For showing that organic agriculture is a key to both environmental sustainability and food security.
The organisation Grupo de Agricultura Orgánica (GAO) worked to develop a solution for Cuba’s 1990s food crisis using organic farming systems, leading to a permanent transformation of Cuban agriculture. The organisation was founded at a time when the country was facing its most serious food crisis since the revolution due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, cutting off aid.
The primary goal of the organisation was both to demonstrate that organic farming systems can be superior to the high-input, capital-intensive kind in all important respects, and to persuade policy-makers, scientists and farmers that there should be no going back to these methods.
The group printed magazines and offered workshops across the country and even started an accredited agroecology course at the Agricultural University of Havana. GAO has demonstrated that agroecological production can be as effective as conventional methods, also ensuring other economic benefits and improved fertility of the soil.
GAO was founded in 1993 as the Asociación Cubana de Agricultura Orgánica (ACAO) at a time when the country was facing its most serious food crisis since the revolution.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its economic support meant that a food shortage was looming, and the government had to find alternative, self-reliant means of boosting farm output.
With only a fraction of the agrochemicals previously used still available, these alternatives were necessarily organic or semi-organic. However, the generally prevailing view was that these measures were a stop-gap and that things would return to "normal" when fertiliser and pesticide imports could be resumed. The primary goal of ACAO, in contrast, was both to demonstrate that organic farming systems can be superior to the high-input, capital-intensive kind in all important respects, and to persuade policy-makers, scientists and farmers that there should be no going back.
Within four years the membership of ACAO spanned the whole agricultural sector, from farmers and farm managers to extension agents, researchers, professors and government officials. In addition to its base in Havana, ACAO developed local chapters in most provinces and each member got active in his or her own workspace. They made it their job to educate others about organic technologies and to promote the idea that the current use of organic methods should be considered a permanent transformation of Cuban agriculture.
As part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)'s "Agroecological Lighthouse" programme, ACAO created a number of exemplary farms, serving as a demonstration to other farmers, policy-makers, etc., of what is possible. It held dozens of workshops around the country, produced its own magazine with a good mix of general and technical articles, and created an accredited agroecology course at the Agricultural University of Havana. A network of 10 regional documentation centres also got established.
In addition, ACAO held international conferences on organic farming, hosted numerous delegations from around the world and helped to develop a Master's degree in Sustainable Development at the University of Havana.
An evaluation of the Lighthouse Programme concludes that its main benefits have been to show that agroecological production can produce similar and sometimes superior yields to conventional methods, as well as other economic benefits and improved soil fertility.
The importance of ACAO's work lies in that it has both proved the economic advantage of organic agriculture and legitimised this approach with policymakers, helping farmers obtain new technologies, transforming educational curricula and research programmes, and pushing for institutionalisation of the alternative model.
In 1999, ACAO achieved formal recognition by the Cuban Government and became the Grupo de Agricultura Orgánica (GAO) within the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forest Technicians (ACTAF), an institutional change that gave it more freedom of action and influence with the Cuban Government.
By 2013, GAO's programmes and functions had been taken over by the Agroecological Program within ACTAF.