In Cuba the urban agriculture model implemented matches the crisis model described by Deelstra and other authors. The driving forces were the economi­cal difficulties derived from the drastic modification of economic relationships. After the crisis an alternative model was pursued and within it urban agriculture was identified early on as a means to ensure food availability for a large number of urban households and has recently been identified as an important provider of jobs. Support for food related issues had prevailed as a prioritised issue in the Cuban political agenda since the early 1960s and this experience seems to be inscribed also in UPA.

Presently, more than ten years since the initial implementation of urban agriculture, the process has evolved into one of highly complex struc­tures and relationships. A strong emphasis has been placed on the socioeconomic dimension, for instance, food production and its nutritional values; in second place, the potential of UPA as a job provider and its influence in the lowering of food prices have been recognised. Environmentally, its organic character is its main asset but other aspects have been overlooked or neglected. Largely (at least initially) due to the lack of hard currency to purchase fertilisers and pesticides, many producers individu­ally started to use derelict urban spaces and are now using organic production methods, which has become a requirement for most urban producers. There is also a growing awareness of environmental damage caused by intensive conventional tech­niques. These statements show that the government is eager to promote urban and organic food produc­tion firstly for both economic and social reason, but also for environmental reasons.

In terms of its socio-economic situation and political system, Cuba is unique. Few developing countries have invested so much in their human capital, nor have they achieved similar social indicators. Probably none has suffered such stress on its econ­omy as that generated in the early 1990s, nor the effects of current economic and financial sanctions. In part, the problems Cuba now experiences are the result of an economy pushed to be dependent until 1990 on few trading partners, and of an agricultural strategy in which export cash crops dominated, food security was not a priority, and food self-suffi­ciency was poorly covered. Undoubtedly, part of the success in adopting an alternative agricultural model can be ascribed to the central influence on markets, and indeed on all aspects of the economy and society in general, of central government. In spite of its uniqueness there are important lessons to be learnt from the Cuban experience.

What makes it outstanding is firstly its comprehen­siveness. Secondly it is a matter of scale. In a very short period Cuba has observed a tremendous increase in the volume of production, in the areas dedicated to urban production and likely a variation in the nutrition habits of some sectors of the popula­tion favouring an increase in their daily consumption of fresh vegetables. Gonzalez Novo and Murphy (2001) have described the Cuban experience as the ‘world’s first nationwide co-ordinated urban agri­culture programme, integrating access to land, extension services, research and technology devel­opment, new supply stores for small farmers and new marketing schemes and organisation of selling points for urban producers.’

There has been a close, effective association between the development of agriculture, local gov­ernment and local democracy. The participation developed at the community level makes it a suc­cessful combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches. The short period, and the scale, of its implementation are surprising. Earlier investment in human capital and specifically in locally-oriented agricultural research and development skills and infrastructure have paid dividends and the close links between research organisations and the excellent extension services have delivered appro­priate and timely research outputs. A mixture of innovation and determination are today making the Cuban experience a success story. Necessity has persuaded Cuba to adopt a largely organic approach to agriculture in which urban and peri­urban agriculture occupy a relevant role. Together with this organic approach, the presence of a steady political will to ensure food availability for all seems to have had a strong influence. The exist­ence of political willingness seems to be a key fac­tor in ensuring the development of this kind of experience even though the realisation of all advantages is limited. For instance, a strong emphasis initially on food production and later on jobs generation, nutrition quality and educa­tion issues to the detriment of environmental con­siderations beyond UPA’s essentially organic character.

Havana represents an interesting case study since it has experienced most of the contradictions asso­ciated with this kind of urban industry. The level of integration into Urban Planning Policy is distinctive and has been achieved though a more flexible and proactive approach resulting from a better under­standing of the potential positive role and risks associated with UPA and its potential contribution to comprehensive policies.

It remains to be seen to what extent Cuba’s organic experiment will survive when the national economy recovers, when the prospect of agricultural input returns, and when the full insertion of Cuba’s econ­omy into the world market becomes a reality, includ­ing the influence of the American agri-business. However, urban agriculture occupies a distinctive position within this process and it seems to be more likely to survive these influences even if the exten­sion of the alternative model is reduced to small spots or even disappears. In the meantime lessons are being learnt which could have major implica­tions worldwide.


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Updated: October 12, 2015 — 6:56 pm