Cuba’s Sustainability (R)evolution

I went to The Commons last week to hear a lecture entitled “Lessons from Cuba: Mastering Sustainability” by permaculture pioneer Roberto Perez Rivero. By the end of it, I wanted to hop a plane to Cuba, or at least convert my roof to a garden. Roberto has been an integral part of the Cuban Permaculture Movement since its introduction in the country in 1993. He worked for 17 years at the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, the central node for the Cuban Permaculture Movements since late 1995. He has been instrumental in the promotion and implementation of Urban and Sustainable Agriculture (Permaculture, Organic farming, Agroforestry and Agroecology), helping Cuba to achieve food sovereignty.

This particular lecture detailed Cuba’s transition from a highly-specialized, conventional industrialized agriculture dependent on external imports, to a fully self-sustainable model built on a foundation of agroecology and organic agriculture, specifically:

• Local consumption by the urban population of local production in each region
• Crop-animal integration with maximum synergy (i.e. internal cycling of nutrients) to boost production
• Intensive use of organic matter to increase and conserve soil fertility
• Employment of biological pest controls
• Use of all available land to produce food, guaranteeing intensive but not import-dependent high yields of crops and livestock
• Multidisciplinary integration and intensive application of science and technology
• A fresh supply of good quality products offered directly to the population, guaranteeing a balanced production of not less than 300g of vegetables daily per capita and an adequate variety of animal protein
• Maximum use of the food production potential, such as the available labor force and the recycling of wastes and by-products for plant nutrients and animal feed

In 2006, the international ‘Living Planet’ report of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Global Footprint Network declared that Cuba was the only nation to achieve sustainable development. This is particularly impressive when you consider that, just 17 years earlier, Cuba was plagued by the Special Period, a time of  severe scarcity and economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 2006 documentary film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil does a beautiful job of detailing the transition.

(top photo by Jorge Luis Baños/IPS)