After the crisis, Cuba lost more than 75 per cent of its import and export capacity. In response, a nationwide

2 Until 1998 Mario Gouzalez Novo was head of the Havana Ministry of Agriculture, Urban Agriculture Department.

towards an organised and co-ordinated programme within this process. UPA should be seen as a com­ponent of a wider strategic process rather than as an isolated one.


The ultimate goal of NAAM is to develop less mecha­nised, more labour intensive operations which involve local populations in low external input sus­tainable food production enterprises. An important feature of Cuba’s ability to respond rapidly with an alternative model has been its success in mobilising science and technology and the social investment in education. Cuba had much earlier made a deci­sion to promote scientific knowledge-based devel­opment, for example, in agricultural biotechnology and biological control. Many of the ‘new’ technol­ogies had been actively researched, specifically for the Cuban environment, for a decade or so before circumstances made their implementation impera­tive. This made it much easier for the implementa­tion of the alternative model, avoiding problems of technology transfer or reception that might be experi­enced elsewhere. At the research level there is sup­port for the principles of organic production. There are very good links between the research and extension organisations and consequently a very short time lag between research innovation and field application of research results.

The use of bio fertilisers, for instance, is advanced by any standards. Sufficient Rhizobium inoculants for leguminous crops for the whole country are produced, and free living nitrogen fixing organisms such as Azotobacter, and phosphorus solubil­ising microorganisms such as Bacillus, are being mass produced in government-run, low technology production units. Vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizal inoculants, fungi which colonise the roots of plants and help them obtain nutrients from the soil, are also being mass produced and distributed. Maintenance of soil fertility on even large farms now depends significantly on a range of management practices, including reduced tillage, the adoption of crop rotations with the incorporation of green manure such as Sesbania, intercropping, and low input rota­tional grazing systems to build soil fertility on dairy farms. Organic inputs include livestock manure, other agricultural wastes and compost produced in industrial-scale worm composting operations. For instance, Cuba in 1992 produced 93000 tonnes of worm compost.

Within this alternative model urban and peri-urban agriculture was quickly identified as a viable large – scale response aimed first and foremostly at the partial recovery of the threatened food security. Since 1989 hundreds of state-owned hectares of land were authorised to be used by citizens willing to cultivate them. The Ministry of Agriculture struc­tured itself to provide citizens with advice, material support and encouragement in the management of agricultural activities. The movement was of such a magnitude that in 1993 the Ministry of Agriculture together with city’s government, in response, organ­ised an official structure to pay attention to the phe­nomenon covering the provincial, the municipal and the local levels (Cruz, 2001). Several national NGO’s with varied platforms were also integrated and some International ones and other organisations supported the movements as well.

As a recent phenomena in the Cuban context (at least in its newer experience), several definitions for UPA have been offered by researchers and different stake-holders. Gonzalez Novo2 and Murphy (1999) define urban agriculture in Cuba as ‘an intensive, high input (organic pesticides and organic manure) and high output system favouring the production of a

diversity of crops and animals during the year.’ He describes the main idea of urban agriculture in Havana as ‘Production in the community, by the community, for the community,’ adding that ‘urban agriculture is very much seen as a way to bring pro­ducers and consumers closer together in order to achieve a steady supply of fresh, healthy, and varied products directly from the production site to the con­sumers.’ The latter catches the principle of connect­ing most of the stakeholders at the community level as a key component to ensuring the success of agri­cultural production. Meanwhile Pena Dfaz[1] (2001) asserts ‘urban agriculture is the intensive production of food by using organic means within the perimeter of the human settlements and its periphery, based on the maximum use of the productive potential of each territory. It includes the use of the available land, the high cultural level working force, the inter­relation of crop-animals and the advantages of the urban infrastructure. It encourages the diversifica­tion of crops and animals guaranteeing its stepped permanence all year round.’ Other definitions pro­vide more elements, however a pragmatic concept generally in use asserts that ‘in Cuba urban agricul­ture is that occurring 10 km around the provincial capitals, 5 km around the municipal main towns, and 2 km around the smaller towns’ (Guevara Nunez, 2001). Average people, on the other hand, just iden­tify urban agriculture with the best known form of production, the organoponicos (popular organic orchards). Most of these definitions fail to address some of the key issues relevant for an adequate understanding of the activity, such as location, stage, activities, destiny, etc. Most of them seem in a way normative since they provide a vision of how UPA should be, i. e. an aspiration, or they are too pragmatic and too vague as to give a clear under­standing of the urban character of the processes and its implications. Issues such as differentiation of intra-urban agriculture from peri-urban agriculture, or the identification of rural agriculture within the urban or peri-urban sectors of the city have been scarcely, if not at all, discussed in the Cuban context.

Beyond the different definitions the Cuban model for urban food production has been implemented nationwide. This is a key difference to other coun­tries since the same techniques, organisation pat­tern, pest and diseases control products can be found all over the country. The elements character­ising the model are then the adoption of a set of production forms and the assimilation of current association forms belonging to the rural agricul­ture, the support of the scientific networks linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, the commitment of the Government structures at all levels to support it and the adoption of a structure with strong influ­ence at the grass-root level. This National pro­gramme is presently co-ordinated by the National Group for Urban Agriculture (GNAU) which is made up of representatives of scientific institutions of the Agriculture Ministry and other stakeholders. It con­ducts the promotion, implementation and evalua­tion work of 26 so-called subprogrammes. Each subprogramme is dedicated to one specific type of production or aspect of the industry. For example, there is a flowers subprogramme, a vegetable production sub-programme, a herbs and spices subprogramme, an environmental issues sub­programme amongst others. The national group evaluates the performance of each municipality according to the implementation of the different subprogrammes and their achievements. The result of this evaluation is the selection of the most outstanding municipalities, and the identification of best practice cases. All of the country’s 169 munici­palities have developed urban agriculture within this programme.

There are several forms of production correspond­ing to the types of agricultural techniques used. Each of them has varied efficiency indicators (yields) ranging from 8 kg/m2.yr to 25 kg/m2.yr.

4 UBPC: Unidades Basicas de Produccion Cooperativa – Basic Units for Co-Operative Production; CCS: Cooperativas de Creditos y Servicios – Services and Loans Co-operatives; CPA: Cooperativas de Produccion Agropecuaria – Agricul­tural Production Co-operatives.

Other important components are the production supporting entities, which also belong to the sub­programmes though they do not directly produce food. They provide consultancy and advice ser­vices. Producers are grouped in different kinds of partnerships, which have been established with specific payment, commercialisation and taxation regimes, ranging from self payment to salaries; in-situ commercialisation to tourist facilities supply and usufruct to tax on land use respectively. These forms of association largely reproduce the struc­tures present in rural agriculture.

Main forms of production are the popular organic orchards (so-called organoponicos) and the high efficiency organic orchard (organoponico de alto rendimiento, OAR), the popular and intensive orchards, state owned self-production areas (auto- consumos estatales), popular orchards divided into parcels and intensive orchards (huertos populares parcelas y huertos intensivos), and covered houses (casas de cultivo). The production sup­porter entities are organic material production cen­tres (centros de produccion de materia organica), agricultural clinics and shops (consultorios agrfco – las, afterwards tiendas consultorio agropecuario), and nursery houses (casas de posturas). Farmers are associated in structures similar to those of the rural agriculture, in different types of co-operatives such as UBPC, CCS, and CPA4. The unplanned creation of Farmers Clubs by urban dwellers was notable for the way it supported the wider idea of UA policy.