Food Sovereignty Tours in Cuba: Good Eats and Agroecology

Screen shot 2016-07-19 at 8.20.35 AMFor Mackenzie Feldman, who studies Society and Environment and Food Systems at UC Berkeley, Food First’s Food Sovereignty Tours to Cuba showed her she is not alone in the fight for food sovereignty.

“It was so refreshing to see so many farmers so into it,” she said.

While industrial agriculture, in the form of large-scale farming and CAFO’s, has flooded the global agriculture markets, Cuba swims against the current. As Miguel Altieri and Victor Toledo explain in “The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants,” “Sustainable agriculture, organic farming, urban gardens, smaller farms, animal traction and biological pest control all became part of the new Cuban agriculture.”

Feldman and her delegation travelled through this landscape where, as Feldman said, “organic agriculture has such a long history.” While she enjoyed the pleasantries of Havana and other cities, Feldman’s fondest memories were her visits to small family farms.

“They grew all kinds of vegetables. There were a lot of herbs, a lot of ginger,” she recounted, “basically everything.”

The lush abundance of these small farms is reflected in the statistics on Cuban agriculture. According to Altieri and Toledo, “the Cuban peasantry supported by agroecological strategies exhibits today the highest levels of productivity, sustainability and resiliency in the region.”

And the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Feldman said the best food she had on the Food Sovereignty Tour was the food grown on the farms. The simple and homely meals consisted of rice, beans and sweet potatoes.

“It tastes so much better,” she said, “It’s so good.”

That taste is a testament to the innovation and perseverance of Cuban farmers. Because these people practice agroecological diversification methods on their farms, they produce much more food per hectare than their commercial, industrial agriculture counterparts. Food Sovereignty Tours works to preserve these cultures and practices that have been tossed aside by industrial agriculture.

Feldman said, “In Cuba, they’re practicing all the old methods, using agroecology and really, really caring for the land.”

These practices reflect the innovation of Cuban farmers to adapt to changing environments and climates. The perseverance of these Cuban farmers are highlighted by the Food Sovereignty Tours and made a deep impression on Feldman.

“They’re scientists. They have to do all these experiments to see what works,” she said “They only have one chance a year to see if it’ll work.”

Their success lies in the coupling scientific know-how with the cultural knowledge and traditions of generations of Cuban farmers. The abundance of their harvests demonstrates their knowledge of agriculture and the success of agroecology.

“It totally strengthened my belief that organic agriculture will work,” she said.

Food Sovereignty Tours brings delegates face-to-face with the farmers applying these smart practices. It is a special opportunity to learn about the innovations in the agriculture industry from the innovators themselves. It is these same innovations that blaze the trail in the fight for the clean and fair production of food, for food sovereignty.

Francesco Guerrieri, Food First

July 18, 2016

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