Alia Karim

Research and reflections on Cuban agriculture

February 10th: Camagüey

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“It’s like you get it in your blood, you like it” (Camilo Mendosa speaking about Cuban agricultural lands)

“Agroecology is like the lungs of humanity…and makes sustainability possible” 

This was the best day ever, hahaha. I got on top of a Cuban water buffalo, helped roast a pig, ate starfruit and guava straight from the land, and spoke to a wonderful, wonderful Cuban family. We were absolutely spoiled by them and I’m so grateful for their kindness.

Camillo Mendosa

Camilo Mendosa

Ron told us a fascinating urban project happening in the city—apparently 6 hospitals in Camagüey have gardens that are state enterprises. These are similar to Canadian community gardens—there are people (referencias) who have plots. They have an outreach member who teaches others for free (it’s a funded position), so he teaches people to grow in their backyards which they will sell to social projects in the immediate area. As well, the local government keeps records of these small gardens for research purposes and to offer resources. What an amazing level of cooperation and ingenuity in this kind of urban agriculture.

We visited a farm called “El Renacer” (“The Rebirth”) led by Andres Perez, an electrical engineer and farmer. Here are my notes:
– small, private producer who inherited land from his grandparents
– however, his family has been active on the farm for only the last 5 years
– divided his total land into 3 smaller farms
– today they are a national example
P1110306Raúl Castro declared their farm to be a prime example of urban agriculture
– the land used to be filled with a dense, nasty weed called maribu that pinches the skin but they cleared it with machetes and grazing with goats
– animals: chickens, hens, pigs, cattle, rabbits, and water buffalo (not common for Cuba)
– they have a special species of cattle that naturally produces 10L of milk/day
– all of their meat is sold to the state and then distributed
– use sugarcane, king grass, and their own compost tea for forage
– they emphasize renewable energy (e.g. they have wind and are working on biogas)
– they have a windmill using materials from the neighbourhood
– there are currently plans to build these wind mills at the national level
– it’s important to note that this family has basically worked for 4 years straight—no breaks

– their second farm is 2 years old, headed by Camilo Mendosa
– Camilo used to work in food services but he says that he’s always been draw to the countryside
– they have 60 varieties of fruit trees: 400 mango trees, 1000 papaya trees, 20 cashew trees, passion fruit, newly planted mango, apple and avocado
– they rely on polycultures of trees


In the farm’s field of ornamental flowers

they have more plans to do intercropping of pineapple, bananas, coffee and mango
– they’re planning a specific design to grow tall mango trees and then coffee and pineapple
between which grow well in the shade (also I saw where little piglets like to hang out!)
– their farm is doing so well, they received solar panels, and an irrigation system from the government 
– their waste from the pigs is going toward a biogas system
– they use organic hormones on plants (a combination of phosphorus and fortified humic acid)
– they implement guava culture with grafting
transplant different varieties—often, this makes the roots of seedlings grow faster
– there are plants that stimulate growth of roots (e.g. aloe vera)
– they cut trees and wet them with compost tea too
– Camilo has a specific method of composting: use residuals from harvests, manures, layered with guava cuttings, then grass
– they also use pieces of tubes to oxygenate the pile
– the pile generates its own heat, but it becomes too cold Camilo will mix it to get the
decomposition activated
Another example of intercropping (using 600 plantain and 10 000 yucca plants between them)
– Camilo stresses agriculture without chemicals since it attracts more pollinators (good for the bees!)
– They also have medicinal plants
—Camilo explained that they have a plant called “cat claw” which they believe has been effective in treating their neighbour’s cancer as he has lived years longer than expected after using the plant
– They’ve taught agroecology to kids

IMG_1869They also gave a presentation called “La Nueva Esperanza”:
– Use animal traction for field work
– Their biological pest controls include “traps” using bright colours and honey (actually to attract certain insects) and techniques in intercropping
– They want to maintain biological balance on the farms
– They distribute their traps evenly so the whole area is diversified
– Overall, they have 58 species of fruit
– Can produce up to 150 tons of their own organic fertilizer in one year
– They produce fruits that otherwise have low propagation in the province

This was such a great example of cooperation amongst this family and their neighbours. I feel bad most of the time because they absolutely spoiled us with food—constantly giving fruits and other produce from their land. It took 5 hours to roast the pig we ate!! I also offered to roast the pig for about half an hour, during which time I had a nice conversation in Spanish with a man named Ricardo—we talked about our families, particularly his children. I’ll never forget his kind face.


Biogas at the farm

In the late afternoon I wandered around Camaguey and found this bumpin’ street party around some local restaurants.

can tell that music is important in Cuban culture (I can hear it as I type this). There were so many different kinds of people that seemed to be really enjoying it. There are always some questionable ones though—as I walked back a man hugged me, kissed me on the cheek (I couldn’t quite get out of his grasp) and then offered me alcohol. But it was okay, his friends were there too, having a hearty laugh at us, and I got away pretty quickly.

At the hotel, I had two interesting conversations with some young Cubans. At the end of my meal I met the jazz band (“Muracajazz”) of the hotel restaurant. We talked about school, our jobs and our families (some of them are music students, one is a music teacher, and others are working elsewhere). I asked if they like playing music for tourists, if they find it repetitive at all. One said that he does this for 2 reasons: the love of music, and extra money. I had no idea that the hotel didn’t pay them—they only made money from tips. I could tell they did it for the love of music—I noticed their expressions while playing and that they experimented with some pieces. They explained that they formed the band simply through being good friends and wanting to play music. Later, we had a beer and chatted some more. I was quite amused because one of them, Eric, was too shy to speak to me, but he asked for my e-mail so we could talk later. I hope to see them again.


Eric and I after his band’s performance

Author: aliakarim2013

Master of Environmental Studies candidate at Dalhousie University ('14).

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