The Dirt

Spring 2005 Articles

- Community Celebration Dinner
- The Garden Becomes a Farm
- Compost in the Cafeteria
- History of the Garden
- Harvest Fest
- Wonders of Raw Milk
- Poetry Corner
- Corporate Organic
- A Gardener's Journal
- Worm Compost Cartoon
- Interning at the Garden
- Companion Planting
- Photo Essay
- Meet the Gardeners
- Agriculture in Cuba
- Garden Survey
- Thanks to...

Agriculture in Cuba: A Sustainable Model

By Tracy Scott

Agriculture, directly or indirectly, effects each and every person in some way. Whether a consumer of the crops grown or the farmer that works with the land, the type of agricultural system used should be strongly considered. Many crops today are grown by large businesses, or agribusiness, that can negatively impact the environment and local economy. Pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides often cause problems with runoff into groundwater. Small scale farmers often can not keep up with agribusiness which purchases costly chemical inputs and expensive machinery. These farmers are often driven out of business by the competing agribusiness. Many farmers do not try alternative methods of agriculture because they do not believe crops can be grown without the aid of fertilizers, pesticides, or tractors. However, Cuba's conversion to sustainable agriculture has been quite successful and can show farmers that alternative methods are feasible.

In an informative article by Peter M Rosset, "Cuba: A Successful Case Study of Sustainable Agriculture," the history of Cuba's agricultural system is examined. Twenty years ago, Cuba was part of the Soviet Union bloc's international trade alliance. Cuba raised cash crops for export. Monocrop production of sugar and other smaller export crops gave rise to imports of chemicals for pesticides and fertilizers, machinery to run the farms, and fuel to run the machinery. Cuba's agricultural system was focused on export crops grown on concentrated land. 1 It was after the fall of the Soviet bloc that the revision of Cuba's agricultural system occurred.

The fall of the Soviet bloc meant no more imports of chemical pesticides or fertilizers, machinery, or fuel for farms. This also meant a decrease in the imports of foods which were not being grown by Cuban farmers, and which were needed for nutrition. Cuba, as a nation, needed to revise its agricultural system. A national effort was set forth to encourage farmers to convert from high input agriculture, using pesticides, fertilizers, and machinery, to low input agriculture, which uses more self-reliant methods and is more sustainable.

Farmers went from using chemical pesticides to using locally produced, and mainly biological, pesticides. Farmers incorporated the long used method of crop rotation with microbial antagonists which provided a defense against plant pathogens. They considered resistant plant varieties when planting crops. Cover cropping was also used in order to suppress the occurrence of weeds and restore nitrogen to the soil.

Instead of chemicals, farmers used biofertilizers, earthworms, compost, or other organic products such as natural rock phosphate or animal and green manures. 1 Farmers have gone back to using the older and environmentally friendly methods of animal traction instead of petroleum run tractors and other machinery.

A rekindled relationship between the farmers and the land has been reinforced by the "linking people with the land" program. Cuba's government has turned the old state farms, the large monocrop agribusinesses, into Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC's).1 These UBPC's allow collectives of workers to lease (rent free) parcels of land from the state and grow (1) a certain quota of crops the government wants and (2) crops to sell in local farmer's markets.1

Although Cuba has been able to return to a sustainable method of agriculture, it may be quite some time before other countries can follow Cuba's example. Fortunately, there are quite a few programs that teach the practices and values of sustainable agriculture to the global community. Some of these programs teach internationally, while others teach here in America. The list below is just a few found easily on the internet:

The Global Service Corps -
Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Project (SANREM CRSP) -
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture -
Green Harvest Program -
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture -
World Sustainable Agriculture Association -


1. Rosset, PM. 2000. "Cuba: A Successful Case Study of Sustainable Agriculture." In: Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food and the Environment. Eds. Magdoff, F; Bellamy, J; and Duttel, FH. Monthly Review Press, NY.