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.
Cruz, M. C. (2001). Agricultura y Ciudad una clave para la sustentabilidad, Fundacion de la Naturaleza y el Hombre, Havana.
Deere, C. D. (1992). Socialism on one island?: Cuba’s National Food Program and its prospects for food security. Institute of Social Studies. The Hague.
DPPFA (2000). Esquema de OrdenamientoTerritorial 2001 (Master Plan). Direccion Provincial de Planificacion Fisica. La Habana.
Dresher, A., Jacobi, P W. and Amend, J. (May 2000). Urban Agriculture: Justification and Planning guidelines. http://www. city farmer. org/uajustification. html
Gonzalez Novo, M. and Murphy, C. (1999). Urban Agriculture in the city of Havana a popular response to a crisis. In Growing Cities, Growing Food Urban Agriculture on the Policy Agenda. A Reader on Urban Agriculture. Deutsche Stiftung fuer internationale Entwicklung (DSE), 329-348.
Guevara Nunez, O. (2001). Demostracion de que si se puede. In Granma, (official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party) 1 February, 2001, p. 8.
Palet, M. (1995). Estructura de los asentamientos humanos en Cuba. Doctorate Thesis. Institute of Tropical Geography, Havana. (Not published)
Pena Diaz, J. (2001). The integration of urban and periurban agriculture into the planning policy of Havana. Master of Science Thesis, Department of Infrastructure and Planning NR 01-169, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.
Ponce de Leon, E. (1986). El sistema de areas verdes de la Habana. Primera Jornada Cientifica del Instituto de Planificacion Fisica. IPF. La Habana.
Ponce de Leon, E. (2000). Personal interview at the Grupo para el desarrollo Integral de la Capital. September 2000. Havana.
Rosset, P and Benjamin, M. (1994). Two steps back, one step forward: Cuba’s National Policy for Alternative Agriculture, Gatekeeper series No. 46.
Segre R., Coyula, M. and Scarpaci, J. (1997). Havana: two faces of the Antillean metropolis. World cities series. Chichester.