The Cuban Special Period in Peacetime began in 1991 and lasted approximately ten years. The special period consisted of a wartime economy-style austerity program during peacetime. (Funes, Garcia, Bourque, Perez, & Rosset, 2002) This period consisted of dramatic changes in the food production of Cuba. The dissolution of the former USSR coupled with the continued economic blockade of Cuba by the United States forced dramatic changes in the conventional farming techniques common to industrialized nations. These changes forced Cuba to radically change food production techniques due to the drastic reduction of imports. These import reductions included: 53% in oil, 50% in wheat and other grains, <50% in other foodstuff, resulting in an overall 70% decrease in fertilizer, pesticide availability as well as a 50% decrease in fuel. (Funes, Garcia, Bourque, Perez, & Rosset, 2002) Large-scale state farms were prohibitive in this environment. This dramatic decrease in imports coupled with energy intensive agricultural practices led to a 30% reduction in caloric and protein intake compared to the 1980’s. (Funes, Garcia, Bourque, Perez, & Rosset, 2002) Rolling blackouts were routine as well. (Morgan, 2007) Cubans were more prepared than one would expect. Cubans are fortunate in that while the Cuban nation has only 2% of Central America’s population they have 11% of the scientist. The Cuban scientists were in the process of looking at alternative agricultural practices prior to the special period. (Morgan, 2007)
The little known Cuban special period is an important, albeit forced, experiment in transition. Cuba is the only nation to have successfully navigated the waters of peak oil. Peak oil, in brief, is the idea that as developing nations harness the benefits of cheap oil, the supply will begin to be unable to maintain previous outputs. Peak oil places the world in a position of oil scarcity. The forced transformation of Cuba’s food system and the subsequent acceptance of agroecology may be viewed as proof that the green revolution of the 1960’s, while important, is not the capstone of agriculture. In fact, Cuba has witnessed gains in organic production over and beyond what the green revolution witnessed. Agroecological principles also combat the problems of the “Green Revolution” agricultural model. These problems include risks to the environment, human health, environment, and decreased security for the poorest farmers. (Funes, Garcia, Bourque, Perez, & Rosset, 2002) The combination of farmers who held onto past knowledge and scientists researching sustainable technologies along with an aggressive educational program of nearly the entire nation have dramatically changed the agricultural environment of Cuba.
Some of the agroecological principles are: (Funes, Garcia, Bourque, Perez, & Rosset, 2002)
-Optimization of local resources and promotion of within-farm synergisms through plant
-Reliance on the ecological services of biodiversity in order to minimize the use of external inputs, whether organic or conventional
– Matching of cropping systems with existing soil and climatic potentials
-Conservation and use of crop and non-crop biodiversity within and around farms to maximize utilization of biological and genetic resources
– Reliance on the knowledge and wisdom of locals and farmers as a key input
– Promotion of participatory methods in research and in the extension and implementation process
Furthermore, the principles of this transition may be beneficial to the majority of individuals. Beyond wellness for the individual and the earth, agroecological principles “run counter to the vicious globalization promoted by neo-liberalism, and are more in favor of a socially just and solidarious, more human globalization, without dependency on transnational corporations and in favor of self-sufficiency. Agroecology does not harm the environment, reduces the role of middlemen and intermediaries, develops the consciousness of farmers, and applies knowledge rather than crude technological recipes. It is an ally of nature and considers the farmer as a cultural and not just production unit” according to Fernando Funes. (Funes, Garcia, Bourque, Perez, & Rosset, 2002)
Funes, F., Garcia, L., Bourque, M., Perez, N., & Rosset, P. (2002). Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba. Havana, Cuba: Food First Books.
Morgan, F. (Director). (2007). The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil [Motion Picture].
Murray N.D., M., Pizzorno N.D., J., & Pizzorno M.A., L.M.T., L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books.
Nestle, M. (2006). What to Eat. New York: North Point Press.
Torres, R. M., Nelson, V., Momsen, J. H., & Niemeier, D. A. (2010). Experiment or Transition? Revisiting Food Distribution in Cuban Agromercados from the “Special Period”. Journal of Latin American Geography , 67-87.