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Organoponico! Cuba's response to food security

Claire Birch

6th November, 2009

Cuba's no democratic paradise, but the country could certainly teach the west a thing or two about sustainable, secure food production, as this new film demonstrates

Organoponico! begins with a summary of life after the start of the Special Period. In Cuba, the Special Period refers to the period of economic crisis that began in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was defined primarily by severe shortages of oil derivatives and imports, leading to widespread famine.

From this desperate need for food came the establishment of small organic farms, making use of any available space, from disused car parks to road-sides. The result is not just highly productive, but also attractive - splashes of lush green space within urban environments: flourishing gardens, grown without any pesticides, offering an oasis of calm amongst the busy Havana streets.

Community

The six minute film demonstrates the strong sense of cooperative spirit provided by the organoponicos, organised, as they are, 'by the neighbours of the community, to produce food for the community'. Government subsidies allow the organic produce to be sold at often half the price of conventionally farmed produce, making the enterprises economically viable too.  

One of Organoponico!'s strengths is that its story is told entirely by workers, painting a realistic picture of working life for those who tend organoponicos, illustrating that although the work is intensive, employees enjoy good conditions and pay. The food security created by the system is highly valued: Cuba’s 7000 organoponicos supply 90 per cent of the country's fruit and vegetables, and have helped lift Cuba from the poverty of the Special Period.

Peak oil

Although born out of necessity, organoponicos have proven that an oil-scarce society can survive, if not thrive. Many environmentalists have seen the Cuban experience as something of a model for how to survive peak oil. Because of this, other countries have attempted to replicate it, although results have been variable.

The film ends with some startling facts about the state of the food industry here in the UK. Currently we import 95 per cent of our fruit and 50 per cent of our vegetables. Since consensus is forming around the possibility of an oil supply crunch within the next decade, perhaps the time to start reclaiming the UK's urban landscape is now.

To find out about the team behind Organoponico! click here

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