Monday, October 26, 2009


Location: Cuba, particularly Havana and Cienfuegos
Years: 1990s-present

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which had strongly supported Cuba with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and food produce, the Caribbean island experienced a period of food insecurity. Due to the fall in imports, the median daily intake per person fell from 2600 to 1000 calories. Several types of gardens emerged as a response to this situation, most commonly organoponicos, a system of urban organic gardens where fruits and vegetables are grown in a series of raised beds or concrete containers located in vacant lots where the soil is not cultivable due to contamination or poor quality.

Yields in these organic gardens have more than quintupled from 4 to 24 kilograms per squared meter between 1994 and 1999, and currently approximately one million tons of food per year is produced in the organoponicos. Over 87,000 acres of land are being used in urban agriculture in Havana alone, where over 200 organoponicos gardens supply its citizens with more than 90 percent of their fruits and vegetables intake. Another location where this method of urban farming is particularly developed is Cienfuegos, a city with a population of 120,000 which was given the title of urban agriculture capital of Cuba due to its large amount of organoponicos per capita. Most of these gardens are semi-private operations, although all receive state subsidies.

The organoponico system has received international recognition in particular since 1999 when the Swedish Parliament awarded the Cuban Farming Association the Right Livelihood Award –also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. Although it may offer valuable lessons in terms of organic urban farming, the organoponico system may not be completely replicable in other countries due to the strong social control and government subsidies that have contributed to its success in Cuba. The lack of current data also complicates the present assessment of the movement.

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