Published by: Aaron Eugenio The Business School
This 2018 Centennial College group of Permaculture scholars arrived in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba on April 30, 2018. If you were with us during our trip you wouldn’t know that there is a food shortage in Cuba, unless you payed attention. We were accompanied by Ron Berezan (our program leader), who has a well-established network and history in Cuba. As such, our experience in Cuba was conducted in a privileged manner. In addition, we as Canadian students have access to a specific Cuba that is different than that of a typical Cuban. We have money, we have the support of a Canadian institution, and the Canadian dollar to support our needs. The purpose of our time in Cuba was to learn the design, techniques and implementation of permaculture in Cuba to facilitate the need to attain a sustainable domestic food system. It’s important to note that Cuba’s introduction and use of permaculture and urban agriculture was adapted through necessity.
The importance of a sustainable domestic food system can be further understood by the fact that Cuba “imports 70 to 80 percent of its domestic food requirements, with most imports slated for social protection programmes…farming technology is obsolete, making for low productivity and high post-harvest losses” (WFP, 2018). <http://www1.wfp.org/countries/cuba>
Our group in Sancti Spiritus had most of our meals at the Antonio Nunez Jimenez foundation, which was a museum that we used as our central meeting location, lecture and reflection space and for some of the group had there sleeping corridor located at the foundation. We were welcomed guests in Sancti Spiritus and were lucky to always have access to an excess of food. I was told that the possible reason behind this may be due to the fact that the people of Cuba suffered with limited access to food for many years and wanted to ensure that we had food and felt full. We were well fed and we ate three meals and had snacks in between. Prior to our arrival I had the expectation that food would probably be limited and that I may lose some weight – since I had just finished my last assignment the day before arriving in Cuba and gained some weight the past two months from the stresses of being a student, I was looking forward to limiting my food intake and losing a couple of lbs. But that wasn’t the case for us. We were well received and well fed.
So, what was the point of our trip to Cuba? we were eating a lot, therefore, access to food is no longer an issue in Cuba.
Once you step out of our Centennial bubble, you begin to see that food reserves and resources are limited. You enter grocery stores and you begin to realize that they are nothing like our grocery stores in Canada. There not fully stocked and there aren’t aisles of food. A shop in the main square (Parque Serafin Sanchez) for instance has four horizontal freezers, but it’s strange to think of its purpose because every time I was there, it was either empty or had a couple packages of meat inside of them. The food shelves were also sparsely stocked. You may think maybe this is something common in Latin America. From what I have seen in Latin America it isn’t. I have had the opportunity to travel to other parts of Latin America and I haven’t had this experience until now.
Another indicator of food insecurity that I noticed was from the bread store near the Antonio Nunez Jimenez foundation. Every morning people would be lined up waiting to purchase freshly baked bread. Why would people line up and wait for bread? Is the bread that good? Maybe? I didn’t get the opportunity to try it since there was always a line up and when there wasn’t, it was because there wasn’t any more bread to sell. So why doesn’t a bread shop make enough bread to fulfill its customer demand. Customers + sales = money. A simple solution is that they should make more bread and make more money.
I was experiencing so many new things in Cuba that I didn’t reflect and connect the things that I was seeing. After my departure from Cuba I had the opportunity to further reflect on my experiences and the things that I saw. During my time in Cuba I never connected the idea that the bread store’s lack of bread sales was likely the result of the lack of resources in Cuba. The bread store likely did not produce more bread because they didn’t have enough ingredients to make more bread for the day or had to limit the use of ingredients to allow the supply to last longer.
The answers come from the fact that Cuba to this day has limited resources and relies on food imports. Cuba does not have food security. It has not been able to domestically produce all the resources that it needs to be self-reliant on food production. Which is why the shift towards urban agriculture and permaculture continues to grow in Cuba. It’s part of the solution to attaining food security in Cuba. The goal in Cuba is to produce a stronger domestic food production chain, locals producing for themselves and selling excess produce into local markets. This also includes the creation of small scale urban farmers who can sell to their local markets. The production of food in cities will meet the local food demands, creating a sustainable cycle of food production and consumption. With Cuba’s long history of food and resource import reliance, this food model will aid in securing the future of Cuban’s and will protect them from international instabilities.