To better understand how urban agriculture is promoted in residential areas, the Fundacion Antonio Nunez Jimenez invited us to visit the Consejo Popular Camilo Cienfuegos, a large residential settlement on the eastern edge of Havana, built after the revolution, housing some 11600 people. The settlement’s people’s council oversees the implementation of urban agriculture.
In February 2002, a total of approximately eight hectares of land were under cultivation, consisting of the ‘El Pedregal Intensive Cultivation Garden’ (2.5 hectares in which crops are sown directly in the ground, rather than in raised beds) and the El Paraiso Farmers Group, a group of 45 parcelas (allotments). While produce from a parcela is sometimes sold to the public, their primary purpose is to provide food for the individuals.
A further 4.3 hectares of land was cultivated by dispersed farmers, operating as individuals and not attached to the people’s council.
The Consejo Popular Camilo Cienfuegos has an area of about six square kilometres, which is subdivided into nine sub areas, each of which elects a local representative to the people’s council. Local representatives work directly with farmers and a single representative reports back to the agricultural administrators and planners at the provincial level. This system provides a robust mechanism allowing
feedback between policy makers and individual urban farmers.
Participation in urban agriculture is voluntary and relies on individuals or groups making a request to area representatives for land to grow food on.
If an inhabitant wants land for a parcela, or a group wants land for an intensive farm, this is granted subject to conditions requiring the growing of food and prohibiting the construction of buildings or the cutting down of trees. A clear distinction exists between commercially run projects like the El Pedregal Intensive Cultivation Garden and non-commercial parcelas.
Parcelas tend to be cultivated by retired people and they are free (no rent); large ones may cover 2500 m2 if a whole family uses it, but 200 m2 is more typical.
In the case of Intensive Cultivation Gardens the Greater Havana Fresh Vegetable Company co-ordinates the sale and distribution of crops from a number of producers and collects a sales tax that the farmers are liable for.
In 2002 land remained available for urban agriculture. The ground around the Consejo Popular Camilo Cienfuegos is rocky and saline and crops require irrigation as groundwater is not readily available. Drinking water is used for irrigation and this exacerbates existing domestic water shortages experienced by inhabitants, but we could find no evidence of friction between families who grew food and used extra water for irrigation and those who did not. Farmers and their supporters have investigated a number of water recycling and storage schemes, one of the most ambitious being the use of water from the annual draining of the adjacent Panamerican Complex’s Olympic Pools. All of these proposals require significant investment in infrastructure and have as yet not been implemented.
A composting scheme has been set up which uses domestic organic waste from individual families for use in urban agriculture. As elsewhere these schemes are voluntary and in 2002 had limited success. A series of workshops was planned to encourage participation.
The Fundacion Antonio Nunez Jimenez has undertaken a detailed study of urban agriculture in the Consejo Popular Camilo Cienfuegos and this has revealed some concerns farmers have with the contractual arrangements they are tied into. For example, farmers have expressed concerns with the quality of seeds supplied to them by the Greater Havana Vegetable Company, a matter over which they have no control given the employment contracts they have entered into. On the other hand these contracts provide farmers with a pension and the Greater Havana Vegetable Company markets some of their produce as well as supplying farmers with additional varieties of vegetable for sale from the farm gate.
Farmers managing the El Pedregal Intensive Cultivation Garden have different attitudes to marketing than those working non-commercial parcelas. The latter have no interest in marketing their produce, while those farming the El Pedregal Intensive Cultivation Garden are active in promoting their goods.
Despite these shortcomings, which can not be considered exceptional, the majority of farmers who had been farming for ten years had the intention of continuing to do so for as long as possible. Furthermore the study found that notwithstanding the less than ideal rocky and saline soil, the yield from Consejo Popular Camilo Cienfuegos sites was 91 per cent of the average yield for equivalent types of urban agriculture in Havana.