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Urban Farming Spotlight: Cuba

Urban farming in Cuba is so prevalent, it produces 90% of the fruits and vegetables eaten in the country.

The urban farming movement in Cuba started as a grassroots response to starvation caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

By 1995, the city of Havana alone had 25,000 allotments for urban farming.

But the government quickly saw promise in the efforts and introduced programs to help the movement grow.

Today, urban farming is woven into Cuban life.

In this article, we’re spotlighting urban farming in Cuba.

Cuba’s urban farms operate under a system called “organopónicos,” or “organoponics,” in English.

The name comes from the fact that the urban farms in Cuba primarily use organic matter, like compost, as fertilizer.

The word “organopónicos” is used to refer to both the method and the gardens themselves.

Urban farming in Cuba, relies on organic strategies, such as crop rotation, mixed cropping and companion planting, to promote soil health and prevent damage from pests.

These strategies, combined with drip irrigation and the country’s warm tropical climate, allow urban farmers to grow fruits and vegetables all year.

Typically, one organoponic garden, is made by making grooves in a soil bed and then lining the edges with a protective barrier, like wood or stone.

Then, as crops grow, the organic matter is added to the soil to enrich it.

Before the 1990s, most of Cuba’s agriculture industry was dedicated to farming sugarcane on large plantations.

Cuba farmed the sugarcane for the Soviet Union in return for food, fertilizers and fuel.

But when the Soviet Union collapsed, the food, fertilizers and fuel disappeared too.

This started a nationwide food crisis with extreme rations, where residents lost an average of 1/3 of their daily calories.

To feed themselves and their families, Cubans began converting small lots, rooftops, balconies, and more into small urban farms.  

Since they didn’t have traditional chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they found ways to grow crops without them.

As a result, urban farming in Cuba uses mostly organic practices.

Now, more than 86,000 acres of land are used for urban agriculture in Havana.

The success of urban farming in Cuba is the result of combined efforts from residents and the government.

In the cities, residents take the initiative to tend to the organoponic farms, while the government offers a number of government programs to encourage the residents to do so.

For example, the government supplies agricultural training and education, subsidies and compost production sites for those who take part in organoponics.

No two urban farms are alike either.

Rooftops, balconies, courtyards, parks, fields and more have been converted into grow spaces.

Some are small and feed only those who tend it, but others produce hundreds of tons of produce each year.

There are 97 high-yielding organoponic farms in Havana alone.

One of the biggest and most popular high-yielding farms is Organopónico Vivero Alamar.

It covers 27 acres of land and is ran by a cooperative of 150 farmers and 17 employees in one of Havana’s suburbs.

It produces about 300 pounds of produce each year.  

Cuba’s organoponics system is widely considered more environmentally friendly than conventional agriculture.

This is because it doesn’t use agricultural chemicals, doesn’t travel as far from farm to table, enriches soil instead of eroding it and uses significantly less fuel (since it doesn’t use heavy machinery like tractors).

Organoponic produce also costs significantly less to grow, so it can be sold cheaper.

In traditional agriculture, 1 million tons of produce requires $40 million worth of fertilizer and $2.8 million worth of pesticides, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The organoponic method saves $39.5 million in fertilizer costs and saves $2.5 million in pest control costs.

The significant production levels, low cost and environmental friendliness of urban farming in Cuba makes it a model worth studying.

If you liked this article, check out our Urban Farming Spotlight on Singapore.

For more information on urban farming, visit our website or call 602-753-3469.