We were interested to find out if organic production was seen as an integral feature of urban agriculture.
Our research revealed that many biological control methods were also proving to be effectively employed on many of the agriculture sites. For example banana stems are grown on many of the urban agricultural plots. Once cut and baited with honey they are extremely effective in attracting insects that otherwise might be tempted by local crops. Such a technique has proved particularly useful in the control of sweet potato weevil.
Another area of bio-development has been the emergence of vermi-compost centres (using worms to promote composting). Whilst many urban agriculture plots undertake their own composting, recently there has been the emergence of sites specifically dedicated to the composting of organic material. Between 1995 and 2002 almost 200 of these units were established with the annual production of organic compost rising from under 3000 to 100 000 tonnes during this period. Other organic farming techniques have also emerged, such as extensive crop rotations, green manuring, intercropping and soil conservation.
A conference on urban agriculture hosted by the University of Cienfuegos provided answers to some questions. At the time of our visit, 2002, Cuba did not subscribe to any organic certification scheme. However, by most definitions Cuba’s urban agriculture can be considered organic. Since 1989, due to the economic situation, artificial pesticides and fertilisers have been difficult to come by and when chemical treatments are available, they are used in a targeted manner to control specific outbreaks of disease or pests.
The use of organic or natural pest control, for urban agriculture, is explicitly promoted. This has resulted in the accumulation of an extensive body of knowledge, and urban agriculture support workers widely and actively disseminate this to growers.
The development of ecological pest control systems is ongoing. In 2004 new methods for catching small flying insects had been introduced to Cienfuegos. Here the ends of 50 gallon drums and similar metal or plastic disks had been smeared with grease and fixed onto poles. These devices were then ‘planted’ amongst beds to catch insects, which would otherwise attack crops. This constructed vegetation introduced a layer of surreal poetics to the otherwise utilitarian landscape of urban agriculture – sites began to read like threedimensional installations by Miro.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that, despite great progress, there remain many barriers and difficulties that still need to be overcome. Our site visits revealed farmers who remained sceptical of organic methods. Likewise there are many in the scientific, policy making and government circles that are concerned that new biotechnologies are not developing fast enough. These officials often stated their concern about pests that may defy organic controls.
Much material in this chapter is the result of interviews and conversations with the Cuban urban agriculture specialists, met during field trips to Cuba in 2002 and 2004. We would like to thank the following people for their time and contribution:
Jen Pukonen and Roberto Sanches Medina (Fundacion Antonio Nunez Jimenez la Natureza y el Hombre, Havana)
Professor Jorge Pena Diaz (Centre for Urban Studies, CUJAE, Havana)
Professor Socorro Castro and Professor Rene Padron Padron (University of Cienfuegos)
Hector Lopez (Jefe Agriculture Urbana, Province Cienfuegos)
Liliana Mederos Rodrigues (Provincial Delegation for Agriculture: Rodas)
Alena Fernandez and Arura Basques (Urban Agriculture advisors, Rodas and Cienfuegos)
Huber Alfonso Garcia (Delegardo Municipal de la Agricultura)
Pedro Leon Artiz (Jefe Granga Urbana Rodas)
F Gande Iglesias (Jefe Producion Granga Urbana),
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Pretty, J. (2002). Agriculture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature. London: Earthscan.
Ponce, F. (1986). Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba. Oakland: Food First.
Socorro Castro, A. R. (2001). Cienfuegos, the Capital of Urban Agriculture in Cuba. Urban Agriculture Notes, published by City Farmer, Canada’s office of urban agriculture. www. cityfarmer. org/cubacastro. html accessed May 2001.