Experts to Learn about Cuba’s Transformation from Industrial to Sustainable Agriculture

Madison, WI, February 18, 2003 -- A University of Wisconsin Professor will be part of a high-level delegation joining the food policy think tank Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy for a ten-day fact finding trip to investigate Cuba’s transformation from chemical intensive, industrial agriculture to sustainable and organic agriculture.

Lydia Zepeda, Fellow of the Center for World Affairs and Global Economic, Chair of the Development Studies Ph.D. Program and Professor of Consumer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will accompany agricultural experts, academics, and directors of NGOs closely working on food security issues. They will visit urban and rural farms and meet with government officials, scientists, and farmers to discuss this transition and how the lessons learned by Cuba could be transferred to the United States and other countries.

“There are over 70 experts in the delegation working to create local and community-based food systems in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean,” said Professor Zepeda. “We think this will provide an opportunity to learn from the Cuban experience of establishing a more ecologically-sound, equitable, and community-based food system.”

Cuba lost its biggest trading partner when the Soviet Bloc collapsed in 1989. That, combined with a thirty-year trade embargo by the United States, forced Cuba into an economic crisis that threatened the island nation with famine. With little outside help, Cuba launched the most intensive transition to low-input sustainable and organic agriculture the world has seen to date. Cuba’s success has made the island nation the leading model of large-scale sustainable agriculture throughout the world.

Today, the United States faces its own farm crisis. Declining productivity from pesticide resistance, soil erosion and compaction, and contamination of surface and ground waters have led to rising farm foreclosures and declining rural communities. Inner cities face a crisis as well with endemic unemployment, crime, poverty and hunger. This has spawned a movement toward organic farming and urban agriculture, making them the fastest growing sectors of farm production.

“Our experiences with conversion to sustainable agriculture and promotion of urban farming remain disbursed and relatively limited in scope,” said Dr. Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First. “Cuba offers the United States and other countries a unique opportunity to learn what a large-scale move toward alternative agriculture practices would be like; what are the problems we can expect and which solutions seem promising, before the declining sustainability of conventional modern agriculture forces us to undergo a similar transition.”

Food First has been working with Cuba’s agricultural transformation since 1994 and last year published Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba, a book largely written by the Cuban agriculture experts involved with this transformation.

This is the fifth delegation to Cuba organized by Food First through its Cuban Organic Farming Exchange Program, a program dedicated to fostering the development of sustainable agriculture in the United States, Cuba, and around the world.

Contact Professor Zepeda:
phone: (608) 262-9487

More information from the Food First website: