Sustainable farming keeps Cuba’s rivers clean, says joint U.S.-Cuban study
Youth race into the mouth of a river to cool off, on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, July 18, 2019. A joint U.S.-Cuban scientific study found that sustainable farming without the heavy use of chemical fertilizers is keeping pollution levels low in the country's rivers. | Ramon Espinosa / AP

Cuba’s rivers are running clean, with low levels of fertilizer pollution, thanks to decades of sustainable farming, according to a joint scientific study published in the journal Nature last Tuesday.

Teams from the University of Vermont in the United States and the Cienfuegos Centre for Environmental Studies in Cuba, led by Paul Bierman and Rita Hernandez, sampled water from more than 25 water basins in the center of the island. It was the first time in more than 60 years that scientists from Cuba and the U.S. joined forces to study the socialist country’s hydrology.

They found that more than 80% of the samples had levels of E coli bacteria higher than the international standards for recreational use. This bacteria is an indicator of fecal contamination and scientists suggested that it came from the cattle that can be found grazing on many riverbanks.

But despite Cuba’s history of large-scale agriculture, with sugarcane and cattle farming dating back to the late 15th century, its rivers contained much lower levels of dissolved nitrogen—an indicator of fertilizer use—than the Mississippi River Basin in the U.S. The research teams indicated that this was due to the island’s transition to smaller-scale, more sustainable farming practices since the 1990s.

“Cuban river waters provide evidence that agriculture need not overload rivers, and thus reservoirs and coastal zones, with nutrients,” the scientists said in a report.

Hernadez said the study showed what can be achieved with a shift away from relying on pollutants. “This research can help us to better understand how land and rivers interact in the context of sustainable organic agriculture and may give a good example to other people in the Caribbean and all over the world,” she said.

This latest boost to Cuba’s green credentials follows a study last November that found that it was the most sustainably developed country in the world, ahead of capitalist countries including the U.S. This accolade has been earned despite a six-decade U.S. economic blockade, which has strangled the island’s economy at a cost of more than $134 billion.

Morning Star


Steve Sweeney
Steve Sweeney

Steve Sweeney writes for Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist. Steve Sweeney escribe para Morning Star, el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña. También es miembro del Comité Nacional de la Asamblea Popular, patrocinador de la campaña Paz en Kurdistán y un orgulloso sindicalista.