Breaking monoculture: The path towards sustainable agriculture in Cuba

Studying the effects of polycropping on productivity. Photo: Fernando Funes-Monzote

Background: From its beginnings in 1990, the Cuban organic agriculture movement has been of particular interest for the international community looking for sustainable approaches in agriculture. Both, due to its transition towards sustainable agriculture at national scale, and its special characteristics based on wide popular participation and innovative ways of organization, the Cuban model attracted attention. During 20 years there were achieved remarkable successes in terms of massive application of organic agriculture and agroecology principles and practices.

Several agriculture programs pursued soil fertility organic management alternatives, agroecological pest control, the rational use of locally available resources, participatory plant breeding, local innovation, farmer to farmer and farmer to researcher knowledge dissemination and methodologies application, among others. Urban agriculture has been an outstanding way to promote organic farming and today the program continue growing towards sub-urban areas. There is much to discuss on successes and failures around these examples but, above all, it would be interesting at this point to discuss what we have learned so far from the Cuban experience after 20 years. Our study case intends to show some of what we have leaned so far in this transition process.

Fernando Funes-Monzote

About the Author: Fernando Funes-Monzote is researcher at the Experimental Station “Indio Hatuey” of the University of Matanzas, Cuba. He earned a PhD in Production Ecology and Resource Conservation from Wageningen University in 2008 and has an MSc. in Agroecology and Rrural Development from the International University of Andalucia (1998) and a degree in Agronomy from the Agrarian University of Havanna (1995).

Dr. Funes-Monzote is founder-member of the Cuban Organic Agriculture Movement (ACAO) that deserved the Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Price (1999). He has participated during the last 20 years in different agroecological projects in Cuba and is author or coauthor of several books and journal articles. He is member of the executive committee of the Sociedad Científica Latinoamericana de Agroecología (SOCLA) and professor on its doctoral course on agroecology. He has also been invited to lecture at several universities in Cuba and internationally.

Urban agriculture in Havana. Photo: Fernando Funes-Monzote

Further Publications: 

  • Funes-Monzote, F.R., 2008. Farming like we’re here to stay: The mixed farming alternative for Cuba. PhD thesis. Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
  • Funes-Monzote, F.R., López-Ridaura, S., Tittonell, P., 2009. Diversity and efficiency: The elements of ecologically intensive agriculture. LEISA Magazine 25 (1), 9-10.
  • Funes-Monzote, F.R., Monzote, M., Lantinga, E.A., Ter Braak, C.J.F., Sánchez, J.E., Van Keulen, H., 2009. Agro-Ecological Indicators (AEIs) for dairy and mixed farming systems classification: Identifying alternatives for the Cuban livestock sector. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 33 (4), 435-460. DOI: 10.1080/10440040902835118
  • Funes-Monzote, F.R., Monzote, M., Lantinga, E.A. Van Keulen, H. 2009. Conversion of specialised Dairy Farming Systems into sustainable Mixed Farming Systems in Cuba. Environment, Development and Sustainability 11, 765-783. DOI: 10.1007/s10668-008-9142-7
  • Funes-Monzote, F.R., 2009. Divergencia de enfoques entre agroecología y transgénicos. En: Funes-Monzote, F.R., Freyre-Roach, E.F. (eds.). Transgénicos: ¿Qué se gana? ¿Qué se pierde? Textos para un debate en Cuba. Ediciones Acuario, La Habana, pp. 99-121.  ISBN: 978-959-7071-64-8.
  • Funes-Monzote, F.R., 2010. The conversion towards sustainable agriculture in Cuba: A national scale experiment, En: Gliessman, S.R., M. Rosemeyer (eds.) Conversion to sustainable agriculture: principles, processes, and practices. CRC Press: Boca Raton, Florida, pp. 205-237. ISBN: 978-0-8493-1917-4.