The Greening of Cuba, The Video Project, $29.95; (800) 4-PLANET
The fall of the Soviet empire in 1989 had a surprising effect on Cuba. Its ties to Mother Russia cut, Cuba was forced to re-establish its ties to Mother Earth. Jaime Kibben's documentary explains how the Cuban people managed to turn a crippling food shortage into a model for sustainable organic agriculture.
Until the late 1980s, Cuba practiced the most industrialized agriculture in Latin America. Within a year of the Soviet collapse, the country lost 80 percent of its pesticide and fertilizer imports, and half of its petroleum. And a beefed-up U.S. embargo made access to other markets impossible. Without the mainstays of industrial farming, production dropped by almost half by 1994. Drastic measures were taken: the government broke up the huge state farms and turned them into for-profit, worker-owned cooperatives; set up programs to research and support organic techniques; and dispatched experts to advise farmers.
Kibben interviews farm owners and laborers, urban gardeners, and scientists, who talk enthusiastically about reconnecting people to their food and the land. Farmers have learned to use manure instead of chemical fertilizers, predatory worms instead of pesticides, oxen instead of tractors--and gained a new appreciation of how nature works.
With industrial farming, one solution creates another problem. Mechanization depends on cultivating huge plots, which forces farmers to plant just one crop to be efficient. But the many pests that monoculture attracts can't be controlled without pesticides. As pest resistance increases, even more pesticides are needed. "It's a curse, a chain of problems," says a community farm manager.
More than 27,000 organic farms have been created since the early 1990s in the Havana area alone. Though Cubans still struggle to make ends meet, 10 of the country's 13 principal crops reached record production levels in 1997. "All of this has taught us to make better use of our resources," says an agricultural co-op manager. Ifs also showing developing nations that there's another way of feeding their people--without sacrificing their environment.