The common use of organic methods must be considered a permanent transformation in Cuban agriculture.
Acceptance speech – Grupo de Agricultura Orgánica (GAO)
Madam Speaker, Honorable Guests, Members of the Swedish Parliament, Members of the Right Livelihood Award Jury.
The Organic Agriculture Group of the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians was overjoyed to learn that it had been conceded the distinction of the “Right Livelihood Award” for its work to develop the country’s organic agriculture movement.
The Group met immediately to communicate the news and to reflect on its scope and national significance in the desire to give fair recognition and ensure that no involuntary omission dimmed the collective elation that was by then being shared by many colleagues and followers of this movement in our country.
Always present in these reflections were the pioneers of the organic agriculture movement in Cuba in the extraordinary work of such predecessors as Juan Tomás Roig, Jesús Canizares, José Luis Amargos and Julián Acuna, among other illustrious figures of our agronomy, who trained many generations of Cubans in an agrarian culture based on concepts and knowledge very much in accord with what the present-day organic movement advocates.
With the triumph of the Revolution in Cuba, a process of change was initiated in our agriculture and, in the decade of the ’70s, the nation began to introduce modifications leading to a more rational agriculture of fewer inputs, more in consonance with our reality.
A strong policy of replacing imported inputs and raw materials was introduced, monetary and material savings were stimulated in all sectors, while emphasis was laid on economic awareness and self-sufficiency. At the same time, the country’s research institutes reoriented their goals and strategies toward new work programs.
During the decade of the ’80s, research, extension and development were increased with regard to input-replacement techniques such as the biological pest-control program, the use of leguminous plants in protein banks for cattle-raising, the use of bio fertilizers for other crops, minimum cultivation, and the regionalization of varieties adapted to existing input levels, etc.
At the beginning of the decade of the ’90s, in what became known as its “Special Period”, the country was confronted by the need to increase its food production, reduce its inputs by more than one-half and, at the same time, maintain its production of export crops.
The basic agrarian policy aim of achieving an agriculture capable of sustaining itself during this Special Period with low petrochemical inputs and without reducing crop sizes has required a reorganization of the structure of agricultural research and extension and of the flow of information in Cuba, with less emphasis placed on technologies requiring a great deal of capital and energy.
The cultural, political and technical preparation of the Cuban people, accumulated throughout the years of the revolutionary process, proved to be a decisive factor during the brusque change that took place at the beginning of the ’90s and that could not have been successfully faced by an uncultured people.
The search for a new paradigm was also aided by the scientific-technical results and experiences that had been accumulated by the country’s farmers, technicians and scientists throughout the years of the revolutionary period.
Thus, the Ministry of Agriculture was able to rapidly introduce the application en masse of final results as well as others still in initial processes of research or technological transference in order to attenuate and in other cases satisfactorily solve the effects of the crisis in our agriculture.
Soon, alternatives and solutions began to appear and a new awareness was created little by little in many basic producers, technicians, researchers, professors and agricultural leaders, who gradually became convinced of the feasibility of agriculture with another approach, by means of which productive crops can be obtained economically and in harmony with the environment and nature, without the contamination of soil, water and air, and healthy food can be produced without an excessive expenditure of energy and with a reduced capital investment.
It should not be forgotten that, during the four decades of the Revolution, the country has been submitted to a cruel blockade by the Government of the United States of America that attempts to obstruct the implementation of any measure in the economic field.
This blockade has been sharply intensified in the past decade, not only increasing the costs of importing food but also, on many occasions, making it difficult for the country to acquire foodstuffs and medicaments.
At the beginning of the ’90s, the Urban Agriculture Movement was strengthened. It is a participative, people’s agriculture that uses water economically and favors soil fertility.
This productive movement is by now making an important impact on the nutrition of the population, ensuring the availability throughout the entire year of fresh produce uncontaminated by chemicals. From the beginning, this urban agriculture has registered sustained growth, from the four thousand tons produced in 1994 to four hundred and eighty thousand tons in 1998, while 1999 is expected to close with six hundred and ninety thousand tons.
As may be judged from all of the aforementioned, the rapid and total mobilization of the country’s accumulated intelligence and know-how, as well as the massive response of the population to the emergency situation, avoided what could have been a still deeper crisis in our agrarian system and the proliferation of hunger in these difficult years.
In a period of approximately four years, the organic agriculture movement has surpassed all expectations and been extended to all the agricultural sector, involving individual producers, farm administrators, extension workers, researchers, professors, religious organizations and state functionaries concerned with agriculture.
In November 1992, a committee, with the participation of diverse organizations and institutions that had been working until then on alternatives for a change in conventional agriculture, was created for the purpose of organizing the First National Meeting on Organic Agriculture, held in May 1993. It was at that meeting that the Promotional Group of Organic Agriculture initiated its work.
The basic aim of our country’s Organic Agriculture Movement, in which this Group has worked systematically, has been to educate producers, demonstrating to them that integrally conceived systems of organic agriculture, with a consequent control of all the elements of sustainability, can produce yields equal or superior to those obtained by high-input technologies.
In the last few years, a consciousness-raising campaign has been carried out by means of workshops, field days, lectures at universities and research centers, conferences, scientific events and participative meetings with producers, as well as by the rotation of mobile agro-ecological libraries through diverse research and teaching centers, agricultural cooperatives and other interested organizations.
The Group publishes a periodic specialized magazine and has supported a prestigious course in Agro-ecology, with an enrolment of over 500 students, at the Agricultural University of Havana.
From its base in Havana, furthermore, the Group has sections operating in a large part of the national territory, and each member is active within his own work center.
The Group’s members carry out constant educational activity related to organic means of agricultural production, promoting the idea that the common use of organic methods must be considered a permanent transformation in Cuban agriculture.
In developing its work, the Organic Agriculture Group has had the support of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) and other non-government organizations, that have helped it to carry out a Program of Agro-ecological Lighthouses – model farms on which the feasibility and efficiency of the methods and technologies of ecological agriculture are demonstrated and where crop-management is integrated with the concepts of organic agriculture.
The Agro-ecological Lighthouses project has received funds from the UNDP; from the German NGO, “Bread for the World” ; from OXFAM America and from Cuban institutions. The Group has maintained close ties with the Food First Institute of the United States of America, with which it organizes exchange visits between farmers of the two countries.
At the same time, it has been working hand-in-hand with several governmental agencies of the country such as the Ministry of Agriculture and the ministries of Sugar; Education and Higher Education; Science, Technology and Environment. A strong link is also maintained with the National Association of Small Farmers for the purpose of ensuring that the aims of this work are taken into account at the moment of projecting the country’s development policy.
Special mention should be made of the self-sacrificing work of the Organic Agriculture Group, which has carried on systematic and arduous labor in favor of the development of agricultural sustainability in these very difficult years for the Cuban nation, in which, added to the loss of the commercial relations that it had established and built up over many years, it finds itself constantly more cruelly blockaded by the strongest present-day world power.
The Organic Agriculture Group carries on its activities within the Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians, an NGO constituted in 1987 and strengthened in its Congress, held in October 1999. This Association brings together more than 12,000 affiliates and has branches in every province of the country, whose missions include working intensively on behalf of an ever more sustainable and ecological agriculture.
The organic world is facing constantly greater challenges, but it is also receiving the encouraging and welcome news that “cultivation in the world is constantly more organic”.
Seven years after the speech of our President, Dr. Fidel Castro, before the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development of Rio de Janeiro, his words maintain total validity. In that speech, he called for: “No more transfers to the Third World of life styles and consumption habits that ruin the environment.
Let us make human life more rational. Let us apply a fair international economic order. Let us use all the science necessary for sustainable development without contamination. Let us pay the ecological debt and not the foreign debt. Let hunger disappear and not man”.
The award that has been conferred on us, in addition to being a high honor, fills us with pleasure for what it represents as a recognition of the efforts of all the men and women who, during these very difficult years for our people, have made it possible, with the backing of our government, to exhibit the reality of our organic agriculture before the distinguished personalities present here today and before the entire world.
We are grateful for the unfailing support of our Government, without which our work could not have been carried out. We are also grateful to the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for bestowing this award on us and for the support from the Swedish Parliament. We extend to you the testimony of our gratitude.
AsociaciÑn Cubana de T_cnicos Agr’colas y Forestales (ACTAF)
Calle 98 no. 702
Ciudad de La Habana