Cuba's Organic Revolution

After forty-seven years of rule, Cuban president Fidel Castro's failing health may well spell the end of his political revolution. Another, quieter revolution has taken place in the island country since the Soviet Union fell, leaving Cuba without guaranteed food subsidies and markets for its sugar cane: the rise of organic agriculture. In response to the loss of its economic lifeline, and the subsequent hunger that many Cuban experienced (average daily caloric intake fell from 2600 to 1000 to 1500), the Castro government set out on a bold experiment to create a self-sustaining food system in the country based on thousands of "organoponicos," or very small urban land allotments for growing food. According to experts who have watched this development, the Cuban organic transition has been remarkably successful:

Remarkably, this organic revolution has worked. Annual calorie intake now stands at about 2,600 a day, while UNFAO estimates that the percentage of the population considered undernourished fell from 8 percent in 1990-92 to about 3 percent in 2000-02. Cuba's infant mortality rate is lower than that of the U.S., while at 77 years, life expectancy is the same.

Everyone appears to agree that this new, organic approach is far more efficient than the previous Soviet model that emphasized production at all costs. Fernando Funes, head of the national Pasture and Forage Research Unit, told Harper's magazine: "In that old system it took 10 or 15 units of energy to produce one unit of food energy. At first we did not care about economics, (but) we were realizing just how inefficient it was."

Writer Andrew Buncombe of the UK's Independent argues, in fact, that the organoponico experiment has been much more successful that Cuba's other attempt at economic independence, its promotion of tourism, for the whole of the country. While experts argue that attempting to mimic Cuba's agricultural system would likely fail in other Western Hemisphere countries not accustomed to working so hard for their daily meals, and others are concerned about the effect a more open economic system might have on the country's unique food production model, the small country and its troubled government have shown the world that more sustainable farming can feed a lot of people. We may just all have to get a little hungrier before really trying such a radical step. ::The Independent via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer