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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Insights from the Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement in Cuba

In its January edition, the Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS) documents the agroecology movement in Cuba. The article shows how peasant farmers have been able to boost food production via environmentally friendly methods. According to the authors, agroecology has played an important role in helping Cuba survive the economic crisis caused by the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe and the strengthening of the US trade embargo. The academic article has been written by Peter Rosset, together with members of Cuba’s peasant agriculture movement. Here are some of the main points from the article:

  1. Agroecology has become increasingly popular with grassroots organisations, peasant groups and rural social movements such as La Via Campesina (LVC) in recent years.
  2. Agroecology is seen differently by different actors. However, it generally emphasises “the adaption and application of the principles in accordance with local realities”, where real attempts are made to increase soil fertility through green strategies. This is different from organic farming in developed countries, which is often misleading. For example, toxic inputs are substituted with less noxious ones. Moreover, this type of substitution does not ensure produce become organic as the land it has been farmed on has suffered from years of chemical inputs.
  3. In recent years, there have been violent fluctuations in the prices of petroleum based inputs; placing these products out of the reach of peasant farmers and acting as a barrier to entry. Agroecology offers an alternative to resource scarce farmers because greener inputs are likely to be cheaper and more reliable to access.                      
  4. 4. The article is highly critical of conventional donor led extension services that try to help small farmers. They argue that it reveals skewed power relations and demobilises a peasant’s ability to lead a project. On the other hand, a Campesino-a- Campesino (peasant to peasant) strategy (CAC) promotes farmer led innovation and allows them to become protagonists.  For example, if a peasant has an innovation or rediscovers an old technique, a horizontal learning process is initiated as they share it with fellow farmers.
  5. CAC was introduced in Cuba in 1997 as a pilot programme but eventually became a national movement. For example, the project had grown from 200 families in 1999 to approximately 110’000 families by 2009 (roughly 1/3 of all peasant families).  Families that have adopted eco-efficient techniques have proved to be more resilient to climatic changes in comparison to large scale farms. Agroecologically integrated peasant farming is also more productive per unit area, per unit of labour and per unit of investment.
  6. The authors urge Cuban policymakers, who still have conventional, green revolution and industrial farming mindset to take agroecologically farming more seriously. There are universal benefits for the nation as it could help achieve food sovereignty and maintain its political autonomy.

The findings from this research are enlightening and could be applied to other countries in order to meet food security; focusing on smallholder production within an eco-friendly strategy. However, its implementation depends on local realities, where small farmers need to lead innovation and become protagonists. Global policymakers and the private sector may also take note of this, in the context of sustainability because alternative production strategies are needed in the face of climate change.

The full article is free to download from this link.

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