Harvard Graduate School of Design

Describes the growth of sustainable, urban agriculture to confront the food shortages of the 1990s.

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE - University of Washington

While Havana's urban agriculture has taken on many forms, ranging from private gardens (huertos privados) to state-owned research gardens (organicponicos), Havana's popular gardens (huertos populares) are the most widespread and accessible to the general public. Popular gardens are small parcels of state-owned land that are cultivated by individuals or community groups in response to ongoing food shortages. The program for popular gardens first began in Havana in January 1991, and has since been promoted in other Cuban cities. In 1995, there were an estimated 26,600 popular garden parcels (parcelas) throughout the 43 urban districts that make up Havana's 15 municipalities.

A non-profit society that promotes urban food production and environmental conservation.

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Urban agriculture program, is now included in “Samrudhi, General Education Protection Mission Project of Government of Kerala”, and is being implemented in 49 schools of Ollur assembly constituency, in one of the districts of the state.

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The new garden is the PUC’s second urban agriculture program, and the third is still “under consideration,” according to Tracy Zhu, the agency’s acting community benefits manager.

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Another key resource for the popular gardens is the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI), which has created a special unit to promote and support urban agriculture. Agricultural extensionists from MINAGRI advise and disseminate knowledge based on the principles of organic agriculture, and usually play a pivotal role in the start-up and functioning of the popular gardens and horticulture clubs. MINAGRI also operates eight House of Seeds (Casa de Semillas) in greater Havana. These centers sell agricultural supplies to the public that would otherwise be difficult to obtain during the Special Period, such as vegetable and medicinal seeds and seedlings, biological pesticides, organic fertilizer, and tools.

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The effects of the Special Period and consequent food shortages have had greatest repercussions in the city of Havana. With approximately 2.5 million people, Havana has about one fifth of Cuba's total population and is the largest city in the Caribbean. In addition to the decline in food production needed to serve the capital, there is also a shortage of petroleum necessary to transport, refrigerate, and store food available from the rural agricultural sector. Thus, it is no surprise that Havana has been designated as a priority in the National Food Program; urban gardening has figured critically among the many measures taken to enhance food security.

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The future for Havana's popular gardens hinges to a large degree on the political and economic future of the country as a whole. Just as political and economic forces have produced the gardens, their sustainability will likewise be determined by these two forces as Cuba is inserted into a new global economy. As the title implies, the Special Period is not perceived as a normal state of affairs, but rather an interval between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the US embargo. Some are convinced that when the embargo is lifted, Cuba will revert to chemical intensive agriculture and foreign imports for its food, particularly to serve urban centers like Havana. Whatever lies ahead, the current food shortages will most likely recede following the Special Period. Will the popular gardens continue in the absence of a severe food shortage?