Food sovereignty in Cuba: A case study of the social support for agroecological farming with a focus on gender through participatory photography




Willott, Lisa

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In the industrialized world, sustainable agriculture has remained a fringe agricultural experiment, unable to provide a large-scale alternative model. Cuba provides a case study of a massive agricultural shift to sustainable farming brought about by economic crisis. In 2009, 31 farmers and 6 key informants from 4 provinces in Cuba were interviewed and 12 women participated in a participant driven photography project about their involvement in small-scale agroecological farming. The research found that the inability to purchase imported chemicals and fertilizers has encouraged farmers to innovate their own solutions to maintaining soil, plant, animal and ecosystem health. Institutional support through academic institutions and non-government organizations is facilitating the spread of agroecological education through farmer-to-farmer exchanges. Economically, farming as a profession provides a fair income; although, farmers’ wealth was tied to other industries in their respective regions, and influenced by tourism. The need for housing and land tenure are large barriers, but the government’s opening up of land for farming in usufruct has been a successful strategy for encouraging new farmers. Allowing for subsistence growing, has been historically and is currently an important incentive. Cooperatives allow for the distribution of scarce inputs, provide educational and social opportunities for farmers and can provide retirement benefits, administrative and legal help. However, women tend to participate less in cooperatives, and traditional household roles and machismo are still an undercurrent in the Cuban countryside. Cuba’s agricultural story is rich in lessons that can be applied globally, learned from its requirement to respond quickly to change during economic crisis. These lessons are simple; productivity and happiness increase with worker autonomy, support from government and institutions works better when it is participatory, and social groups whether cooperatives, family or neighbourhoods, provide an essential human support system.



sustainable agriculture, farming, agroecology, Cuba, women farmers, food sovereignty