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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
North Carolina Sustainable Agriculture Delegation in Cuba
Two peoples with one passion separated only by distance and politics
The North Carolina delegation to Cuba has returned from a most successful research trip. Led by NEEM and hosted by Dr. Fernando Funes, we were exposed over the seven day period to the agroecological system in Cuba from A - Z.
I half jokingly mentioned that there are as many Ministries and affiliated groups in Cuba as there are Oricha (the numerous deities of a prevailing religion, Santeria) which on first appearance seemed daunting in size and scope to imagine being effective. The group learned quickly that it was a collective, each with a specific task constantly updating each other on results like dripping water that fills the pot. We have much to share in presentations to our community in the same spirit.
What did we learn?
That since sustainable agriculture is possible on a country level in Cuba that it is also possible in North Carolina on a State wide level. That farming is food science, an art, an honorable profession that is available to us in the States as a resource for sustainable economies in the urban sector. The U.S. is not all that different than Cuba, we too are a consumer society with all of our industry gone and Agriculture the largest left that must be preserved. Our community’s notion of local is best is strengthened and that the small local system works, less susceptible to problems, and is nutritionally and ecologically sound with the lowest environmental impact and a positive effect on the carbon footprint.
Some highlights of the trip:
Dr. Fernando Funes and his staff at ACTAF briefed us on the system. This set the tone for the days ahead allowing the delegates to get a basic understanding of the model. We were honored and forever grateful to Fernando, the father of Agroecology in Cuba, for taking the time to be with us daily. Fernando, his late wife and son Fernando II are Agroecolgical giants in Cuba. My first meetings with Cuban officials in the mid nineties were in Washington with Gustavo Machin at the Interest Section. We discussed infrastructure and I expressed a fear of potential change and return to conventional systems once relations between our countries were resolved. The delegation left knowing now that measures are in place that will prevent that. This was most important to know.
Organoponicos (large and small inner city farms) – referred to as “Basic Unit of Cooperative Production” (UBPC) litter inner city Havana. They provide sustainable economies and an enormous percentage of dietary requirements of the Cuban people are met through production and distribution. We saw several but the largest (and one of the most productive and successful) was Organoponico Alamar, run by Director Salcines in Vivero neighborhood. Alamar is a completely self sufficient operation with no chemical inputs with acres of raised beds, greenhouses, composting and vermi-composting, micorrhizes, livestock, biological controls, vegetable and ornamentals etc. Alamar’s success is a reflection on a large scale of the other smaller but similar operations hiring roughly 130 people with classes, restaurant, gift shop and vegetable stand on site.
Indio Hatuey Research Station - founded in the sixties, this is the most historic but one of many places established for research in a rural setting. Hatuey is in the province of Matanzas. All work here is based on diversified agroecological systems. Research covers every aspect and investigates various crops, silvopastoral concepts (mixed crop and livestock), organoponic, microorganisms, silk worm (sericulture), forage grasses, lawn grasses, bioenergy, complimentary and companion growing, most efficient complimentary crop rotations, nitrogenification through legumes, Integrated Pest Management etc. with tests sites and field tests throughout the property. All information developed here is shared with other stations and passed down country wide to the smallest operation in the rural and urban agroceological sectors. We could have spent days here.
Foods Conservation Community Project - “Vilde and Pepe’, old friends I had not seen for 8 years who are devoted to food preservation, solar drying, canning/bottling, condiments, preserves and an undying gift to the community by this devoted couple to fostering Traditional Cuban Cuisine and maximum utilization of products produced. They spread a spirit of sharing in educational projects throughout Cuba and the global community.
Villa Hortensia – farmer and Agroecological artist par excellence Idalio Mederos. Words cannot truly relay what we witnessed here. Idalio has taken Villa Hortensia to a level that can only be described accurately in a slide or power point presentation. His farm is a visual and artistic Garden of Eden producing ornamentals. No natural stone was left unturned here, every step a visual pleasure right up to the most artistic compost pile I have ever seen. Idalio is what we would all like to be, off the grid, no computer, making his own charcoal, completely self sufficient, humble with an enormous heart. Hortensia lies outside Havana in the Artemisa municipality.
“El Grupo Magnifico”
The delegation was diverse and comprised of North Carolina farmers, academics representing 4 major universities, NC Department of Agriculture, fund resources, Non Profit Groups, Agricultural and sustainable community consultants. Fernando Funes, our driver and Joe (our interpreter). Most were members or affiliated with CFSA and CEFS. A few were out of State invitees and either current or future collaborators with NC. We were professional, family and will work together in future collaborations; here and in Cuba. All had determined early on to share our mutual information, pictures and presentations gathered with our communities here in the States. I think I can speak for the group in that our desire is the same spirit of cooperation and sharing for the greater good that left an indelible mark on all of us.
We thank in addition: CATEC, UBPC’s, Indio Hatuey, CTA’s, INIFAT, ICAP, MINAGRI, Idalmis Nazco, Alina Martin, Ivis Cárdenas, Roberto Caballero, Egidio Perez, Director Salcines, Osvaldo Franchialfaro, Giraldo Martin, Dr. Odalys, Dr. Iglesias, Idalio Maderos, Luis Ortega, America and Carlo, Eng. Diaz, Eng. Rodriguez, Vilda and Peppe, Dr. Perez, Dr. Vazquez, Dr. Febles, Dr. Orellana, Dr. Funes Monzote II, Dr. Rodriguez-Nodals, Dr. Companoni, Dr. Cruz and Roberto Sanchez; the Hotel Nacional and its staff and the people of Cuba.
Jeffrey A. Ensminger