Written By: Keerthan Sritharan
Permaculture is a term that I wasn’t fully aware of until this GCELE learning experience. In my past environmental science courses, I was introduced to the concept of a self-sustaining agricultural system but I wasn’t sure what that had meant. I know now that permaculture is a term used to describe agricultural systems and social designs that makes the land, such as farms, more sustainable and self-sufficient. Permaculture is a holistic approach that makes agricultural systems more productive through the complex interplay of people, soil, water, energy, plants, animals, and appropriate technologies. Permaculture is a way of making a sustainable human habitat while looking for sustainable ways to satisfy the human needs.
With the concept of permaculture, there are a set of three ethical principles that follow it:
1) Care of the Earth – For example, respect the biodiversity, take care of the soils of which life grows from, and do not pollute rivers and waterways
2) Care of the People – For example, take care of yourself and those around you, sharing of any beneficial knowledge of permaculture, and not producing any unnecessary crops that would go to waste
3) Sharing the Surplus – For example, spreading the wealth of food produced, sharing of resources and equipment, and helping out troubled communities
So now you may be wondering why is permaculture implemented in Cuba and what is the importance of it to the Cubans. In order to answer those questions we need to attach a little bit of history behind the permaculture movement in Cuba. Cuba had a longstanding tradition of growing their own food without harming the natural environment but it wasn’t until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the “Special Period” when the food crisis started. The collapse led to the national problem of food insecurity. For example, the collapse decreased the amount of imports such as farm supplies from the soviet bloc and this turned into an overall decrease of 80% in imports which hurt Cuba economically.
Over time, the Cubans were encouraged to take up rural farming and help to provide food for themselves through organic agriculture. The Cubans didn’t use heavy machinery but rather relied on very sustainable farming strategies such as crop rotation and composting usage. With organic farming and implementing permacultural strategies, Cuba got closer to resolving the national food crisis.