By Danielle Alfaro & Amy Juschka
The Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation recently hosted a well attended educational luncheon concerning the Cuban Organic Revolution. Several delegates from Cuba spoke about the history of this revolution and the successes they have had. They were in Canada as part of an exchange project where organic farmers from Canada and Cuba spend a month on each other’s farms to share ideas and learn new techniques.
The Cuban organic movement, which began in 1994, has had widespread popularity among Cuban farmers. With the collapse of the Soviet block, Cuba no longer had the access to gas, oil and technology it needed to continue large scale farming. This, coupled with concerns for the environment and sustainable development, led to the organic movement.
Because about 80 percent of Cubans live in urban areas and transportation of produce, as well as workers, was an issue, the organic farming movement has mostly taken place near or within cities. With just tiny portions of land (often times about a quarter of a hectare), these farmers grow everything from medicinal herbs and vegetables to coffee and fruit. In addition, many farmers also raise a wide variety of livestock, such as chickens and goats.
The bulk of the produce is used for family and local consumption and the excess crop is sold within the country. Also, many farmers donate portions of their crop to help meet the needs of their local hospitals and daycare centers. Osvaldo Franchi-Alfaro Roque, one of the farmers who spoke at the luncheon, had made it his mission to plant cherry trees, which contain high doses of Vitamin C, in the backyards of daycare centers so the children will have a steady supply and natural source for this important nutrient.
In addition to being incredibly productive (food production has risen from 1 million metric tons in 1994 to 14 million in 2004), this movement is also very environmentally friendly. In lieu of using pesticides, farmers choose alternative methods of pest control such as colour traps, fungi, and various repellant plants. Compost is provided by the Cuban government, which wholeheartedly supports and co-ordinates this movement, and is produced by the farmers themselves.
One of the delegates spoke about his patented irrigation system which uses no energy and has helped over 600 farmers produce two million guava tree saplings for distribution throughout the country. These methods are in stark contrast to typical Canadian chemical reliant farming, which is terribly damaging to the environment.
The Cuban delegates, who are project co-ordinators as well as farmers, have also developed innovative ways to teach other Cuban farmers, which involve music and dance in addition to videos, tours and other alternative means of education. This movement is truly an amazing thing because in addition to enhancing the environment while creating sustainable food production, the organic project also creates jobs, promotes healthy living, and the food tastes great! Saskatchewan is so fortunate to have had an opportunity to meet these trailblazers and learn from them.
Danielle Alfaro is studying psychology at the University of Regina. Amy Juschka is studying political science and international development at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON.