Open Access
Baker, Rebecca Diane
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Karl Stephen Zimmerer, Thesis Supervisor
  • Roger Michael Downs, Honors Advisor
  • urban agriculture
  • Cuba
  • sustainable agriculture
This paper examines the existence and development of sustainable agriculture in Cuba and how, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba began to revolutionize its agriculture system. Dating back prior to Spanish colonization in 1494, the native Cubans, the Taíno Indians, used certain environmentally friendly forms of agriculture, such as crop rotations, organic fertilizers, and regionally dependent planting suited to the island’s tropical climate and relatively fertile soils. Colonization subsequently led to a monoculture of sugar cane and the plantations began to destroy soil conditions and the landscape. A few Cuban scientists in the nineteenth century pushed for more environmentally sound approaches to agriculture, but the dominance of environmentally destructive sugar cane production continued well after the Spanish-American War in 1898. When Fidel Castro took control of the government in 1959, he initially called for environmentally friendly agriculture; however, this did not last once Cuba began trading sugar crops for petroleum with the Soviet Union. By the 1970s, some agriculturists and ecologists in Cuba began research into an “alternative” approach to intensive, chemically dependent agriculture. It was not until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 that Cuba was forced to alter their agricultural practices with the subsequent loss of chemical inputs, oil, and food imports Cuba had received from the Soviet Union. Cuba quickly was able to implement low-input sustainable agriculture into its farms because of two factors: the scientists who had begun studying agroecology in the 1970s, and the traditional knowledge from rural farmers that had not been forgotten during Cuba’s input-intensive sugar production. Within one decade, urban agriculture i began to appear in Cuba, particularly in Havana, as a result of the actively passionate citizens who had little experience with gardens, but began to grow food out of necessity following the fall of the Soviet Union. The question arises as to how did Havana’s farmers become successful with agriculture? The answer, as this paper explains, is a rural-science-urban connection that kept alive a vibrant traditional knowledge that was adopted by groups of scientists, who then worked with urban gardener groups to implement the knowledge in areas of Havana. At the same time, the past 20 years has seen successful and growing urban agriculture because of a passion for environment and self-provision of food. Cuba has become almost entirely food secure with very few outside imports, yet the future may hold threats to the resiliency of sustainable, urban agriculture.