Along with the evaporation of food imports, Cuba lost access to the animal feed, fertilizers and fuel that had sustained the island’s agricultural efforts. Oil scarcity became so pervasive that it curbed pesticide and fertilizer production, limited the use of tractors and industrial farming equipment, and ultimately seized the transport and refrigeration network that was needed to deliver vegetables, meat and fruit to the tables throughout the region. Presented with a near collapse of its food provisioning system, the Cuban government responded with an overhaul of agriculture on the island, prioritizing organic farming methods, the production of useful edible crops and the use of farm labor. In urban areas, guerrilla gardening initiatives blossomed into new state-supported urban farming programs, with widespread voluntary participation. These farming efforts have produced what may be the world’s largest working model of a semi-sustainable agriculture, and in the process, resurrected the country’s local, affordable and accessible foodshed.