Permaculture in Cuba- My GCELE Experience

The night before our flight, I wasn’t sure what to expect on this GCELE. Sure, I knew we’d be working closely with the growing permaculture community in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. So like plants and stuff, right? And as I discovered, yes there were definitely plants and stuff, but also so much more.

Cuba can be described as a closed system due to heavy restrictions on importing/exporting. As a result, resources can be quite limited. These limits on trade are one reason why developing and maintaining food security in Cuba is especially essential. It also means that labour intensive field work is not as convenient as it would be here in Canada (unfortunately you can’t visit your local Home Depot when your shovel breaks).

The words of a Cuban permaculturalist stuck with me; she said that necessity forces people to learn and adapt. The hard times that Cubans have experienced has generated a wealth of creativity and ingenuity; particularly in the areas of food security and sustainability. Having the opportunity to take part in this project was nothing short of incredible. I’d like to share a few of the cool things I saw with you.

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A permaculture site, Sancti Spiritus

i) Banana Circle (upper left corner)

A large hole is dug and banana trees are planted in a circular formation around it. In the hole, compostable materials such as dead leaves and branches are thrown. This allows organic waste to be reincorporated into the permaculture system and at the same time gives added nutrition to the soil. In addition, trees planted like this are more likely to survive storms and hurricanes as opposed to conventionally grown banana trees.

ii) An example of vertical growing

In order to make the most efficient use of space, some crops are grown vertically. Here in this picture you can see this concept applied in the stacking of the tires which contain different vegetation. 

iii) Resourcefulness  

As mentioned earlier, Cuba is a closed system with limited resources. Accordingly, waste is kept to a minimum as new uses are found for items that would otherwise be thrown out. Discarded tires and bottles were used in the physical framework of many of the permaculture sites we visited. In this picture old bottles are used to create borders.

This GCELE has been humbling and insightful. I had the opportunity to observe and experience a very different way of life, one that contrasted with the fast pace of the city most of us are used to. More significantly, it has made Global Citizenship realer to me. There is a strong connection between local and global issues, and by learning from each other regardless of borders, solutions can be developed collaboratively.

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