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CUBA
Rise of urban agriculture
IPS
2/13/2002
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Planting crops on abandoned lots helps ease food shortage.

A boom in urban farming is providing residents of Cuba’s cities, about 8.3 million of the island nation’s 11 million people, with fresh organic produce and a new source of jobs.

"The capital hardly produced any food and depended on products brought in from nearby provinces, as well as imports from abroad," said Santiago Rodríguez Calderón, a researcher with the University of Havana’s Center of Studies on the Cuban Economy.

The idea of growing crops or raising small livestock on empty lots and other unused portions of land in the city took off in the 1990s, amid the economic crisis triggered by the breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the eastern European socialist bloc (LP, March 1, 1999).

In yards, vacant lots, terraces and even barrels and buckets, people began to grow crops to meet their own needs for food in response to the new shortages, or for sale in private farmers’ markets that were legalized in 1994. Some also began to raise small animals or dairy cows.

Rodríguez estimated that urban garden plots produced more than 130,000 tons of food crops in 2000, compared to 44,000 tons in 1994.

Nationwide, about 300,000 people are involved in urban gardening. Urban gardens now cover 12 percent of the land in Havana. More than 22,000 people are involved in tending the capital’s gardens, which provide between 150 and 300 grams of fresh produce and herbs per person a day in the city of 2.2 million people.

While urban farming has contributed to food security for Cubans, however, Rodríguez said that Havana residents’ dietary needs are "still far" from being fully satisfied.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommends daily consumption of 300 grams of fresh produce per person to guarantee the vitamins and minerals necessary to good health.

In Havana, empty lots that had become garbage dumps in the 1990s, because of fuel shortages that made it difficult to haul away trash, now boast some of Havana’s most attractive gardens.

"This used to be an abandoned lot filled with rubble," Georgina Pérez, 63, a retired teacher, said of her garden, one of nearly 30 plots on what used to be a vacant lot on the west side of Havana.

Pérez, who knew little about working the land when she began, proudly shows off her crops, which include yucca, sweet potatoes and bananas. She and several dozen other local residents founded a horticulture club in 1992. Their main goal is to produce food for family consumption, although many sell their surplus in local farmers’ markets.

"About 40 families benefit from this, and our products also help support a nearby child-care center and a school for orphans," said Pérez, who heads the organization.

Women make up about 20 percent of the urban farming work force and provide about 30 percent of the technical support, although only 11 percent hold managerial or supervisory posts.

Urban agriculture in Cuba depends largely on organic methods. Most growers use compost, mulch and biological pest-control techniques instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Last year, the UN Development Program contributed US$200,000 to a project for growing fresh produce in Cuba’s five easternmost provinces, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Holguín, Las Tunas and Granma.

After Hurricane Michelle swept through the island in early November, causing an estimated $1.8 billion in damage, the agency donated $100,000 more to purchase seeds for crops with a short growing cycle. Local authorities hope to replace the crops destroyed by the storm with fast-growing produce.

 


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Many gardeners sell surplus in farmers´ markets. (Photo. CUBANET)
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