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Successful First OTS Course in Cuba

The recent OTS course on Sustainable Agriculture in Cuba took place at the Estación Experimental Indio Hatuey (EEIH), University of Matanzas, Cuba, on May 14-27th, 2017. This course was truly a people-to-people experience, facilitating contact between US participants and dozens of Cuban researchers, students, farmers, project leaders, and others. In addition to visiting numerous sites in the province of Matanzas, including Varadero,  the course spent a couple of days in the city of Havana and its periphery.

The course provided a wide overview of the state-of-the art of Cuban agriculture. Cuba currently is a world leader in sustainable agriculture. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, confronting extreme scarcity of agricultural inputs and energy, the country was forced to develop cutting-edge agricultural inputs and re-shape their production strategies to feed its population. Their urban agricultural program and the development of alternative agricultural inputs has been impressive. However, productivity and distribution (markets) face major challenges.

Students explored agroecological production of different crops and animal production systems, family agriculture, integrated farms, urban and peri-urban orchards, agroecological gardens, silk production, farm-level sustainability, and small scale alternative energy. It also touched upon social aspects, including commercialization of alternative agricultural inputs, gender, markets, and community projects, through numerous field visits and lectures from over a dozen Cuban professors/researchers.

The students also learned-by-doing, such as how to prepare some biological inputs. They planted-sowed-harvested-sold some crops at an organic orchard, planted a fodder bank in a sylvopastoral system, conducted faculty-led research on farm sustainability, and conducted a one-day individual research project in a topic of their choice.

An important component of this experience was the participation of 9 US (including Puerto Rico), 2 Costa Rican, and 4 Cuban students in a fully-bilingual course. A full time translator accompanied two invited professors: Dr. Steve Hague from Texas A&M, and Dr. Beth Guertal from Auburn University on the course.  In collaboration with Cuban counterparts they covered the topics of Participatory Plant Breeding and Agroecological Turf Grass, respectively. The coordinators were Dr. Liana Babbar, OTS Costa Rica Director General, and Dr. Maybe Campos, Head of Academic Programs at EEIH.

We expect this course will be offered at least once a year starting in May 2018.

The Cuban example is particularly important today, when worldwide agriculture is facing the unprecedented challenge of feeding a rapidly increasing world population, while global warming cuts yields, and it becomes imperative to avoid the decline in the quality of the natural resource base commonly linked to modern agriculture. Conventional agricultural systems are now facing problems as significant as unsteady climate, variable oil prices, scarcer and more polluted water sources, genetic erosion of plants and animals, soil depletion, and over 500 types of pests that have developed resistance to over one thousand pesticides.

Sustainable Agriculture aims to make agriculture more environmentally sound (including mitigation and adaptation to climate change), and more socially just, and economically viable. This implies making changes in system design and management, and ensuring real possibilities for farmers, especially in developing countries located in tropical regions, while enhancing food security and protecting the environment. 

Quotes from students:

  • I will use the OTS experience to teach people who are interested about organic farming.  I hope to apply for another OTS course because this one was conducted so well.
  • I will use what I have learned to share the experience with friends at school and recommend them to come.
  • I have S0 many things to research when I get home. I want to follow up on what we learned about agroforestry, EM, biodigestors…
  • I loved having a multinational group.  We all have so many ideas to share!
Last Updated ( 06/19/17 )
Organization for Tropical Studies
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