Cuba had to abandon its large scale industrial farming when it lost access to fertilizers and pesticides, oil, machinery and other imported inputs due to the collapse of its trade with the former Soviet bloc. Fortunately, Cuban scientists had been experimenting with ecological agricultural processes for many years and Cuban farmers were ready to relearn how to plow with oxen, how to fight pests naturally, and how to enrich soil poisoned by years of over-reliance on oil-based pesticides and gas-based fertilizers and degraded by mechanized cultivation. Cubans combined time-tested traditional methods of older campesinos with the cutting-edge techniques developed by its scientists. It was the largest conversion to organic farming ever attempted anywhere.
The result is sustainable agricultural practices that are unique in their widespread use. In 2006, a World Wildlife Fund study concluded Cuba is the only country in the world with both a high UN Human Development Index — a composite ranking based on quality of life indices and purchasing power — and a relatively small “ecological footprint”, a measure of the per person use of land and resources. Cuba treads lightly on the Earth.
In early 2013, eight San Miguelensians traveled to Cuba for a ten-day investigation of the island’s organic agriculture. They visited farms and urban gardens and ecological reserves, talked with farmers and agronomists and officials, and learned about cooperatives as well as Cuban dance. Their trip was sponsored by the Center for Global Justice and Via Organica. On the Cuban side it was hosted by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center, which organized the itinerary.