Today, Cuba is recognized as a unique centre for organic, farmer-led agriculture. Since the early 1990s, the country has undergone a remarkable shift away from monoculture and accompanying carbon based pesticides and fertilizers. With the withdrawal of the Soviet Union at that time, Cuba was forced to explore a different approach to food production. So they began returning to the organic agricultural practices of an earlier generation.
This agroecological farming movement has supported farming cooperatives, land reforms and innovative practices like crop rotation and experimentation with indigenous seed varieties. Farmers began to build back what had once been lost – an agrobiodiverse and ecological food system resilient to climatic variability and environmental disasters. Small farmers went from being virtually ignored to becoming highly valued for their knowledge and practices.
These small farmers have been key to revitalizing the island’s agriculture but they need more support to continue feeding the country.
The land reforms for new farmers have been steps in the right direction. Private farmer cooperatives and agroecological production now dominate the food production model but require continued support. Farmers need access to credit, services, seeds and tools.
USC Canada in Cuba
Since 2007 we have worked with our Cuban colleagues at the Program for Local Agricultural Innovation (PIAL) to support thousands of small farmers to organize, increase the availability of indigenous crop varieties and save and share seeds in communities across the island. The program estimates that it has spread seed diversity and security to over 50,000 rural farmers in Cuba.
The PIAL and USC Canada executed the successful second phase of the program from 2007-2012 with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now DFATD). The PIAL is now in a third phase of the program and USC Canada continues collaborating with Cuba as a strategic partner.
USC Canada is currently working on a seed diversity management project to strengthen seed supply systems in three Cuban municipalities. The project includes action-learning on seed security issues and global farmer-to-farmer exchanges.
USC Canada’s Local Partner: The Program for Local Agricultural Innovation (PIAL) of the National Institute for Agrarian Science (INCA)
Since 2007, USC Canada has partnered with the PIAL of the Cuban National Institute for Agricultural Sciences on an innovative farmer-scientist research program that puts farmers in the driver’s seat. The program is based on an ecological approach to agriculture, respect for farmer knowledge and increasing agrobiodiversity.
The current program seeks to increase agricultural and food production by strengthening local innovation systems.
In 2010, PIAL founder and then coordinator, Dr. Humberto Rios, received the renowned American Goldman Environmental Award for the program’s pioneering work in introducing and expanding seed and crop diversity, participatory plant breeding and sustainable agricultural systems in Cuba.
- Sustainable agricultural systems and agroecology
- Participatory seed diffusion and plant breeding
- On farm conservation of farmer seed varieties and seed banking
- Secure seed supply through seed reproduction and diversity
- Farmer-scientist collaboration
- Climate change adaptation and mitigation
- Gender equality in agricultural biodiversity