"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.
|"Let's sow our cities with
organic, hydroponic mini-gardens!"
president of Venezuela
The cultivation of plants by placing the roots in liquid nutrient solutions rather than in
soil; soil-less growth of plants.
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.
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.
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 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,
|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 Cubas economy, bringing with it,
its own vocabulary.
Before 1989, UA was
virtually unheard of in Havana, which is home to 20 per cent of Cubas 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
||OF ITS RICE
||OF ITS FRESH VEGETABLES
||OF ITS NON-CITRUS FRUITS,
||OF ITS ROOTS, TUBERS & PLANTAINS
||OF ITS EGGS
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
Empresas estatales: Large farms run as
state enterprises, many with increasing decentralisation, autonomy, and degrees of profit
sharing with workers.