by: Jill Richardson
Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 22:57:24 PM PDT
If you'd like to see a short documentary on sustainable agriculture in Cuba, check this out. In brief, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost access to most of the oil it needed. The U.S. "helped" a little more by strengthening its embargo on Cuba. In only a few years' time, the average Cuban lost 20 lbs. Cuba's agriculture had undergone the "Green Revolution," making it entirely dependent on fossil fuels for machinery, pesticides, and fertilizer.
It was therefore a matter of survival that made Cubans turn to organic farming and gardening. People began growing things by trial and error on any arable land they could find. Because they lack oil to even transport things within Cuba, cities produce the vast majority of their own fruits and vegetables. Large state farms were also split up into smaller, sustainable cooperative privately own farms. And the Cuban diet changed to include more vegetables, resulting in better health among Cubans overall (fewer heart attacks and strokes, and a lower rate of diabetes). Of course, increased walking and biking that came with the decrease in oil plays a role in their improved health as well.
The film paints an amazing picture of life after oil beyond just the food production aspect. In the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, people would wait hours to get a bus to work, only to arrive and find out that the power was out and there was no work to do. At night they would wait hours for a bus again, and sometimes when the bus arrived it was full and they had to wait for the next one. With many power outages, they couldn't rely on their refrigerators to keep food fresh. Without power, other things we take for granted like air conditioning and elevators stopped functioning too.
To deal with the transportation problems, Cubans had to re-localize nearly everything. They developed mixed use zoning so that people could have work, school, and recreation all near their homes. They decentralized their universities so students would not have to travel so far. They imported many bicycles but they ultimately worked out a makeshift public transportation system that involves trucks adapted to serve as buses, carpooling, and hitchhiking. In rural areas, people use horses and mules for transportation as well.