How can agroecology and social development be combined? How is the introduction of new technologies and modernity consistent with agroecology? How is the mechanization of agroecological processes conceived? These were some of the questions posed by engineer Fernando Funes Monzote, during the latest meeting held by President of the Republic Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez with a group of scientists and experts working on food sovereignty and nutritional education in the country.
The agronomist and PhD in Ecology of Production and Conservation of Resources, after dedicating more than 20 years to research and teaching, he decided to devote his efforts to practicing agroecology and, since 2011, has led the family ecological family farm Finca Marta, where he continues to contribute to the transformation of Cuba’s agri-food system at the local level.
His know-how is not only scientifically based, but also practical. Hence the importance of the reflections he shared, at the Palace of the Revolution, with participants in the discussion following the presentation of the proposed Policy for Agroecology in Cuba.
“Agroecology,” Funes insisted, “is not at odds with mechanization, or with the use of the new practices and methods that are emerging, like more efficient irrigation systems, but it is at odds with the misuse of technology, with degradation of the environment and the risks associated with new technologies that impose new challenges in transforming the rural environment.”
A fundamental pillar of agro-ecological practice is, first of all, respect for the traditional experience of family farmers, an inexhaustible source of knowledge that cannot be ignored in the development of our agriculture, he said. “Modernity is going to bring us many things, but not the capacity and resilience that the farmer has, demonstrated over the years.”
A policy for the nation’s future
Precisely how to arrive at a policy for agroecology in Cuba was one of the main issues discussed nine months ago, when experts and scientists in the sector were convened for the first time to a meeting of this type at the Palace of the Revolution, to find innovative, scientific answers to the problems of agriculture and food production.
The President noted during the dialogue with participants, that the document presented during the productive day, is the result of that first meeting. “With this work system we are giving continuity to the proposals made and no elements are being left by the wayside,” he said.
“This is an important contribution, it is one of the ways, although not the only one, through which we can reach a different level of food production for our population,” Diaz-Canel commented during the exchange, which was led by Deputy Prime Minister Inés María Chapman Waugh.
Although the proposed policy has yet to be submitted to a broad process of discussion within the sector, Díaz-Canel noted that the work done to draft this first version, oriented toward innovation within agroecology, among other issues, charts a path that should contribute to solving the complex problem of food production in the country.
Dr. Giraldo Martín Martín, from the Indio Hatuey Pasture and Forage Experimental Station, explained that one of the main objectives of the policy proposal is to contribute to the promotion of sustainable agriculture in harmony with the environment.
Agroecology is not new to Cuba, he said, it is something that, for some time now, has been consolidated in efforts to address the problem of limited access to inputs that are important for agricultural production.
The first big step taken in this direction, he recalled, was an initiative by Comandante en jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, who encouraged the development of biological and biofertilizer programs, and others like the Urban, Suburban and Family Agriculture system, which has been directly guided by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz.
There are four strategic issues which have been prioritized in the National Food Sovereignty Plan as regards agroecology: reducing dependence on imported food and inputs; guaranteeing quality and safety while reducing losses and waste; consolidating territorial food systems; and mobilizing the country’s educational, cultural and communication systems to strengthen nutritional education.
The profound document, attuned to “the times we are living,” brings to life this policy proposal which, according to Dr. Sergio Rodríguez Morales, general director of the Tropical Tuber Research Institute, is of inestimable value.
In presenting his opinion of the text, he noted, among other aspects, the importance of including the need to link all existing alternatives and technologies for food production, to an ecological, sustainable approach, to avoid harming the environment.
Although it is important to recognize results achieved with the use of agroecology as a technological alternative, he stated, its coexistence with more conventional practices must be clearly defined, as appropriate to different production scenarios and the ecosystems existing in the country.
Farms where agroecology is practiced
The extensive two-hour dialogue addressed improving agricultural practices, the benefits of using ecological techniques in food production, the use of soils, the urgency of increasing agroecological culture in Cuban society and many other topics.
Fernando Donis Infante, a farmer in the province of Matanzas, shared his experience on the Cayo Piedra farm, on lands exclusively devoted to sugarcane cultivation for more than 50 years. This practice totally degraded the soil, which showed very little productivity when he began to plant other crops.
In order to change this reality, he recalls, agroecology was fundamental and we learned a lot from the experience, he said, adding, “Today the results are phenomenal, without the use of chemicals.”
This is not subsistence agriculture, he stressed, “It is an agriculture with high productive potential, with which we can achieve high yields, improve our soils and supply the country with food.”
At the Luisa farm, located in Batabanó, Mayabeque province, where years ago there was only rocky soil, today Pedro Romero Estévez has productive soils that he has improved thanks to the knowledge he acquired collaborating with different scientific centers.
One of the greatest challenges today is to transmit to producers the confidence that, with agroecological techniques, it is possible to produce food in Cuba. This farm is an example of this. The strategy, necessarily, he said, is to continue doing agroecology in our country.
Referring to these issues, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz stated that these practices must be seen as “super necessary,” to support the food production, and food sovereignty we need, given what it implies in economic and social terms for the country.
Successfully putting into practice the ideas and actions outlined in the proposed Policy for Agroecology in Cuba is one of the great challenges that this document leaves us, as we move forward, Marrero insisted.
As Funes said at one point during the meeting, the main objective is to ensure that what has been designed contributes to the welfare of the country, the Cuban population and, in general, to the development of our agricultural system.
Practicing agroecology scientifically in Cuba is also a challenge.