Growing Resilience: How Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Model is Strengthening Communities

Fresh food market, Old Havana, Cuba, February 2023

Cuba’s urban agriculture revolution began in the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been the island nation’s main source of agricultural inputs. With the end of Soviet support, Cuba was forced to find new ways to feed its people, and urban agriculture emerged as a solution.

Cuba’s unique Human-Centered Agriculture program promotes a holistic approach to farming that prioritizes the well-being of people and the environment. A key component of this program is its commitment to organic farming, which has helped to create a more resilient and sustainable food system

Today, Cuba is considered a leader in urban organic agriculture, with over 350,000 urban farmers producing food using organic methods. The country has developed innovative and sustainable practices to address food shortages, improve food security, and promote healthy eating habits in urban areas. According to the World Bank, in 2018, Cuba had the highest percentage of agricultural land under organic management of any country in Latin America and the Caribbean, with approximately 20% of its agricultural land under organic production. This is a significant achievement given the challenges that Cuba has faced, such as limited resources and access to inputs, which have made it difficult to maintain high levels of agricultural production.

The Cuban government has supported this effort, recognizing the important role that urban agriculture plays in promoting agroecology, sustainability, community well-being, and the circular economy. The government has played a crucial role in promoting urban agriculture by granting individuals and cooperatives the right to use state-owned land for agricultural purposes through a system known as “usufruct” (or “usufructo” in Spanish). This system allows individuals and cooperatives to use the land rent-free for a period of 20 years, which can be extended for another 20 years.

Organic garden in Trinidad

Agroecology is the study of ecological processes in agricultural systems and the design of sustainable, regenerative farming practices. In Cuba, agroecology has become the foundation of urban agriculture, with farmers using natural inputs such as compost, green manures, and biological control to cultivate healthy soils and crops. This approach minimizes the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, reducing the impact on the environment and human health.

Fresh veg being sold on the streets

Sustainability is a key component of this urban agriculture model. By growing food close to where it is consumed, farmers reduce the carbon footprint of transportation and distribution. Additionally, organic farming practices improve soil health and reduce the need for chemical inputs, which benefits the environment and human health. Cuba’s urban agriculture system also supports local economies, creating jobs and providing fresh, healthy food to urban residents.

Community well-being is an important aspect of Cuba’s urban agriculture model because the program is designed to promote sustainable and healthy communities. The program emphasizes community participation and involvement in the production, distribution, and consumption of food, which helps to build a sense of community and social cohesion. This approach is especially important in urban areas, where people often feel disconnected from their neighbors and communities.

By involving local residents in the production of food, Cuba’s urban agriculture program also helps to promote access to fresh, healthy, and locally produced food. This can have positive impacts on the overall health and well-being of the community, reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

In addition to promoting physical health, community well-being is also essential for mental health. Participating in community-based activities, such as urban agriculture, can improve mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, and stress. Working with others towards a common goal can provide a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and social support, which can boost mental well-being. Moreover, gardening and working with plants has been shown to have therapeutic effects and can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

The circular economy is an economic model that aims to minimize waste and maximize the use of resources. In Cuba’s urban agriculture system, this concept is put into practice through the use of organic waste materials as compost, and the recycling of water through drip irrigation systems. The reuse of resources helps to conserve energy and reduce waste, creating a more sustainable and resilient food system.

Roxana planting out pak choi in Alimar, Havana

In conclusion, Cuba’s urban agriculture model offers a valuable example of how agroecology, sustainability, community well-being, and the circular economy can be integrated into a cohesive and effective food system. By prioritizing these principles, Cuba has created a system that produces fresh, healthy food while minimizing its impact on the environment and promoting social and economic development. The cooperative gardens of excellence are a shining example of how communities can come together to create a more sustainable and equitable future.