For saving space and soil, this method also has several
other benefits, including no soil-borne diseases, no
weeds to pull and no soil to till, run-of-the-mill side
benefits of soil-less gardening.

The Structures of Organopónicos

The structures of organopónicos vary from garden to garden. Some are run by employees of the state; others are run cooperatively by the gardeners themselves. The reliance on the state government cannot be overlooked. The government provides the community farmers with the land and the water. The gardens can buy from the government key materials such as organic composts, seeds and irrigation parts, as well as "biocontrols" such as beneficial insects and plant-based oils that work as pesticides. These biological pest and disease controls are produced in some 200 government centers across the country.

Photo: Carly at Neponset Watershed

All garden crops such as beans, tomatoes, bananas, lettuce, okra, eggplant and taro are grown intensively within the city using only organic farming methods since these are the only methods permitted in the urban parts of Havana. No chemicals are used in 68 percent of Cuban corn, 96 percent of cassava, 72 percent of coffee and 40 percent of bananas. Between 1998 and 2001, chemicals were reduced by 60 percent in potatoes, 89 percent in tomatoes, 28 percent in onion and 43 percent in tobacco.

In Venezuela, the socialist government of Hugo Chavez is trying to introduce urban agriculture to the populace. In Caracas, the government has launched Organoponico Bolivar I, a pilot program to bring organopónicos to Venezuela. Urban agriculture has not been embraced in Caracas as it has in Cuba. Unlike Cuba, where organopónicos arose from the bottom-up out of necessity, the Venezuelan organopónicos are clearly a top-down initiative based on Cuba's success.

Another problem for urban agriculture in Venezuelan is the high amounts of pollution in major Venezuelan urban areas. At the Organoponico Bolivar I, a technician comes every 15 days to take a reading from the small pollution meter in the middle of the garden.

Cuba Agriculture
Photo: Tavallai

It's important to acknowledge that Cuba's organopónicos are not entirely replicable in other countries. Cuba remains a state-dominated society with a high degree of social control. The question is whether a more liberal society without that kind of central command structure would be able to respond as effectively to a sudden breakdown in the food system.

Urban Agriculture has emerged in Cuba as a very successful, if partial, solution to the food availability problem. The aim of this paper is to analyze the technological, political, historical, and economic underpinnings of this phenomenon in Cuba, and the extent to which the Cuban experience provides potential lessons to the rest of the world.


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