Front Cover
 Front Matter
 The crisis and the emergence of...
 Changing production and consumption...
 Substituting local for imported...
 Resource-conserving technologi...
 Management of insect pests, plant...
 Soil management
 Waste recycling
 Mobilising labour
 Community gardens
 Generating and using appropriate...
 Local knowledge and popular...
 The Cuban experiment
 Back Cover

Group Title: Gatekeeper series
Title: Two steps back, one step forward
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00089567/00001
 Material Information
Title: Two steps back, one step forward Cuba's national policy for alternative agriculture
Series Title: Gatekeeper series
Physical Description: 26 p. : ; 24 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Rosset, Peter
Benjamin, Medea, 1952-
International Institute for Environment and Development -- Sustainable Agriculture Programme
Publisher: Sustainable Agriculture Programme, International Institute for Environment and Development
Place of Publication: London UK
Publication Date: 1994
Subject: Agriculture -- Environmental aspects -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Organic farming -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Agricultural ecology -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Agriculture and state -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Sustainable development -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Agricultural economics   ( sigle )
Agriculture, plant and veterinary sciences   ( sigle )
Geography   ( sigle )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Cuba
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 24).
Statement of Responsibility: Peter Rosset, Medea Benjamin.
General Note: Cover title.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00089567
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 31725533

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Front Matter
        Page 1
        Page 2
    The crisis and the emergence of a new agricultural model
        Page 3
    Changing production and consumption patterns
        Page 4
        Page 5
    Substituting local for imported technology
        Page 6
        Page 7
    Resource-conserving technologies
        Page 8
    Management of insect pests, plant diseases and weeds
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
    Soil management
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
    Waste recycling
        Page 16
        Page 17
    Mobilising labour
        Page 18
    Community gardens
        Page 19
    Generating and using appropriate knowledge
        Page 20
    Local knowledge and popular participation
        Page 21
    The Cuban experiment
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
    Back Cover
        Page 27
        Page 28
Full Text
Published by the Sustainable Agriculture Programme of the
International Institute for Environment and Development
c7 3

Two Steps Back,
One Step Forward:
Cuba's National
Policy for Alternative

Peter Rosset
Medea Benjamin


The Gatekeeper Series of the Sustainable Agriculture Programme is produced by the
International Institute for Environment and Development to highlight key topics in the field
of sustainable agriculture. The Series is aimed at policy makers, researchers, planners and
extension workers in government and non-government organizations worldwide. Eachpaper
reviews a selected issue of contemporary importance and draws preliminary conclusions of
relevance to development activities. References are provided to important sources and
background material. The Swedish International Development Authority and the Ford
Foundation fund the series.

Peter Rosset is the Executive Director of the Institutefor Food and Development Policy (Food
First), 398 60th Street, Oakland, California 94618, USA. He was the leader of the 1992
International Scientific Delegation and Fact-Finding Mission on Low Input Sustainable
Agriculture in Cuba. He is currently an FAO consultant to Cuba on agricultural ecology.
Medea Benjamin is co-Director of Global Exchange, 2017 Mission St., Suite 303, San
Francisco, California 94110, USA. She is co-editor, with Peter Rosset, of The Greening of
Cuba: A National Experiment in Organic Agriculture (Ocean Press, 1994). An earlier and
extended version of this report was published by Global Exchange in 1993.






In November, 1992, a delegation' travelled to Cuba to report on changes that had taken place
in Cuban agriculture since the 1990 collapse of its trading relations with the socialist bloc.
Word had filtered out that Cuba was in the process of a national switch to local-input and
organic farming because of a cessation of imports of agrochemicals. This paper summarises
the delegation's findings2.

The Crisis and the Emergence of a New Agricultural Model

During the past 30 years Cuba achieved a more rapid modernization than most other
developing countries. In the 1980s it ranked first in the contribution of industry to its economy
and had a more mechanized agricultural sector than any other Latin American country. It has
high marks for per capital GNP, good life expectancy, and high numbers of women in higher
education. It was ranked first in Latin America for the availability of doctors, low infant
mortality, housing, secondary school enrolment, and attendance by the population at cultural

These achievements were made possible by a combination of the government's commitment
to social equity and the fact that Cuba received far more favourable terms of trade for its
exports than did other developing nations in the region. During the 1980s the average price
for sugar exports that Cuba received from the Soviet Union was 5.4 times higher than the world
price (Pastor, 1992). Cuba also was able to obtain Soviet petroleum in return, part of which
was re-exported to earn convertible currency. The resulting focus on sugar production
contributed to a pattern of food dependency with 57% of the total calories consumed coming
from imports (Pastor, 1992).

The agricultural sector was highly dependent on imports. In the late 1980s, 48 % of fertilisers
and 82 % of pesticides were imported (Deere, 1992). Data on the import coefficients of these
inputs reveals even stronger dependency (Pastor, 1992). Thus the overall import coefficient
for all fertilizer used in Cuba was actually 94 % (Table 1). Balanced animal feeds were largely
based on maize and other cereals, the bulk of which were imported. While Cuba's climate does
permit the cultivation of maize, it has not been pursued extensively by the government (Deere,

When trade relations with the Soviet Union crumbled in 1990, agriculture faced an immediate


Table 1: Import coefficients for agricultural products in Cuba, 1989
(Percent of value added contributed by imports of final product and/or imported inputs used
in its production).

Category Import Coefficient (%)

Cereals 100
Beans 90
Rice 49

Raw Materials
Fertiliser 94
Herbicide 98
Animal feedstocks 97

Source: Pastor 1992

Table 2: Comparison of selected Cuban imports in 1989 and 1992

Item 1989 Imports 1992 Imports % Change

Petroleum 13,000,000 t 6,100,000 t -53
Fertiliser 1,300,000 t 300,000 t -77
Pesticides US $80,000,000 Animal feeds 1,600,000 t 475,000 t -70
Powdered milk 36,000 t 36,000 t 0

Source: Lage, Carlos. Interview on Cuban television, November 6, 1992. Reprinted in Granta.

crisis. The 53 % reduction in oil imports shown in Table 2 has not only affected fuel availability
for the economy, but also reduced to zero the foreign exchange that Cuba used to obtain from
the re-export of petroleum. Imports of wheat and other grains for human consumption have
dropped by more than 50 % (Deere, 1992), while other foodstuffs, with the exception of
powdered milk, have declined even more. Cuban agriculture has also been faced with a drop
of more than 80 % in the availability of fertilisers and pesticides.

Suddenly, a country with a highly modernised agricultural sector found itself almost without
chemical inputs, and with sharply reduced access to fuel and irrigation. Average daily caloric
and protein intake by the Cuban population may have fallen by as much as 30 % from the levels
of the 1980s.

Changing Production and Consumption Patterns

At the time of the revolution, the diet of the Cuban people, as in the rest of Latin America,
depended on what social class they belonged to. A goal of the revolution was to guarantee an


adequate diet for everyone. This meant not only a diet that was nutritionally adequate but also
socially acceptable, aimed at replicating the diet of the pre-revolution rich. Unfortunately, this
culturally acceptable diet is one that is both unhealthy (high-calorie, high-fat, high cholester-
ol, low-fibre) and expensive, as much of the food and the materials to produce it must be
imported. Stemming this reliance on imported goods means changing consumption and
production patterns.

The nutritional goals set by the Cuban government in terms of calories and proteins have been
very ambitious. With target values set consistently higher than UN standards, the national
nutrition campaigns met with high rates of success up until the Special Period. While for 30
years Cuba was the only country in Latin America that had eliminated hunger, today's severe
crisis is reversing this remarkable achievement. Malnutrition has been reported among
children between 6-12 months old, and many pregnant women are found to be anaemic.

Beef production has plummeted and red meat is now rarely available. There are also problems
with the supply of milk and other dairy products. Chicken and egg productions, like beef and
dairy, are all heavily dependent on imported animal feeds. During this time when the lack of
animal protein is causing discontent among the population, pig production has become a
government priority as an easier source of animal protein.

Cuts in imported wheat from Russia have reduced the bread ration to one roll per person per
day. At the same time, breads and pastas are more and more being replaced by traditional
starchy crops, the 'viandas', which grow well under Cuba's soil and climatic conditions and
are popular with the Cuban population. The state is now taking viandas seriously, and
increasing their production is a top priority rather than the secondary status they had before.
The government is trying to get people to substitute viandas and vegetables for wheat and rice,
and to substitute vegetable for animal protein.

The Cuban government is in a stronger position than most governments to alter consumption
patterns, because it controls the food supply through the ration system and it controls the media
for educational campaigns. But this has always been a very delicate political issue (Benjamin
et al., 1987). For example, any effort by the government to encourage people to eat less meat
for health reasons could have been viewed as an excuse to disguise supply problems.

In short the lack of sufficient food is now the people's main complaint. For many years Cuba
will be paying dearly for past external dependencies. To address this, the government
launched an ambitious National Food Programme in 1989, which was conceived of before the
collapse of Soviet trade relations. The main focus of this food programme was to increase
quickly the production of viandas and vegetables, and to make the area around Havana as self-
sufficient as possible.


Substituting Local for Imported Technology

While the National Food Plan called for more emphasis on foodstuffs to make up for the import
deficit, the country also needs to maintain or increase export crop levels to avoid exacerbating
the foreign exchange crisis. These two goals must be pursued virtually without chemical
inputs, and with far less tractor power and irrigation than before. It is a formidable task.

Fortunately, Cuba was not totally unprepared to face the situation. It had invested much in
education, and therefore had a cadre of scientists and researchers who could come forward
with innovative ideas. In the early 1980s, Cuba's leaders had decided that technological
expertise was going to be the world's most valuable commodity in the future, especially with
the growth of high-tech, information-intensive industries. Accordingly, they invested the
equivalent of an estimated US $12 billion in the 1980s in developing human capital and
infrastructure in biotechnology, health sciences, computer hardware and software, and
robotics. The long-term plan was to change Cuba's role in the world economy to that of
purveyor of high technology, scientific consulting and quality health services, rather than
providing of raw commodities and light industry.

At the same time, younger scientists, influenced by the international ecology movement,
developed a critique of modern agriculture (Levins, 1991) and reoriented their research. They
criticised the Cuban model of agricultural development for its dependence on foreign inputs
and its contribution to environmental degradation. In 1982 official research policy began to
respond. Nevertheless, the researchers complained that their approach was not taken seriously
enough to be implemented on a broad scale, and they expressed frustration at ministry officials
who favoured pesticide imports.

While neither the expensive scientific investments in advanced technology nor the research
into agricultural alternatives by young scientists had paid great dividends by 1989 (Pastor,
1992), they provided Cuba with crucial resources that are now being mobilised to face the
agriculture challenge in the 1990s. It is very well positioned for this transition; with only 2
% of the population of Latin America, it has almost 11 % of the scientists (UNESCO, various).

The Classical versus the Alternative Model

Critiques of conventional input-intensive agriculture (cf. Altieri, 1987; National Research
Council, 1989; Soule and Piper, 1992; Carroll et al., 1990), would be very comfortable with
what is now the basis for Cuban policy. This policy counterposes what is called the
"Alternative Model" with the "Classical Model" of agricultural production (Table 3).

The Alternative Model promotes crop diversity rather than monoculture, organic fertilisers
and biofertilisers instead of chemical ones, and biological control and biopesticides instead
of synthetic pesticides. Animal traction is substituted for tractors, and reliance on irrigation
is reduced by planting to take advantage of seasonal rainfall patterns. Local communities are
to be more intimately involved in the production process, hopefully slowing the exodus to the


Table 3: "Strategy for the development of specific projects: most relevant consid-
erations to keep in mind." (Translation of Ministry of Agriculture chart circulated to
planning staff)

Classical Model

* External dependence of:
the country on other coun-
provinces on the country
localities on the province &
the country

* Cutting edge technology
imported raw materials for
animal feed
widespread utilisation of
chemical pesticides and ferti-
utilisation of modern irriga-
tion systems
consumption of fuel and

* Tight relationship between bank
credit and production; high
interest rates

* Priority given to mechanisation
as a production technology

* Introduction of new crops at the
expense of autochthonous
crops and production systems

* Search for efficiency through
intensification and mechanisa-

* Real possibility of investing in
production and commercialisa-

* Accelerated rural exodus

* Satisfying ever-increasing
needs has serious ecological or
environmental consequences,
such as soil erosion, salinisation,
waterlogging etc.

Alternative Model

* Maximum advantage taken of:
the land
human resources of the zone or locality
broad community participation
cutting edge technology, but appropriate to the
zone where it is used
organic fertilisers and crop rotation
biological control of pests
biological cycles and seasonality of crops and
natural energy sources (hydro, wind, solar, slopes,
biomass, etc)
animal traction
rational use of pastures and forage for both
grazing and feedlots, search for locally supplied
animal nutrition

* Diversification of crops and autochthonous produc-
tion systems based on accumulated knowledge

* Introduction of scientific practices that correspond
to the particulars of each zone; new varieties of
crops and animals, planting densities, seed treat-
ments, post-harvest storage etc.

* Preservation of the environment and the ecosys-

* Systematic training (management, nutritional, tech-

* Systematic technical assistance

* Promote cooperation among producers, within and
between communities

* Obstacles to overcome:
difficulties in the commercialization of agricul-
tural products because of the number of inter-
control over the market
poverty among peasantry
distances to markets and urban centers (lack of
sufficient roads and means of transport)


cities. Because a significant amount of foodstuffs is produced by the Cuban private sector
individual peasant farmers and cooperative members, as opposed to state farms, the
Alternative Model and the National Food Programme focus heavily on promoting those

The Alternative Model is similar to other proposals for low external input agriculture with one
difference. The difference is that in Cuba the Alternative Model has become official
government policy, while elsewhere there are only isolated individual examples and
widespread implementation remains a dream.

The vast majority of Cuban agricultural scientists and Agriculture Ministry officials who met
the delegation agreed that the Classical Model was a model imposed from outside, and
expressed resentment toward Soviet and other socialist bloc advisors. They are also self-
critical for having had a colonised mentality. They believe that, while the conventional model
might be appropriate for Europe where expensive inputs are produced within each nation, for
a country like Cuba it makes little sense because of the extreme dependency and external
vulnerability that it promotes. The consensus position seems to be that this is a change that
is long overdue, and the Special Period provides the only pretext and the motivation.

Resource-Conserving Technologies

Conversion is the term commonly used to denote the fairly lengthy process of restoring soil
fertility and natural pest controls in a farm that has previously made conventional use of
chemical fertilisers and pesticides, both of which degrade the natural productive capacity of
the soil over time. Empirical evidence from dozens of studies has shown that it generally takes
from some years for a farmer switching to organic to equal the levels of productivity and
profitability obtained in the final years of conventional production. After this, organic
production often becomes more profitable than the earlier system, as the costs of inputs is
reduced and in some cases organic produce fetches a higher price. During this transition
period, however, the farmer must take positive steps to build up soil structure and organic
matter, and establish pest natural enemies and ground covers.

In their efforts to implement the Alternative Model, Cubans are attempting the largest scale
conversion from conventional modern agriculture to organic or alternative farming in history.
Whether this will be sufficiently successful to allow the present Cuban economic and political
system to survive its present crisis is an open question (Pastor, 1992; Preeg, 1993). Yet Cuba
clearly offers a unique opportunity for agricultural scientists everywhere to study the process
of large-scale conversion.


Management of Insect Pests, Plant Diseases and Weeds

One of the keys to the Alternative Model is to find ways to reduce chemicals used for
management of plant diseases, insect pests, and weeds. This process began during the 1980s,
but took on more urgency during the Special Period. By 1982 Cuba was shifting toward an
integrated pest management (IPM) paradigm, the integrated use of a variety of alternative
pest, disease and weed control tactics, in order to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides.

Although Cuba's tradition of biological control dates back to the 1930s, more formal national
research programme on biological control did not begin until the 1970s. In 1985, after many
years of research, those efforts were transformed into a major campaign and biological control
began to replace pesticides as the conceptual basis for pest management (Rego et al., 1986).
These efforts did achieve a reduction in pesticide use but in 1991, Cuba was still importing
$80 million in pesticides per year. With the Special Period, these imports were reduced to $30
million (MINAGRI figures). By the end of 1991, an estimated 56 % of Cuban crop land was
treated with biological controls, representing a savings, after costs, of US $15.6 million per
year (MINAGRI figures). Twenty years of research in biological control and other alternatives
had prepared Cuba for one of the most ambitious enterprises in integrated pest management
in history.

The plant protection system of the Ministry of Agriculture consists of the National Service
of Plant Protection, the Institute of Plant Protection, the Central Research Laboratory, 14
regional laboratories, more than 60 plant protection territorial stations distributed throughout
the country, 27 frontier posts with diagnostic laboratories, and 218 Centres for the Reproduc-
tion of Entomophages and Entomopathogens (CREEs). In addition, there are other agencies
specialised in a variety of crops that conduct research in plant protection. Research on and use
of chemical pesticides still continues, but to a limited degree.

Pest and Disease Monitoring

Cuba has in place a unique pest and disease monitoring system. To prevent pesticide resistance
from developing, each local research centre in Cuba maintains small plots of that area's
important crops. As soon as resistance is detected in a pest or pathogen, the pesticide in
question is temporarily retired and replaced with a range of other control measures. This cuts
on costs and time needed to develop alternative measures. Because of these tactics, for
example, Cuba is the only country in the world still able to use the systemic fungicide
Ridomil against tobacco blue mould.

Today more than 90 % of Cuban agriculture uses some kind of pest and disease monitoring.
However, the monitor system has not been modified for use with biological control
techniques. A farm is warned of the possibility of a pest or pathogen outbreak, due to climatic
conditions for example, but the means of controlling the outbreak depends largely on what
is available in that area. The disease and pest loss data is also not in a computer database and
does not appear to have been well-exploited for epidemiological modelling. This is unfortu-


nate as it represents a unique long-term data set on tropical organisms. It was also difficult
to determine how successful the monitoring system has been as the data do not cover all
diseases and are not fully analysed.

Entomophages are insects that eat or parasitise other insects, and thus can be released to
achieve biological control of pests. The longest running biological control programme in
Cuba involves the parasitic fly Lixophaga diatraeae (Tachinidae). Since 1968 it has been
reared and released in a massive programme which now covers 100 % of the area under
sugarcane seed production, as well as a substantial part of the areas under general sugarcane
production. Entomopathogens are diseases of insects (bacteria, fungi and viruses) which offer
the possibility of non-toxic pest control. It is in their production and use that Cuba has a
substantial lead over most countries in the world. Research and development efforts in Cuba
have led to techniques for the production, harvesting, formulation, application, and quality
control of numerous bacteria and fungi. Quality control and monitoring are carried out by three
mechanisms: standardising field dose rates; direct tests of pathogen virulence; and monitoring
field effectiveness by collection and observation of exposed pests.

The most interesting aspect of contemporary insect pest management efforts in Cuba may well
be the CREEs, where decentralised, artesanal production of biocontrol agents takes place.
Although few had been built before the beginning of the economic crisis, by the end of 1992,
218 CREEs provided services to state, cooperative, and private farm operations. The centres
produce entomopathogens for the crops grown in each area. They are maintained and operated
by local technicians. In one CREE four technicians with college degrees, four mid-level
technicians, and seven high school graduates were employed, all children of members of the
cooperative where it was located. They explained the cooperative received a ten-year loan
from the bank to construct and equip the small Centre with laboratory rooms and about 20
small fermentation tanks. The Centre provides its products free of charge to the cooperative,
while selling enough to neighboring farmers, state farms and cooperatives to break even.

Besides CREEs, Cuba has a network of over 30 brewers yeast factories which use large scale
fermentation technology. These normally function for only four days per month making yeast,
but are now being converted to use the idle days to mass produce biopesticides on an industrial
scale. Thus there will be a commercial product with high standards of quality control for the
state farms and large coops that produce for export, while the network of CREEs will continue
producing a lower priced product for local use.

Cuban scientists are actively involved in several other lines of research in developing
alternatives to conventional insecticides. The research areas include work on parasitic
nematodes and plant derived pesticides, screening a large number of plants for insecticidal,
fungicidal, bactericidal, and herbicidal qualities. Applied work on the cultivation and
production of two species of plants with known insecticidal qualities, neem and Melia, has
been initiated.

Based on an old practice of peasant farmers, Cuban researchers studied and further developed


an elaborate and unique system of biological control of Cylasformicarius, the sweet potato
weevil, using the predatory ant Pheidole megacephala. The management system includes the
establishment of reservoir areas where the ant is naturally abundant. This method has provided
close to 99 % control of the sweet potato borer in the Pinar del Rio Province, with lower
production costs and higher yields per hectare (Castifieiras et al., 1982). So successful has the
method been that MINAGRI prohibited the use of any chemical insecticide in sweet potato
fields where this method is being employed. Where applications of pesticides for other pests
are necessary, special permission is required from the Ministry.

Management of Plant Diseases

The emphasis in disease management is on methods of diagnosis and disease reduction in
major crops. Until recently, disease diagnoses could not be performed at local research centres
because the tests did not exist. Now the National Animal and Plant Health Centre has adapted
techniques from Cuban veterinary and human health research for use in diagnosis of plant
bacteria and viruses. Cuba now produces and exports cheap serological test kits for detecting
plant pathogens of worldwide importance.

Since 1989, the cost of fungicides has become prohibitive. Fungicides are used only for foliar
diseases of potato, Alternaria leaf blights of onion and garlic, and some sugarcane diseases,
while alternatives are stressed for other pathogens. For example, a major disease of banana,
which kills the leaves and reduces fruit yield, is monitored carefully. Affected leaves are
removed, and mineral oil sprayed which appears to inhibit infection.

A relatively new research direction in Cuba is the biological control of plant diseases using
microbial antagonists. In a short period, Cuba has advanced further than other countries
toward large-scale implementation of this sort of biological control.

One of the main obstacles to be overcome in biocontrol research is the lack of taxonomic
knowledge of the fungi involved. Although Cuban researchers try to use native strains of fungi
in biological control, identification is sometimes a problem, due to the lack of reference books
and the equipment needed for modern taxonomy. Another obstacle is the need for strict quality
control. Uncontaminated inoculum must be tested periodically for vigour and virulence. The
methods of application of biocontrol agents must be more precise than with pesticides. Finally,
screening biocontrol agents is a time-consuming process, and evaluations in the lab to find
antagonists effective in the field is difficult.

Each biocontrol agent must pass safety regulations based on those of the USA and of the
European Union. It has to be observed and tested for efficacy at a quarantine lab and to undergo
toxicological testing in order to be registered for use. More work needs to be done on post-
harvest use of biocontrol agents, and integrating biocontrol with soil improvement research.

Nematicides are expensive and, in Cuba's experience, not very effective. The soil flora in
continuously cropped fields appears to deactivate nematicides. At first, research was oriented


towards cultural control measures, such as planting in nematode-free seedbeds, reducing
populations of weed hosts, and using crop rotation and tillage practices detrimental to
nematodes. Future work will include searching for local strains of fungi antagonistic to
nematodes, experimenting with different methods of mass production, and researching the use
of Pasteuria penetrans, a bacterium that is an obligate parasite of nematodes.

The final type of plant disease control employed in Cuba is biotechnology3 produced seedlings
of bananas, plantains and timber species. To avoid diseases being passed on from parent plant
to the cuttings or seeds, tiny seedlings are produced in test tubes by culturing tissue from
healthy growing tips or meristems. Though tissue culture is used in many countries, Cuba is
perhaps the most advanced Latin American country in this field.

Weed Management

Weed management in Cuba before the Special Period had been mostly dependent on the use
of agrochemicals. Since 1989 an effort has been made to rediscover the traditional methods
used by campesinos, which were lost as herbicide dependency grew. Research focused on four
major areas:
* a monitoring technique which can predict weed pressures and community composition a
year in advance;
systems of rotations based upon a prediction model based on the monitoring;
very selective use of herbicides in combination with the above methods; and
tillage methods, including design of new farm implements.

Cubans are using their monitoring systems on about 16 state-owned farms across the country.
The techniques combine into a mathematical model data such as the previous years' weed
species and densities; a determination of the seed bank and seed viability; the type of crop to
be planted and how well it will compete with those weeds; the effectiveness of herbicides on
those weeds; and how similar the growth habit of the weeds is to the desired crop. With these
data, the scientists have been able to determine with a very high degree of accuracy what the
weed problems will be and devise suitable responses with cropping calendars.

Crop selection can prohibit weed growth. For example, maize can be used in rotation with
beans because it can shade out lower growing weeds. A maize rotation may be used together
with a selective herbicide to kill broadleaf weeds which could not be used in a bean crop. For
severe weed problems, a crop with a very dense cover such as sweet potato is planted, which
smothers virtually all weeds.

Cultivation and soil preparation are planned based on the weed community while attempting
to minimise the number of passes in a field. Rototillers are rarely used; with the focus more
on discs, rotating discs, and the 'multi-plough'. This was designed by Cuban engineers to open
the sub-soil without turning it, thereby not exposing more seed to germination. It essentially
lifts and drops the soil, breaking weeds from their roots.


Soil Management

Soil management practices in Cuba prior to the Special Period seem to have been like those
of most other countries engaged in industrialized agriculture. Practices were production-
oriented and based on high-energy inputs, and treated the soil as just another agricultural input.
Little was done to protect the soils from erosion, loss of fertility, salinisation, and other forms
of degradation.

This is no longer the case. There is now great concern for implementing a sound and effective
soil management programme that includes minimum tillage, rational use of fertilisers, the use
of soil amendments, crop rotations and crop covers. Increasing the dosages of fertilisers and
pesticides to compensate for soil degradation is no longer an option.

As a first step toward implementing an effective soil management programme, Cuban
researchers launched an ambitious project to reclassify, evaluate, and map the country's soils
in great detail (at scales of 1:250,000 and 1:25,000), and to interpret the maps for sustainable
management. With nearly 66 % of the agricultural lands having soils with low or very low
potential, the concentration of soil fertility building efforts on these poorer lands could pay
relatively large dividends.

Due to excessive cultivation and heavy use of fertilisers and pesticides most of Cuba's
agricultural soils suffer from the depletion of organic matter, with resulting loss of fertility.
Since 1989, efforts to maintain and improve soil fertility have been based primarily on organic
amendments and biofertilisers. Crushed zeolite rock, mined locally in a number of places, is
used as a part of this programme. Composting of crop residues is now also common. They are
also working on the collection, processing, and utilisation of urban garbage.

Cubans have greatly expanded the use of green manures, mostly inoculated legumes in crop
rotation combinations. Through crop rotations and other management practices, they aim to
raise yields and achieve sustainable production. Green manures include velvet beans,
cowpeas, soybeans, sorghum, and Sesbania. One interesting and effective way for reclaiming
eroded lands is by filling gullies with soil and organic matter removed from lowlands and
carted up by wagons pulled by either animals or tractors. This is essentially a revival of a very
old practice which some small farmers had never stopped using.

A key component is to reduce or even eliminate tillage to prevent erosion. By 1992, tillage
operations had been reduced from a national average of 10 to 12 per season to only three to
five (MINAGRI figures). As tillage does help in weed control, Cuba is trying to achieve
minimum tillage with alternative weed management technologies such as crop rotations.

Due to the petroleum shortage, animal traction is replacing tractor use on a wide scale. Animal
traction cuts down on soil erosion and is feasible during the rainy season when tractors would
bog down in the mud. The down side, of course, is that it is very labour intensive. Other low
impact strategies in field preparation are also being implemented. For example, in rice


cultivation, a system where large new dikes had to be rebuilt annually by heavy equipment
is being redesigned to prevent annual machine use.

Besides crop rotation and reduced tillage, the effects of salinisation and acidity are also being
addressed. As Cuba is a long and narrow island, there is severe salt stress on about 800,000
hectares of farmland. To provide organic matter under conditions of salt stress, many rice
farmers are now using Sesbania in their rotations, and other salt-tolerant plants are being
studied. Although Cuba claims to have arrested further salinisation throughout the country,
very little progress has yet been made in actually rehabilitating the saline soils. Also, little
progress had been made by 1990 in draining water-logged agricultural soils.


Since 1989, fertilizer availability has plummeted by 80 % and alternatives are being sought
to obtain plant nutrients from local organic sources. One factor that has mitigated the effects
of this dramatic decline is the years of research that had already been carried out on
biofertilisers. Cuba has responded with a biofertiliser programme that by 1992 was making
up 30 % of the deficit (MINAGRI figures). Recycled organic waste along with other
biofertilisers like nitrogen fixing bacteria and earthworm humus, quarried minerals, and peat,
have helped close the gap. The starting point for developing the low-input fertilizer strategy
is to determine, for each combination of crop and soil, the minimum quantity of plant nutrients
needed to produce the crop. They have already obtained results of fertility trials for all major


The Institute for Research in Soil and Fertilisers (IRSF) laboratory in Havana produces enough
Rhizobium inoculum for the whole nation, providing up to 80 % of the nitrogen required by
leguminous crops. More unique to Cuba than Rhizobium inoculant is the commercial use of
the free-living nitrogen-fixer Azotobacter. By 1991 the IRSF was producing 5 million litres
of liquid Azotobacter which is applied to leaves or to the soil. The use of Azotobacter has
provided 40-50 % of the nitrogen needs of non-leguminous plants (MINAGRI figures). Also
due to other benefits of Azotobacter Cuban scientists claim they have achieved a 30-40 %
increase in yield for maize, cassava, rice and other vegetables. A second area unique to Cuba
has been the widespread use of bacteria of the genus Bacillus to promote the solubilisation
of phosphorus from Oxisols and Ultisol soils.

The Institute for Research in Ecology and Taxonomy is studying Vesicular Arbuscular
Mycorrhizae (VAM), fungi that penetrate roots and help with uptake of phosphorus and other
nutrients, as a way of increasing plant uptake of mineral nutrients. Fifty-three species of VAM
in Cuba have been identified and will be introduced nationwide for coffee plantations. The
Cuban government planned to produce 18 tonnes of VAM material for commercial purposes
in 1993.


Crop Rotations and Intercropping

To increase the amount of available nutrients to plants, Cuban scientists have been using
several combinations of crops with grasses and legumes. One rotation system consists of
planting rice for two or three years followed by Sesbania. This legume is able to incorporate
up to 60 tonnes of green manure in 45 days, providing up to 75 % of the nitrogen needed by
the next rice crop. Sesbania is used due to its tolerance to high levels of soil salinity. Sorghum
is being used in tobacco as a green manure. Other legumes, like beans, are being used in crop
rotations and as green manures.

Although intercropping has been a traditional practice for Cuban small farmers, almost no
intercropping systems were used in commercial-scale production during the years of
modernisation. In the Alternative Model intercropping has received new attention. Three
general areas in which the technique is either being used in production or under strong
consideration for development are: soybeans and common beans intercropped with sugarcane,
green manure crops interplanted with several crops, and combinations in conjunction with
the new weed management system. However, intercropping is not yet widely implemented.

Perhaps the most significant development in the technique has been interplanting soybeans
with sugarcane. Before 1989 a substantial portion of animal feed had come from imported
soybeans and maize. Technical experts claim that the technique not only helped make up for
losses in imported soybeans (a 30 % shortfall), but also helped reduce the nitrogen fertilizer
use in sugarcane.

With approximately 45 % of the cultivable land in Cuba experiencing erosion problems, a
major thrust has also been crop rotations to maintain crop cover all year around. Many legumes
were chosen as rotation crops and are now increasingly being intercropped. The emphasis
appears to be shifting to crop succession rather than rotation.

Earthworm Humus

Cuba's vermi-composting programme started in 1986 with two small boxes of redworms,
Eiseniafoetida and Lumbricus rubellus. Today there are 172 vermicompost centres that in
1992 made 93,000 tonnes of worm humus. Cuban scientists have been able to develop a full
technology for the production of humus from earthworms, also known as vermi-composting
or vermiculture. By using California Red hybrids they have been able to provide 2 % of soil
nitrogen with each application of 4 tonnes/ha of earthworm humus (MINAGRI figures).

The humus that is produced in vermicomposting provides binding sites for plant nutrients,
improves soil permeability, helps control diseases that attack plants, and stimulates plant
growth. Cuban researchers have found that nitrogen concentrations are higher in the
vermicompost than static compost piles. For instance, four tonnes of vermicompost can
replace forty tonnes of cow manure per hectare of tobacco and in one test plot, has resulted
in a 36 % improvement in yield (MINAGRI figures).


A 40 kg bag of Cuban worm humus can sell for as much as US $ 80-100 on the international
market, though humus production has not reached levels that permit significant exports.
Income generating schemes have focused on joint production ventures and the sale of
technical assistance for start-up vermiculture programmes outside Cuba. Five experimental
stations located in different parts of the country have responsibility for training new worm
growers in their regions. Information is exchanged among worm growers at an annual national
conference on vermicomposting and vermiculture. National television programmes and
newspaper articles are used to help educate farmers, school children, and the general public
about vermicomposting. However, home worm composting is not yet commonly practised
and commercial vermicompost is not available for home use.

Waste Recycling

As part of Cuba's transition to low input agriculture, resource recovery and recycling
programmes are being implemented on a country-wide scale. Cuban scientists are converting
waste products into animal food, energy, and fertilizer. Organic by-products from sugarcane
processing, cattle ranches, sheep ranches, poultry and pig farms, coffee harvests, garbage and
crop residue, crops and foodstuffs are being collected and processed into biofertilisers.
Processing methods include vermiculture/vermicomposting, static pile (aerobic) compost-
ing, anaerobic digesters and mechanized, on-site recycling of industrial waste. In addition to
the impressive vermiculture programme previously discussed, several recycling programmes
stand out as examples of innovative solutions to production and pollution problems.

Sugarcane production is virtually organic in Cuba, which is not new. What is new is the
maximum utilization of cane and cane processing by-products to produce energy, fertilizer,
animal food supplements, and irrigation water. Waste water from 152 sugarcane processing
plants is used to irrigate cane fields. Filter press cake, a processing by-product that is high in
phosphorus, potassium, and calcium, is used as fertilizer. And bagasse, a dry pulp, is used as
animal feed and biomass for energy production.

In the 1950s, large-scale swine production did not exist in Cuba. Today, 14 farms with
approximately 2,000 pigs at each installation complement small, private pig farm production.
There is a concerted effort among institutions to promote pork as the principal source of
protein in Cuban households and provide sufficient quantities to meet those needs. The
recycling goal at the large pig farms is zero waste discharge, where liquid and solid waste is
treated and used for a series of applications, including vermicompost, energy biogass), and
feed supplement. Recycling at the state pig farms includes a focus on processing food scraps
from work places, restaurants, and schools for pig feed supplement. Since 1989, 1,200,000
tonnes of supplementary animal food was produced from garbage, equal to 70,000 ha of soy
cultivation or 200,000 ha of maize.

Other initiatives including growing water hyacinths in processed waste water from pig farms
for use as protein rich animal food supplement, producing energy from swine excrement using


biogas plants to meet on-site energy needs, and using processed slaughterhouse waste as
protein supplement in feed. Alternative, supplemental feeds have helped alleviate a 30 % feed
supplement deficit that has resulted from the unavailability of maize and soy imports.

In 1990, in response to the severe shortages of imported animal feed, Cuba began to
experiment with a new system of cattle management called Voisin Rational Pasture
Management (also called rotational or rational grazing). The basic technique involves using
movable electric fencing to confine cattle to small pasture areas, where their manure fertilises
the forage plants. The enclosures are moved around the fields on a tight schedule. Environ-
mental pollution is reduced as fewer pesticides and fertilisers are used to produce feed, and
manure is distributed to benefit pasture plants and soil rather than concentrated where it can
become a pollution problem.

Voisin Pasture Management has been implemented on a wide scale since May 1991. Today
over 300,000 hectares (450 units of 600-700 ha each) are under the Voisin system. However,
researchers at the Cuban Animal Institute admit they have much more research to do before
they can call their Voisin programme a success. Details on pasture ecology, pasture nutrition,
paddock layout and fencing, feed planning, economics, recovery periods, stock rate, and
forage allowances are presently unavailable. Furthermore, competing demands for cattle
manure are already evident. Vermiculture operators want manure as a primary source for their
compost systems while Voisin pasture managers want to keep it on their fields.


A key component of soil management involves care of Cuba's forests. Trees cover more of
the island now than in 1959, something few countries in the world can boast. Pre-revolution
policies and practices had left only 17% forest cover. Perhaps the most important cause of
deforestation was for the development of sugarcane plantations during the 17th, 18th and 19th
centuries. Forests were razed to plant sugarcane, and much firewood was needed for the
process of sugar manufacturing.

Starting in the 1970s, a programme for the development of community nurseries or viveros
populares was created nationwide. The objective was to collect seed, raise seedlings in the
community nurseries and plant them in the countryside. Under the name of Plan Manati, the
Cuban government has continued the reforestation of degraded areas and the reclamation of
areas affected by mining activities. The plan consists in providing plastic bags and seeds to
interested people, who later on will use them for the reforestation of degraded areas. In 1989-
1990, over 200,000 hectares were reforested. In terms of total forested area, in 1990 two
million hectares were forested, 1.7 million of them natural forests and 332,000 hectares of
plantations. Today 18 % of Cuba is covered with forests a net increase since 1959. Elsewhere
in Latin America, deforestation is occurring.


Mobilising Labour

Under the Classical Model, extensive mechanisation in agriculture had occurred, largely due
to high degree of urbanisation of the Cuban population. This created the conditions for a labour
crisis in the Special Period. Much of the extant mechanised activities had to be curtailed due
to a shortfall in petroleum resources, thus requiring a reversion to animal traction. Exacerbat-
ing this, the new low-input sustainable techniques required significant additional amounts of
manual labour, to which Cuba has responded in several ways.

Throughout the countryside temporary labour camps have been built to house urban workers
who volunteer their labour for anywhere from two weeks to two years while keeping their
normal salaries. Short-term workers leave their jobs or their studies for 15 days at a time to
volunteer in the countryside, living in dormitories at the agricultural camps. In the first year
of these two-week mobilisations, some 146,000 residents of Havana participated (MINAGRI

The two-year volunteers are organised in work brigades called contingentes, where they work
long hours but receive higher pay and above-average living conditions. To convince workers
to stay on after their two-year stints are up, the government is building attractive agricultural
communities near state farms, with good housing, medical facilities, sports and recreation
facilities. In fact, the only new housing being built in Cuba during the Special Period is in these
agricultural communities.

Incentives to volunteer for both the short-term and long-term stints seem to be largely moral,
although some material incentives either creep into the system or are actively being
experimented with (see above). An experimental way to encourage workers to stay on the land
has been to maintain the same workforce on the same piece of land over the entire agricultural
cycle. Previously, work teams on large centrally managed farms might plant one plot and
never return to it. They might weed and harvest plots that other teams had planted. The goal
now is to re-create a more traditional relationship of the producer with the land. State farms
are being broken up into smaller management units and work crews are given responsibility
for a given piece of land. Furthermore, a bonus system is being established in which the base
pay is augmented according to the production (quantity and quality) on that parcel, thus adding
another material incentive to the system. Workers interviewed at Las Marias said these
bonuses had doubled their pay in the last year. They also claimed that yields had doubled since
the system had been implemented. Cuba is presently testing this system in the plantain and
citrus sectors, according to MINAGRI officials.

Another approach to the increased labour demands makes agricultural work mandatory for
young men completing their military service. A voluntary female component is also included
in this plan. The hope is that many of these young people will find rural life attractive enough
to make a permanent move to the countryside once their duty is up.


It seems that this impressively large mobilisation of the workforce has been accomplished
largely through the double vehicle of material incentives (ensuring that at least the material
conditions of one's normal job would be realized) coupled with moral incentives ("in a time
of crisis your country needs you to work in the field"), with a seemingly large component
attributable to the latter. According to officials, these temporary measures are meeting current
special labour requirements. But there are serious questions about quality of work, and about
the cost in transportation, housing, food, etc, especially for the short-term volunteers. While
the two-year volunteers are a better solution, it remains to be seen if these long-term volunteers
will continue to come forward in sufficient numbers.

Community Gardens

Another way that labour has been mobilised to help grow food is through a programme to
promote urban gardens. Before the Special Period, Cuban cities were dependent on the rural
areas for their food, as a result of a lack of agricultural land near cities, cultural urban biases,
and urban opportunities for career advancement away from agriculture. This agricultural
dependence on the rural areas necessitated an intricate refrigeration, transportation, storage,
and distribution system, which required petroleum at all of its stages. The Special Period has
had an extremely detrimental effect on the availability of petroleum, causing a severe
reduction in food supply in the cities. This effect has been most strongly felt in Havana, where
about one-fifth of Cuba's population resides.

Urban gardens can do much to reduce the pressures of the national food shortage. Localised
production alleviates the problems of transportation and post-harvest storage. Small-scale
production relies on human resources, as opposed to heavy machinery and other energy-taxing
inputs. With the Cuban diet quite low in vitamins and minerals, produce from urban gardens
can help alleviate these deficiencies. The crop diversification common to small-scale
gardening also greatly reduces vulnerability to plant diseases and pests. Finally, individuals
are empowered as they work to resolve their problems of food availability, instead of looking
to the state or the black market to supply their needs.

Urban gardens take on three basic levels of organisation in Cuba: individual and family
gardens on private land, organised groups of neighbours gardening on public land, and
institutionally organised gardens. The produce from individual or family gardens is for
personal consumption, with all production inputs provided by the gardeners themselves.
Gardens organised by private groups on public land are informally structured by those
involved. Land is obtained through the government body Poder Popular, or through mass
organizations such as the Federation of Cuban Women or block committees. The third type
of garden is organised by an institution, such as a school, workplace or mass organisation.
Decisions concerning what is planted, work scheduling, and responsibilities are made jointly
by the group. The produce from the gardens is used to provide food for the institution's
cafeteria or distributed to local day care centres, rehabilitation centres, hospitals, etc.
Sometimes the produce is taken home to feed participants and their families.


Knowledge about agriculture is not uncommon in the Cuban population, even among the
urban dwellers, as the Cuban revolution has tried to keep people connected to agricultural
work and the production of food. This goal stems from a fundamental philosophy of Jos6
Marti, Cuba's national hero, that everyone should know what is involved in the production of
the goods that they consume. For example, agricultural work is part of many school
programmes. Furthermore, knowledge regarding small-scale low-input gardening is present-
ly being spread through a television show being aired twice a week. This method of mass
extension via television is crucial during the Special Period, as paper shortages prevent mass
printing of informational material.

Urban gardening has become very prevalent throughout Havana city, as well as in other areas
of the country. Unfortunately, it is impossible to calculate the importance of urban gardens
in terms of production. Due to budget cutbacks no government office maintains such statistics.

Generating and Using Appropriate Knowledge

New systems of farm production and readjustments of rural-urban living patterns are at the
heart of Cuba's short-term quest of a new model for food production. Of equal importance,
however, especially for the long-term, is Cuba's recognition that a substantially revised
knowledge base is needed if adequate yields are to be achieved and maintained. Since 1989,
Cuba has fully accepted the policy to promote a new science of agriculture and has moved
substantially to implement this policy in research station, the extension services, and with
farm producers.

The political priorities are aimed at maintaining its production levels of export crops with
vastly lowered inputs, most of which will be made in Cuba, rather than imported. What is
remarkable about Cuba's new research directions is the heavy emphasis on understanding and
exploiting the subtle yet powerful abilities of biological organisms to perform many of the
tasks previously done by synthetic chemicals. Such chemicals typically have little subtlety
of biological knowledge incorporated in their design. Biologically-based or -derived fertilis-
ers and biological control of pests, as described earlier, are at the heart of this new quest.

It is worth remembering that the movement toward the new research programmes predated
1989, but administrative and political leadership within the government was decidedly not
interested at the time and scientists' analyses and proposals fell on deaf ears. After 1989, low-
input agricultural scientists suddenly found themselves high on political and administrative
agendas, with top priority for funding. The future prosperity and even security of Cuba is seen
by all to depend on them. As a result administrative and political leaders and environmentally
concerned scientists have embraced their newly found common interests with enthusiasm.

While the enthusiasm for research to support the new model is unmistakable, the Cubans are
still essentially working with the old organisational structure of agricultural research. Most
institutes are heavily oriented to single commodities (e.g., tobacco, sugar, rice, pork). Sugar


is the main agricultural crop, yet it is located in a different ministry from the rest of agriculture.
Bureaucratic divisions seem to exist between research programmes that deal with biological
phenomena that will not be confined to the organisational charts of Ministers.

Also, one particular crop, beans, does not have a high priority identification within the
Ministry of Agriculture's research institutes. Instead, research on beans is buried within
INIVIT,4which has a broad mandate in the starchy roots (cassava, sweet potatoes, and taro),
starchy fruits (plantains and bananas) and vegetables of various sorts. Given the importance
of beans as a source of high quality protein, it does not seem to be matched by a corresponding
prominence in the research bureaucracies. There is also little research on maize, a potential
food crop that is not a part of the contemporary Cuban diet. Nevertheless, Cubans did consume
maize historically and imports large quantities of maize for animal feed. Given the suitability
of Cuba's climates and soils for maize and beans, and the potential benefits of them, the
invisibility of these two plants within the research institutes is puzzling.

Local Knowledge and Popular Participation

A pivotal component of the Cuban research shift toward sustainable agriculture is an
exploration of the knowledge base of Cuba's farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture is,
therefore, explicitly emphasising an increase in the degree of local participation in decision-
making and in developing agricultural systems adapted to the local agroecological conditions.

At the community level, the Ministry has encouraged the recovery of former land use practices
such as animal traction, intercropping, biological pest control techniques, crop rotations,
agro-pastoral and agro-forestry systems. Farmers are also being asked to participate in the
selection and dissemination of cultivated plants. The replacement of tractors by animal
traction in the food crops sector is well under way, and is being promoted as a prototype for
other forms of local knowledge that can facilitate the shift to a low-input sustainable system
of agricultural production.

The agricultural policy objectives have required a major reorganisation in the structure and
flow of agricultural research and extension in Cuba. Moving away from capital- and energy-
intensive technologies requires new relationships between scientists, extension agents, and
farmers. The previous role of scientists as generators of innovative technological packages
and extension agents as conduits of their delivery to farmers is clearly changing in favour of
a partnership between the three in the development and dissemination of new approaches.

Towards this objective, the Ministry of Agriculture currently sponsors farmer-to-farmer and
farmer-to-extensionist/scientist workshops in the provinces. Farmers from different regions
facing similar problems are brought together to: make locally adapted or developed
technologies known to a broader audience; facilitate farmer knowledge of techniques and
practices successfully used in other regions with similar crop complexes; and promote
scientific research and development of promising low-input innovations.


Cuban scientists have become increasingly dependent on farmer innovation and experimen-
tation for research directions that complement their efforts to develop promising organic
farming practices. Two types of innovation are being made: technologies recovered or
developed at the local level that have widespread applicability, which extension agents and
scientists disseminate over a broader region; and low-input technologies used in other
countries, which are promoted for local experimentation and adaptation. One example where
local knowledge from farmers proved the catalyst for technology generation is in the
biological control programme of the sweet potato weevil. Some Cuban farmers began
experimenting with collecting colonies of ants in banana orchards and transferring them to
sweet potatoes. Cuban researchers investigated and refined the locally developed technique,
which was subsequently disseminated by the Ministry of Agriculture to other regions.

The renewed emphasis on germplasm banks during the Special Period illustrates another area
in which local knowledge and community participation is being incorporated into Cuba's
research. While founded over ten years ago, germplasm reservoirs for national research are
receiving greater emphasis today. The Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Fundamentales
de la Agricultura Tropical (INIFAT) is sponsoring a national programme for the popular
collection of crop varieties to halt the widespread genetic erosion. Also, emphasis on labour-
displacing mechanised agriculture resulted in the steady out-migration to cities of farmers
with knowledge of local varieties. As these dramatic changes have occurred in less than one
generation, considerable hope is being placed on the prospect for rescuing funds of local
knowledge that might otherwise have vanished. Farmers are encouraged by INIFAT to collect
currently utilised and promising varieties of food crops for evaluation and germplasm

Despite the progress that has been made, in terms of rescuing the knowledge of local farmers
and promoting more participatory research, Cuba lags behind the NGO movement elsewhere
(see for example Chambers et al., 1990; and Altieri and Hecht, 1990). Yet, if one considers
that in these other countries NGOs must fill the vacuum left by disinterested governments, then
the active role of MINAGRI in promoting change in Cuba is all the more impressive.

The Cuban Experiment

It took the crisis of the Special Period to force changes in Cuban agriculture. The economic
crisis wrought by the collapse of trading relations with the socialist bloc represents two steps
back for the Cuban people as it has caused much suffering and scarcity. The hope is that the
rise of the Alternative Model for agriculture will truly come to represent a big step forward.

Cuban officials repeatedly said, "The United States claimed we were a satellite of the Soviets,
yet our planet has disappeared and we're still here ". However, it will not be easy for Cuba
to survive the present situation with its society intact. Since the delegation visited in
November, 1992, two severe storms have devastated Cuban agriculture. In March 1993 half
of the food crops were destroyed just before they were to be harvested. Another storm then


hit while sugarcane was being transported from the fields to the mills, causing such severe
losses that Cuba had to default on major delivery commitments for the first time ever.

In the rest of the world, an alternative model of agriculture exists only in theory. If the Cuban
people have been shown to be anything during the past three decades it is audacious. Today,
in the midst of the most severe crisis in their history, they are making a bold attempt to change
the rules of the game. Though it is impossible to say if they will ultimately be successful, what
they have already achieved under conditions of adversity is impressive. Daughters and sons
of peasant farmers are producing cutting-edge biotechnology, literally on the farm, and
supplying their parents and neighbours with organic substitutes for toxic pesticides and
chemical fertilisers.

The Cuban experiment is the largest attempt at conversion from conventional agriculture to
organic or semi-organic farming in human history. Other nations will be able to learn from
Cuban successes as well as from Cuban errors. This national experiment, which is so
potentially important for many, requires support to continue.


1. Members of the International Scientific Delegation were: Peter Rosset (Delegation Leader),
Nanda Berman, Larry Burkman, Judith Carney, Orville Coil, Carl Davidson, Jeffrey Dlott,
Paul Gersper, Jeanne Haught, Juan Martinez, John McConkey, Julio Monterrey, C6sar
Morales, Catherine Murphy, Laura Orlando, Ivette Perfecto, John Perkins, Carmen Rodriguez-
Barbosa, Jeff Schatz, Nina Shishkoff and John Vandermeer.

2. All major agricultural research centres located in the capital were visited, as were the major
agricultural university, the office of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the
United Nations, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), and various urban gardens and
private homes. In the countryside state farms, cooperatives and individual private farms,
research stations, and other agricultural facilities were visited. Extensive interviews were held
with government officials, farmers, farm workers, farm administrators, researchers and
extension agents, professors, the representative of the FAO in Cuba, and dozens of ordinary

3.The only genetic engineering in relation to agriculture used in Cuba appears to be in the
development of diagnostic kits for plant viruses, a techniques in common use elsewhere.

4. INIVIT: Instituto de investigaciones de Viandas Tropicales; Cuban research institute with
responsibilities for sweet potatoes, taro, plantains and cassava.



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30. Plants, Genes and People: Improving the Relevance of Plant Breeding. 1991. Angelique Haugerud and Michael
P. Collinson.

31. Local Institutions and Participation for Sustainable Development. 1992. Norman Uphoff.

32. The Information Drain: Obstacles to Research in Africa. 1992. Mamman Aminu Ibrahim.

33. Local Agro-Processing with Sustainable Technology: Sunflowerseed Oil in Tanzania. 1992. Eric Hyman.

34. Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in India's Semi-Arid Tropics. 1992. John Kerr and N.K. Sanghi.

35. Prioritizing Institutional Development: A New Role for NGO Centres for Study and Development. 1992. Alan

36. Communities as Resource Management Institutions. 1993. Marshall W. Murphree.

37. Livestock, Nutrient Cycling and Sustainable Agriculture in the West African Sahel. 1993. J.M. Powell and T.O.

38. O.K., the Data's Lousy, But It's All We've Got (Being a Critique of Conventional Methods). 1993. Gerard G. Gill.

39. Homegarden Systems: Agricultural Characteristics and Challenges. 1993. Inge D. Hoogerbrugge and Louise O.

40. Opportunities for Expanding Water Harvesting in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of the Teras of Kassala. 1993.
Johan A. Van Dijk and Mohamed Hassan Ahmed.

41. Living in a Fragile Ecosystem: Indigenous Soil Management in the Hills of Nepal. 1993. Devika Tamang.

42. Community First: Landcare in Australia. 1994. Andrew Campbell.

43. From Research to Innovation: Getting the Most from Interaction with NGOs in Farming Systems Research and
Extension. 1994. John Farrington and Anthony Bebbington.

44. Will Farmer Participatory Research Survive in the International Agricultural Research Centres? 1994. Sam

45. Population Growth and Environmental Recovery: Policy Lessons from Kenya. 1994. Mary Tiffen, Michael
Mortimore and Francis Gichuki.

46. The Role of Mobility Within the Risk Management Strategies of Pastoralists and Agro-Pastoralists. 1994. Brent

47. Two Steps Back, One Step Forward: Cuba's National Policy for Alternative Agriculture. 1994. Peter Rosset.

Copies of these papers are available from the Sustainable Agriculture Programme, IIED, London
(3.00 each inc. p and p).


The Sustainable Agriculture Programme

The Sustainable Agriculture Programme of II ED promotes
and supports the development of socially and environ-
mentally aware agriculture through research, training,
advocacy, networking and information dissemination.

The Programme emphasises close collaboration and con-
sultation with a wide range of institutions in the South.
Collaborative research projects are aimed at identifying
the constraints and potentials of the livelihood strategies
of the Third World poor who are affected by ecological,
economic and social change. These initiatives focus on
indigenous knowledge and resource management; par-
ticipatory planning and development; and agroecology
and resource conserving agriculture.

The refinement and application of Participatory Rural
Appraisal methods is an area of special emphasis. The
Programme is a leader in the training of individuals from
government and non-government organizations in the
application of these methods.

The Programme supports the exchange of field experi-
ences and research through a range of formal and informal
publications, including RRA Notes, aimed at practitioners
of Rapid and Participatory Rural Appraisal, and the Gate-
keeper Series, briefing papers aimed at policy makers. It
receives funding from the Swedish International Develop-
ment Authority, the Ford Foundation, and other diverse

International Institute for
Environment and Development
3 Endsleigh Street,
London WC1H ODD, UK

Telephone: 071-388 2117
Fax: 071-388 2826
Telex: 317210 BUREAU G

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