Although farming cooperatives in Cuba are not as internationally recognized as the country’s national health and education systems, they are breaking new ground in production yields, organic farming techniques, sustainability, and food security.
These collective farms also form the organizational basis of agriculture in Cuba today. More than 3,600 of these cooperative farms, covering roughly 55 percent of Cuba’s agricultural land, provide full-time work for over 300,000 citizens, grow food for national consumption and export, and give the collective members and their families a variety of social benefits.
On a recent visit to Cuba, I had the opportunity to visit a cooperative farm founded and operated by ANAP, the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños. The National Association of Small Farmers, as it translates. was founded in 1961 and for years was the agricultural organization for farms smaller than 67 hectares, with the larger farms being state operated.
This ANAP farm is located about 40 minutes outside Havana and its largest buyer of produce is the Cuban state. It was has also been ground zero for many of the economic and legal changes happening in Cuban agriculture.
Since the so called “Special Period,” after the restoration of capitalism in many of the world’s socialist countries, Cuba has had to turn inward and find new international partners to increase the production of food for the Cuban people. The nation has heavily relied on local food production to enhance food security but has also formed a partnership with the United Nations, the European Union, and the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture.
Since 2009, over 13,200 Cuban cooperative farmers have participated in an initiative called PALMA (Local Program Support Modernization of Agriculture in Cuba). PALMA has supported the growth and modernization of agriculture locally in 37 different municipalities by assisting with tools and machinery, training in modern sustainable methods, business and legal management, and cooperative planning.
The initiative has helped to utilize tools of economic management and create a cooperative culture among the members, as well as incorporate strategic and participatory planning among the cooperatives.
Under the PALMA program, food production has shifted from 25 percent of basic foodstuffs produced in Cuba in 2009 to 80 percent in 2011. Over 13,200 farmers and 366 cooperatives in different parts of Cuba have received training through this program.
In the words of one of the cooperative farmers I met during the vistit: “Many local farmers come here to learn from our experience and we visit their farms to exchange best practices also. That way we all keep progressing.”
Photo: Josh Leclair/PW