A Woman Farmer Aspires to Produce Sustainable Food in Cuba

According to experts, it is a creative response to the environmental crisis

Farmer Ivonne Moreno / Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

14ymedio biggerIPS (via 14ymedio), Havana, 6 June 2024 — Farmer Ivonne Moreno sees permaculture, in addition to a philosophy of life, as a sustainable model to produce food, reduce the environmental footprint and project sustainable communities in urban and rural areas of Cuba. These and other principles have guided the planting of dozens of species of fruit trees, vegetables, tubers, aromatic and medicinal plants, in addition to shrubs and woody trees on her La Luisa farm, located in El Cotorro, one of the 15 municipalities that make up the Cuban capital.

Her food forest, as she calls it, provides fruits, seeds, flowers, roots, leaves, condiments, medicinal products and firewood, among other inputs, in addition to serving as a habitat for birds, insects and other animal species that enrich the land and enhance biodiversity.

“When I hear about an endangered fruit, I look for its seed and sow it. I don’t remove the dead leaves in order to preserve the microorganisms in the soil. I also use organic fertilizers from the manure that they throw away in a nearby dairy, along with shells and other waste,” Moreno explained to IPS during a visit to her farm.

Farmer Ivonne Moreno sees permaculture, in addition to a philosophy of life, as a sustainable model for producing food

However, “we have not been able to fully implement the food forest, because there are also animals that must run loose and whose food cannot compete with that of people. You have to design it properly,” said the 51-year-old farmer, married and the mother of two daughters.

Moreno’s connection with La Luisa began from childhood when she spent her holidays on the 0.7-hectare farm acquired by her great-great-grandfather in 1878.

After residing in a populous area of the capital, in 2010 she decided to settle definitively in those lands where “the connection with nature is direct.”

And, without knowing it, “I began to do permaculture. I assumed it as an ideology of life, with an awareness of taking care of the environment and generating as little waste as possible.”

It is, she added, “a way of living whether you are on a plot in the countryside or in an apartment in the city.”

Permaculture is a concept that has evolved, from “permanent agriculture” in its beginnings, to a more contemporary one related to “permaculture.”

As a design tool, with principles, practices and attitudes, it conceives of sustainable human settlements

As a design tool, with principles, practices and attitudes, it conceives of sustainable human settlements in which people coexist harmoniously with other animal and plant species, and the environmental impact is mitigated.

The principle of sustainable agriculture can also be applied to the construction of ecological housing, as well as to a greater use of natural resources and clean energy sources. It has political, economic and social connotations.

According to experts, permaculture is a creative response to the environmental crisis, in a world where energy availability and resources become global problems.

Permaculture arrived in Cuba in the early 90s of the last century. The economic crisis on the Island conditioned the development of agro-productive systems on a more sustainable basis, more due to the lack of resources to acquire fuel, machinery and agrochemicals than consciously.

Farmer Ivonne Moreno / Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

A development network and groups of permaculturists extend throughout Cuba, articulated around the non-governmental Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation of Nature and Man (FANJ), the main promoter of this practice in Cuba. Established in 1994, the FANJ is a civil cultural and scientific institution dedicated to the research and promotion of educational, community and research programs and projects, in particular those related to culture, society and the environment.

“I took a beginning workshop at the FANJ. Then came the design workshop. My husband Juan Carlos Martínez and I are facilitators of this knowledge, and the farm is the headquarters of the permaculture group in the municipality of Cotorro, which brings together about 10 people,” Moreno said.

She specified that, from the classes, she has a “base plane” and a “contextual plane.” The first reflects what exists and the other what is projected, to make a system as efficient as possible.

Moreno’s “dream” includes the construction of a biodigestor, as well as the installation of windmills, solar panels, fish ponds and cisterns to store rainwater

In the case of La Luisa, Moreno’s “dream” includes the construction of a biodigestor, as well as the installation of windmills, solar panels, fish ponds and cisterns to store rainwater.

“We would have liked to move faster and have all those systems up and running. But the economic situation of the country makes it very difficult to buy materials and supplies,” explained the farmer, who takes care of the farm along with her husband and the occasional support of her father.

She highlighted “the repair of several parts of the house with natural materials, without using cement, to promote air conditioning. We also separate the black water from the gray water and use filters. It seems to work well, because where the gray water flows, the grass remains green.”

More than a hundred hives of melipone bees – a species without stings – favor pollination; they provide honey, pan de abeja (bee bread) – concentrated pollen – and wax, products that, in the absence of chemicals, reinforce their nutritional, medicinal and cosmetic value.

“My dream is to have at least 200 hives, but the conditions have to be created. For now, as part of the project, we promote training on the management and care of hives, because it is feasible to have them anywhere that the bees can be guaranteed an adequate flowering,” Moreno stressed.

She commented that a problematic context such as the Covid pandemic showed the opportunities of permaculture, “because even shut in we had a variety of food instead of depending on one or two crops, which is a factor of vulnerability to phenomena such as hurricanes.”

A problematic context such as the Covid pandemic showed the opportunities of permaculture

The production of La Luisa is mainly for self-consumption, but surplus fruit and honey are also sold, and donations are made to minors with oncological conditions, as well as to the homes for girls and boys without family protection.

In addition, as part of a local development project, pending approval, Moreno wants the farm to serve as an experience to learn about permaculture in a specific space, which would also bring income to make the exploitation sustainable.

Specialists agree that stimulating permaculture in Cuba would contribute to food security, environmental sanitation, the rescue and preservation of agricultural culture, and job creation for the design of urban and rural spaces more in line with needs and native traditions.

It would stimulate the diversification of clean energy sources, enhance recycling, improve soil treatment and use water more rationally.

Experts on the subject point out that family space has been the scale of the introduction of permaculture in Cuba.

Statistics show that family and private agriculture contribute 70 percent of the food produced at the national level, usually through more efficient use of land and better soil conservation compared to conventional agricultural systems.

Family and private farming contributes 70 percent of the food produced in Cuba nationwide

However, it is a problematic issue in a country with a deficit of agricultural production that maintains high prices and forces the import of 80 percent of food for domestic consumption.

Most Cuban families devote more than 70 percent of their monthly income to food.

Although in recent years multiple actions have been developed to move towards an agriculture with a sustainability focus, the paradigm of productivity of conventional agriculture in Cuba still dominates.

Experts and small producers want to change this approach, which prioritizes obtaining large volumes of production, despite the high economic, energy and environmental costs.

In addition to degrading natural resources and increasing vulnerability to climate change, it is considered a partial and unsustainable solution that also limits the transition to food sovereignty.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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