Cuba entered a severe economic depression after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, its primary trading partner at the time. As a result, imports plummeted by 80 percent. Food, oil, pesticide, fertilizer, and farm equipment imports were hit hard. This devastated Cuba's economy and industrial food system.
According to the book, "The Greening Revolution: Cuba's Experiment with Organic Agriculture," Cuba was forced to undergo "the largest conversion from conventional agriculture to organic or semi-organic farming that the world has ever known."
Havana, the capital of and largest city in Cuba, played a prominent role in addressing food shortages through urban agriculture policies and practices that dramatically increased the availability of fresh food in the city. The strategy focused on soil fertility, organic management, ecological pest control, the rational use of local resources, participatory plant breeding, increased land access, and farmer-to-farmer and farmer-to-researcher knowledge dissemination. It was a massive and largely successful effort. Here are a few key policies and programs:
- A right-to-farm policy and provision of agro-ecological inputs: According to a 2014 Guardian article, a large amount of unused state-owned farmland was made available to private farmers and cooperatives in 2008. In addition, and as reported by a 2009 Monthly Review article, "more than two hundred facilities provide needed input for urban agriculture — producing, providing, and/or selling seeds, organic fertilizers, biological pest control preparations, technical services, and advice."
- Promotion of agroecological technology through education and research: Universities and research centers were reoriented to make agroecology the dominant agricultural paradigm in Havana. This was supported by a rich inventory of agroecology science and practice.
- Fair prices for farmers and other incentives: Farmers and small-scale gardeners can sell their excess production at farmers' markets at a profit, as a result of government policy. This gives urban farmers financial incentives to grow, along with other incentives such as social recognition.
As a result of these efforts, Cuba's urban farms supply 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in cities such as Havana, and 350,000 related jobs were created between 1997 and 2009, as per Monthly Review articles from 2012 and 2009, respectively.
Learn more from:
- PBS minidocumentary on Cuba's urban agriculture
- Academic study on the evolution of urban agriculture in Cuba