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"The main task of the revolution should be to produce food."

Cuban general Sio Wong

Pushed to a corner, three Latin American countries resort to urban agriculture – local, organic.

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p68_1.jpg (8021 bytes)"Let's sow our cities with organic, hydroponic mini-gardens!"

Hugo Chavez,
president of Venezuela

Hydroponics: The cultivation of plants by placing the roots in liquid nutrient solutions rather than in soil; soil-less growth of plants.

Aeroponics: A technique for growing plants without soil or hydroponic media. The plants are held above a system that constantly mists the roots with nutrient-laden water. Also called aeroculture.

Organoponics: A term peculiar to LatinAmerica. It was originally the hydroponic systems converted to organic cultivation by replacing the inert medium with compost made from sugar waste.

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Organoponic gardening is taking root in central Caracas amid piles of garbage, bands of homeless beggars, and tens of thousands of vehicles belching out polluting gas fumes.

Till 1989, the USSR powered the Cuban economy. The Russians sold Cuba oil at a discount and bought sugar from it at five times the market rate. In fact from 1959, when communist Fidel Castro came to power to 1989, when the communist regime collapsed in Moscow, 85 per cent of Cuba's trade was with the USSR.

Then in 1992, America slapped a trade embargo. By conventional economics, Cuba should have just collapsed. But it responded to the crisis by restructuring it's agriculture in the country.

Pesticides and fertiliser stocks dwindled. Oil was in short supply. Transportation, refrigeration and storage costs had to be reduced and 2.5 million strong Havana had to be fed.

The Cubans found answers to these problems in urban agriculture. The people took the situation into their own hands and started gardening in their homes on a massive scale. The Urban Agriculture Ministry decided to back the urban farmers and made it a policy of putting all the city's open land into production.

The gardens of Havana are small parcels of state-owned land, ranging from a few square meters to several hectares, which are cultivated by individuals or community groups.

The city now aims at feeding itself entirely —without imports from either rural Cuba or anywhere else in the world. Today, Havana rightly claims to be the leader of urban agriculture in the world.

The gardens of Peru
With 7 million citizens, capital Lima houses 30 per cent of Peru. The city was groaning thanks to rapid growth. UA was used as an instrument to improve the living conditions of the urban poor.

Slums started growing food in a bid to feed themselves and generate income by sell extra produce. After that, gardens were established in household plots, schools, hospitals and public spaces.

No chemicals were used as fertiliser and solid waste was used to produce compost, pests were controlled using domestic methods. The women converted household leftovers, chicken and guinea pig dung to manure. Wastewater was used where there were water shortages.

Venezuela's choice
Venezuela is relatively well-off and rich in resources. But it decided to take inspiration from Cuba and practice UA in a bid to prevent food shortages and be less dependent on imports. Traditionally, more than half of the country's food needs are imported.

Inside Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters, soldiers of the crack Ayala armoured battalion supervised by Cuban instructors have swapped their rifles for shovels and hoes to tend neat rows of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, coriander, and parsley.

p69_2.jpg (20558 bytes)A Cuban revolution
If it was the socialist revolution of the fifties that changed the face of Cuba, it was the UA revolution of the nineties that transformed Cuba’s economy, bringing with it, it’s own vocabulary.

Before 1989, UA was virtually unheard of in Havana, which is home to 20 per cent of Cuba’s population. But today ‘organoponics’ and ‘hydroponics’ are buzzwords and the mushrooming farms and gardens of the capital are divided into five main categories:

Huertos populares (popular gardens):
Gardens privately cultivated by urban residents in small areas throughout Havana.

In 1999, urban Cuba produced

Huertos intensivos (intensive gardens):
Gardens cultivated in raised beds with a high ratio of compost to soil and run either through a state institution or by private individuals.

Autoconsumos: Gardens and small farms belonging to and producing food for workers, usually supplying cafeterias of particular workplaces.

Campesinos particulars: Individual small plots cultivated by farmers, largely working in the greenbelt around the city.

Empresas estatales: Large farms run as state enterprises, many with increasing decentralisation, autonomy, and degrees of profit sharing with workers.


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