Forrest Oliphant

Sustainable organic farming in Cuba

2005-06-08

The Cuba Diet, by Bill McKibben (on harpers.org)

There’s always at least the possibility, however, that larger sections
of the world might be in for “Special Periods” of their own. Climate
change, or the end of cheap oil, or the depletion of irrigation water,
or the chaos of really widespread terrorism, or some other malign force
might begin to make us pay more attention to the absolute bottom-line
question of how we get our dinner (a question that only a very few
people, for a very short period of time, have ever been able to
ignore). No one’s predicting a collapse like the one Cuba
endured—probably no modern economy has ever undergone such a shock. But
if things got gradually harder? After all, our planet is an island,
too. It’s somehow useful to know that someone has already run the
experiment.

This is highly recommended reading for anybody interested in Cuba,
sustainable agriculture, &/or the impact of the global
economy on our food, environment, and health. Basically, Cuba bought into the idea that machines will
be the salvation of the working class, but the Soviet-backed
machine-based agriculture system was ridiculously unsustainable.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the US-backed embargo left Cuba
with no fuel or spare parts for the tractors, and no way to feed its citizens. They had no choice
but to go sustainable (it was either that or "lay down and cry.")
This article speculates what might happen if and when the embargo is
lifted or Castro dies. It nudges towards the conclusion that food
production in the US could learn from Cuba: "Is it possible that
markets, at least for food, may work better when they’re smaller and
more isolated?"