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CUBA TAKES THE LEAD IN ORGANIC FARMING

IT’S NEVER TO LATE TO GO ORGANIC
BY
ANNA MAY KINNEY

 

There may be one good thing that has come out of genetic engineered foods. People, who have never given a thought to where their food comes from or what pollutants are on it, are suddenly asking questions. In one week, I have had four intense conversations and six e-mails about GM foods and what we can do to force labeling.

Many people say they would never go out of their way to buy organically grown food and believe the price of such food is double what they pay in the average grocery store. This is only true to a point, when purchased in your local health food store, you do pay a good deal more, but there are many co-op stores that sell reasonably priced items in bulk.

While you still pay a bit more, you are getting a far superior product for your money. If a person bought most of their food from a health food co-op they could actually save money, the money they would spend on high priced processed foods. These quick fixes have little if any dietary value and cost an arm and leg.

The other argument I hear is "I have been gardening for years and don’t think it’s possible to change the way I do things. Wouldn’t know where to begin."

Then there are the skeptics that say, "organic gardening is great in the backyard or for the small family farm, but can not be incorporated on a large scale."

Well they should take a long, hard look at what has been going on in Cuba. The Cuban organic farming association, The Grupo de Agricultura Organica (GAO), has been named the winner of a major international prize, commonly known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, the Right Livelihood Award. This prestigious award was presented for their determined leadership in helping Cuba make a successful transition from industrial to organic agriculture.

Chosen from more than 80 candidates from 40 countries, The GAO is one of only four winners of the 1999 Right Livelihood Award. In their effort to promote and develop organic farming methods, the GAO brings together government officials, field experts, researchers, farm managers and farmers, making every attempt to convince Cuban farmers and policy-makers that industrial farming techniques were not working.

They pointed out that high-input farming techniques were import-dependent and environmentally damaging and that the organic alternative has the potential to achieve equally good yields.
During the early 1990’s, after the collapse of its trade relations with the former Soviet-bloc and with the on-going U.S. trade embargo, Cuba was facing a severe food shortage. Playing a significant part, self-reliant organic farming helped Cuba overcome this crisis.

"In Cuba, organic is for everyone, not just for those who can afford it", said Dr. Peter Rosset, executive director of Food First. "This award shows the enormous potential of sustainable agriculture, which is so under-exploited in other countries. The whole world should learn from Cuba."

This coming May17 to 19, 2000, in Havana city, the Organic Agriculture Group of the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF), in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), will host the fourth National Meeting of Organic Agriculture at EXPO-CUBA.
This meeting will examine the contribution of organic agriculture and agro-ecology to the transformation of Cuban agriculture towards sustainable rural development. Participants will share a few days of reflection and exchange experiences.

There will be two full weeks of activities taking place before and after this fourth annual meeting. On May 10-16 Three study tours will be going on simultaneously throughout the country, the participants will get to know and exchange their personal experiences with organic agriculture.

In each region the visitors will encounter Agro-ecological Lighthouses, advances in research and teaching of various institutions, organic compost production, cooperatives, family farms, state farms, urban agriculture, and Centers for the Reproduction of Entomophagens and Entomopathogens (CREE).

Further, it is planned to make stays in eco-tourism centers which will allow the participants to enjoy the natural wonders, historic and recreational places of the country. At the end of the tour, there will be a discussion of the gathered information, a report will be made, and one representative from each group will present the finding at the National Meeting.

May 14-15 Field days; For the people who do not participate in the Study Tour and who arrive in the country before the start of the event, Field Days have been programmed to take place in the provinces of Habana and Cuidad de la Habana. They will cover such themes as urban agriculture, biological control (CREE), compost production in the city, integrated livestock-crop production systems, animal traction, community food production and conservation, ‘green’medicine production. There will also be visits to research, teaching and agricultural cooperative centers (UBPC, CPA and CCS).

May 20-24 International Courses; The Fourth International Course on Organic Agriculture has the objective of complementing the tours and meeting, and its character will be eminently practical - facilitating the debate and the exchange of experiences.

The I Course in Commercialization of Organic Products aims to continue the efforts to create regulators in Latin America. The topics will bring participants up-to-date with the themes of standards, certification and marketing of organic production. Teachers, researchers, Cuban producers and experts from the international community will be given the courses.

If you are against GM foods, the best way to show your disapproval is with your wallet, buy organic and support organic farming. If Cuba can make a change for the better, so can North America.

For those of you who may be interested in attending, for general information contact; Ing. Marta Pérez Pérez, Executive Secretary; Grupo de Agricultura Organica-ACTAF, Apartado Postal 4029 C.P. 10400, Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba Tel/Fax: (537) 845387, E-mail; actaf@minag.gov.cu They are offering all kinds of package deals on accommodations.