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Implementing a system change through Agroecology: the Cuban experience

Implementing a system change through Agroecology: the Cuban experience

Friends of the Earth International Delegation present at the VII International Meeting of Agroecology, Sustainable Agriculture and Cooperativism in Cuba, organized by the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP, which is part of La Via Campesina).

It is the first time that representatives of all the regions that make up the Food Sovereignty program of Friends of the Earth International have met to discuss Agroecology.

A high point of the Meeting was the first three days in which the participants, divided into six groups, visited 37 farms in 17 municipalities in the provinces of Artemisa, Mayabeque and Havana. The farms belong to six Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA) and 12 Credit and Services Cooperatives (CCS), out of a total of 3315 cooperatives that make up the ANAP in Cuba (858 CPA and 2457 CCS). In addition, there are 4,078 cooperatives incorporated into the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC), which are served by the Union of Agricultural Workers.

"In Cuba, peasant pride gives culture and identity and the peasantry is aware that their role is key to feeding the country."
- Martha Silva, Mother Earth Movement - Friends of the Earth Honduras.

These farm visits were a great learning experience for the entire delegation, with which we were able to see in practice many elements of our vision of Food Sovereignty and Agroecology, such as ecological harmony and agrarian reform, and a social organization and very sophisticated politics.

“We have a lot to learn about Agroecology. This term not only represents scientific knowledge in Cuba and in Latin America. It also involves public policies on the production, marketing and supply of healthy and affordable food for people. The Encounter opened my eyes in many ways. The production and distribution model is such that there is no competition with transnational companies ”.
- Hemantha Withanage, CEJ - Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka.

Our international delegation

The delegation included representatives of member groups from our four regions, the international coordinators of the Food Sovereignty Program and some members of its Steering Committee (from Nigeria, Honduras and Europe).

For Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean (ATALC) participated representatives of Survival (Paraguay), Mother Earth Movement and CESTA (El Salvador); for Friends of the Earth Europe: Jordens Vänner (Sweden); by Friends of the Earth Asia-Pacific: BELA (Bangladesh), WALHI (Indonesia) and CEJ); and for Friends of the Earth Africa: ERA (Nigeria) and JA! (Mozambique).

The VII Meeting took place in Güira de Melena, Artemisa province, from November 17 to 23. There were 200 delegates from 31 countries from all regions of the world, members of peasant and environmental organizations, several from La Via Campesina (LVC), who attended panels and conferences on ecological, economic and social sustainability of agro-ecological farms; experiences in promoting Agroecology in the world; actions by the Cuban government to comply with the 2030 objectives, with special emphasis on mitigating climate change; and what effects the economic blockade has caused on Cuban agriculture.

Of the 37 farms that the participants were able to visit, some have certification for being 100 percent agroecological, others are "in transit" towards certification - already carrying out agroecological practices in a large part of the production - and others are beginning the change. Most of the farms have family production: what is harvested is used for self-sufficiency and for sale to the cooperative to which they belong.The peasantry produces 65 percent of the food consumed in Cuba.

For the ATI delegation, these visits were an inspiring experience that reaffirms the defense of Agroecology as a systemic practice to exercise Food Sovereignty.

Public politics

A key to achieving this transition towards Agroecology is the support of the State, through the design of public policies that work at the different levels of government (national, provincial and municipal).

These public policies imply the direct state purchase of the production of each CPA and CCS, through contracts signed at the beginning of each cycle; promote cooperativism and the delivery of land in usufruct to male and female peasants who want to produce healthy food for the Cuban people; political and technical training, with facilitators and promoters who develop the Peasant-to-Peasant Methodology; credit and insurance programs for production; research and development programs, with direct participation of peasant men and women; development, production and sale of inputs; bank accounts; transportation and storage; and inclusion of young people and women in agriculture, with participatory diagnoses to evaluate participation and generate equal opportunities.

"The implementation of this model is nourished by the collective construction of knowledge, participation and commitment to the feeding of the people, supported by public policies."
- Martín Drago and Kirtana Chandrasekaran, coordinators of the Food Sovereignty Program of Friends of the Earth International.

Produce for local needs

Cooperatives have an impact on the community: agricultural production supplies children's centers, schools, nursing homes and hospitals, among other institutions; It also reaches hotels and restaurants, guaranteeing supply to the tourism sector, so important in the Cuban economy. At the beginning of each year, each CCS and CPA plans planting based on how much production of fruits, vegetables, grains, oilseeds, seeds, meat, eggs, milk and honey will be necessary to comply with the State. Some cooperatives also have production processing plants, called “mini-industries”, such as the “Pica Pica” farm that is part of the “Antonio Maceo” CCS in Mayabeque, where they process fruits (such as guava) for canning that they later sell in their own "Points of Sale" - without intermediaries that intervene in the price of the product.

"We are impressed by the level of social and political organization that allows the development and expansion of Agroecology, through producers that have a lot of diversity on a small scale."
- Vanessa Carabelas, HA! - Friends of the Earth Mozambique.

Several visits to the farms included exchanges with the Balance Assemblies prior to the XII ANAP Congress, to be held in 2020.

Ensure the protagonism of women and youth in Agroecology

To guarantee the inclusion of women and young people in agroecological production, in the last decade the Cooperative Link project (developed between the Cuban government and European cooperation) carried out participatory diagnoses in several cooperatives in the municipality of Contramaestre, province of Santiago de Cuba. Through surveys and interviews with women and men, certain roles based on gender stereotypes have been detected (who does what Ywho decides on what) and it has been seen how to project the changes necessary for gender equality and equal opportunities (what do you want to achieve, how to achieve it, who does it, how much does it cost, how long does it take, what results are expected).

Although these are recent experiences, promoters of the ANAP hope to replicate them throughout the country to guarantee more participation of women in positions of hierarchical decision-making (such as the Presidency of the CPA and CCS), although many occupy positions that guarantee the sustainability of the cooperatives , such as the leadership of the grassroots organization and accounting, or are agroecological facilitators and promoters. In ANAP they aspire for more women to be "land holders" and to be able to decide on resources; in addition to redistributing household and care tasks.

“Everything we say in the ATI Food Sovereignty Program here has materialized: that the subject of change is our peasant men and women, that we need very strong agroecological peasant productions, that they have the support of the State - including scientific institutions that support this development, creating inputs such as efficient microorganisms for the control of pests and diseases -, with the conviction that conventional agriculture is not the solution - on the contrary, it only generates poverty and loss of biodiversity, loss of soil, water pollution. We are leaving with new strength and energy to promote changes in our territories ”.
- Walter Gómez, CESTA - Friends of the Earth El Salvador.

Social and economic development to face the Blockade and climate change

There are currently 414,000 cooperative producers; if you count their families, you reach three million people. Thus, agriculture generates employment for 25 percent of the economically active Cuban population. This goes hand in hand with the National Environmental Strategy, which emphasizes the mitigation of climate change (because it is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and addresses its consequences, such as hurricanes, droughts, among others. Agroecology plays a central role incool the planet.

At the same time, Agroecology is a key tool to resist the economic, commercial and financial blockade suffered by Cuba by the US government, despite the 28 resolutions approved by the United Nations that demand the cessation of this illegal and restrictive measure. The prohibition of access to international credits and the laws that penalize those who can bring fuel to the country imply resource deficits and force energy savings.

60 years after the Agrarian Reform Law passed after the 1959 Revolution, local food production has managed to adapt and scale in agroecological production, facing a “biological warfare” that introduced pests and diseases into raw materials.

At the close of the VII Meeting, the LVC delegations approved a declaration in which they condemned the US blockade against Cuba and demanded its immediate cessation, and demonstrated against the repression against the peoples of Bolivia, Chile and Colombia, reaffirming the internationalist spirit and solidarity of the organized peasantry.

Participate in this Encounter, exchange opinions and experiences withguajiros(Cuban peasants) in their farms and cooperatives, together with social organizations from around the world, allowed the ATI delegation to ratify that Agroecology is a way of life that, with the support of public policies, is absolutely capable of feeding everything the world in a healthy way and with social, economic, environmental and gender justice.

Images by Azul Cordo, Real Mundo Radio, and Martín Drago, Friends of the Earth International.

Source: Friends of the Earth

Video: Cuba Tour- Organic Farm in Vinales, Pinar del Rio (October 2020).