In 1991, through a strong information campaign, Havana’s city government encouraged the city’s population to use every single piece of open space in order to produce food for direct consumption. This generated an immediate response and several forms of exploitation of the open spaces within the urban frame but also of available areas within productive, service, educational, recreational, and healthcare facilities were established. Most of them were areas smaller than 1500 m2 which were given for a temporary but undefined period of time, to be exploited by one or various families, neighbours, students and docent personnel, workers of factories, etc. Initially these areas were used to grow vegetables and roots, and to keep poultry and smaller cattle. A massive breeding of pigs in these areas was illegally extended to central urban areas including houses and flats. This process has evolved towards better organised forms of productions.
The entire territory of the capital is considered urban by the Physical Planning Office (PhP) and by extension all agricultural production within Havana is considered Urban by the GNAU. The most recently approved master plan for the city (Territorial Ordering Scheme) considers, for the first time ever, UPA as a permanent urban function. It is a tacit recognition of the importance given to UPA, by the institution. However it contains some reactive position towards UPA since, for example, it prohibits its occurrence in the most central areas.
The Metropolitan Horticulture Enterprise Havana, established by the Ministry of Agriculture, runs most of the production of vegetables and herbs in Havana. It controls and supplies most of the production and management of UPA in the province. It additionally facilitates tax payments for individual and co-operative producers.
There is one provincial delegation of the Ministry of Agriculture in Havana. It has a three-level structure and is presided over by one delegate. 15 municipal delegates preside on the equivalent structure in the municipalities and there is one grass-root level delegate known as ‘extensionista’ in the districts. The delegates at the provincial and the municipal levels belong to the respective government assemblies in such a way that they can take part in the decision making process. There are 13 urban farms in 13 municipalities5 which belong to the entrepreneurial branch but establish close co-operation with the lowest level of the delegation. Additionally, they closely co-operate with the government institution at that level, the so-called Consejo Popular. This is a major opportunity to enhance the participatory approach they have selected for their work.
Main conflicts with UPA in Havana are related to the usage of water, the maintenance of soil fertility, and its insertion into closed cycles. Water scarcity is not a major problem but problems with the ageing infrastructure allow more than 50 per cent of water pumped for human consumption to leak. Several districts are permanently condemned to water shortages. In contrast, the main source of water for irrigation used by UPA is tap water, highlighting a conflict that is far from being solved. Soil fertility due to the organic character of the activity is based on the importation of organic matter from remote areas and the production of compost. It is maintained with inputs of animal manure, mulching, and composting. Composting is either by static heaps or by worm composting. Soil fertility can be maintained or enhanced by increasing inputs and continuing with intensive production or by adopting less intensive production. The prospect of reducing the intensity of production in a system designed to provide a valuable addition to food supply at a time of economic crisis, is unattractive; increasing the organic input is the favoured option. This results in difficulties since access to and availability of wastes is limited by scarcity of resources. Furthermore, UPA has developed without the restrictions of an established market in land speculation. Many popular organic orchards (organoponicos) for instance occupy plots estimated to have a very high value if sold on the open market. The development of such a market could affect UPA development if additional measures, e. g. integration into planning policy, are not further developed.
The capital has developed all of the so-called UPA subprogrammes and Havana’s organic urban agriculture is extraordinarily successful, such that fresh produce offered at the farm gate is cheaper than that brought from the countryside into the city’s free markets. Actually, in contrast to other territories where the focus of the development of UPA has been placed on the provision of jobs, in Havana it looks to counter the range of prices for food related products. Havana is an extraordinary case where organic vegetables are actually the cheapest option. The production of the UPA has been linked to social institutions such as kindergartens, hospitals and schools whose restaurants receive fresh organic produce on a daily basis. It is part of a strong information campaign promoting the intake of vegetables as a positive nutrition practice and attempts to counter traditional customs which do not favour vegetables intake. The campaign includes TV-broadcast lessons on how to prepare vegetable-based meals and on their nutritional value, and programmes to advise farmers on techniques and methods for cultivation. Additionally, the Junior High Education system has implemented a new subject called urban agriculture. It shows young students what UPA is in theory and practice. Often students even cultivate some crops in the school’s backyard and gardens.