A Better World is Possible: Agroecology as a Response to Socio-Economic and Political Conditions in Cuba
Over the past century global agriculture has come to be characterized by high levels of industrial inputs, as well as increasing consolidation of land ownership and a focus on export-oriented monocrop production. In spite of its dominance, this conventional model of food production has faced growing criticism for being environmentally, socially, and economically unsustainable, and alternatives such as organic agriculture are becoming increasingly popular. The rapid growth of these alternative modes of production raises questions regarding how sustainable food systems should be defined, how they might best be implemented, and how they can contribute to the overall goals of sustainable development. <br /><br /> Cuba is a recognized leader in the adoption of sustainable agriculture. This research examines the Cuban experience in an effort to determine how Cubans who work in the agricultural sector perceive and define agricultural sustainability, who the major actors have been in the shift away from conventional techniques, and what the future challenges and opportunities for agroecology in the country might be. In order to address these questions interviews were conducted with Cubans involved in the agricultural sector at the level of research, education, and extension, as well as with Cuban farmers. In addition, participant observation was carried out during a number of farm visits and while attending agricultural extension workshops. <br /><br /> The results of this study demonstrate that agroecology in Cuba is based on a wide range of techniques, including polyculture, mixed farming, animal traction, organic input use, and a focus on local food networks. For many farmers, the use of agroecological techniques does not reflect a conscious choice on their part. Rather, their production decisions tend to be driven by a combination of resource shortages and strong state influence at the farm level. Indeed, the shift towards agroecology in Cuba has largely been driven by national level actors, including the state, NGOs, and research institutes. As such, many farmers lack a sense of personal commitment to agroecology, and this may pose challenges for its present and future success. A further challenge is presented by a lack of resources for agroecological development and extension. The opportunity for price premiums in the niche organic market could provide positive economic incentives for Cuban agroecology; however, this would imply shifting back to an export driven agricultural economy, and the degree to which this is desirable or truly sustainable is questionable.