Cuban Agroecology: FANJ and La Felicidad Permaculture Garden

The library at the Foundation for Nature and Humanity (FANJ), Havana, Cuba
Photo Alan Ismach

Monday January 13 (Havana)

This was Day 7 of my January 2020 Agroecology trip with Organic Growers School. This day we studied ecology, climate change, the effects of extractive agriculture, deforestation, reforestation and responses including Bioreserves and urban permaculture gardens.

To read other posts in this series, click the Cuban Agriculture category. Click this link to see a short video about the OGS Cuba Agroecology Tour. It goes live on April 14.

FANJ (Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity) Havana

After breakfast at our casa, we rode our tour bus to FANJ (Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity), a non-governmental cultural and scientific institution, dedicated to the research and promotion of environmental protection in relation to culture and society. We were given a tour of the museum and library. Roberto Pérez Rivero, the PNS-FANJ Director, gave us a talk “Cuban Environment, the challenge of climate change and development: an environmental education approach.” It covered science, urban agriculture and food security in Cuba.

Cabinets of artifacts at the FANJ, Havana, Cuba. Photo by Pam Dawling

We sat in the library around the glass topped tables of artifacts.  National treasures and plastic lawn chairs!

There are 11 million Cubans, the population is not growing. The island of Cuba is only 30 miles wide at the thinnest point, and so the country is heavily influenced by the ocean. There are three or four ecosystems: sand beaches, mangrove swamps, bush (shrubs) and trees, seagrasses [maybe seaweeds?].

The canoe from the expedition by FANJ.
Photo Pam Dawling
Log canoe in use by the expedition.
Map of the route of the FANJ canoe from the Amazon to Cuba.
Photo Pam Dawling

Biologically speaking, Roberto Pérez Rivero says the Caribbean is a province of the Amazonian Rainforest. A big project associated with FANJ was a journey in a large hollowed tree canoe, from the Amazon to Cuba. I didn’t understand everything. We saw the canoe and some photos and various artifacts from that trip.

Photo of the expedition in the canoe Simon Bolivar.

In the eighteenth century, ship-building was important in Cuba. There was a “Forbidden Forest” reserved for shipbuilding. In 1769, the Santisima  Trinidad was built in Havana, and was possibly the largest warship in the world at that time. It fought on the Spanish and French side against Britain in the US War of Independence.

No gold was found in Cuba, so the colonizers made plantations of several crops. Two species of tobacco, Rustica and Virginia were hybridized. Haiti had been the main coffee producer in the region, up to that point. Sugar cane came later on, from New Guinea, in the time of Columbus.

The Toxic Acids of Cuba: Rum, Tobacco, Coffee and Sugar.

Model of a rum factory in the Havana Rum Museum, Cuba.
Photo Pam Dawling

There used to be three enslaved people (they say “slaves”) per white person. The plantation system shaped the environment. 90% of the land had been forests of all kinds. There were edible rats (vegetarian) living in the tree canopy, but no monkeys. By 1816 there was deforestation around the cities, but still 87% coverage overall.  In 1909 there was only 54% tree cover left; in 1959 it was down to only 14%. The Cuban people (not the IMF!) worked on reforestation. In 2018 there was 32% tree cover (going up!)

There are 26 types of forest in Cuba, a “miniature continent”, including 4 areas of pines. This is the southern limit (20°N) for pines, which don’t grow in tropical areas [such as Jamaica, as I’d noticed on my trip there.] There are 40 million arable acres. Article 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 1996 revision, lists environmental problems:

  • Land degradation (heavy Soviet tractors, mono cropping).
  • Bauxite versus forest.
  • Contamination (pollution). During the Special Period businesses collapsed and pollution decreased; waste was converted into resources.
  • Loss of biodiversity, although this was less bad in Cuba than in other Caribbean countries; there are 240 protected areas.
  • Lack of water: in the dry season, water is needed for agriculture; more CO2 means more humidity (more water is trapped in the air).
  • Impacts of climate change; amphibians are being strongly affected. It’s better to protect ecosystems than individual species.

Bioreserves of the Biosphere: There are six Natural Areas designated as Reserves. Fishing is illegal if from a Styrofoam raft. [? I cannot explain this part of my notes!] Another speaker told us there is no fishing industry in Cuba – fish is imported.

Cuba reduces the threat of climate change by making preparations. They have 72 hours to prepare before each hurricane, thanks to Russian radar. The mangroves act as a “Live Task Force”and block storm surges.

“Dinosaurs did not go extinct, they evolved into birds” Birds can fly away. Roberto Pérez Rivero is an Informed Optimist. The Apocalyptic Vision doesn’t serve us.

More Information

There are many videos of permaculture talks by Roberto Pérez Rivero in the period 2006-2017.

2000: The Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation and Urban Agriculture  Urban Agriculture Notes, Published by City Farmer, Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture

2006: The World Wildlife Fund, In its 2006 Sustainability Index Report, using a combination of the United Nations Human Development Index (a measure of how well a nation is meeting its nutrition, water, health care, and education needs, etc.) and the Ecological Footprint (natural resource use per capita), determined that there is only one nation in the world that is currently living sustainably — and that nation is Cuba. The Report states, “No [other] region, nor the world as a whole, met both criteria for sustainable development.”
2007: View the 53 minute Cuban Permaculture documentary, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil...Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens after they lost global support in the early 1990’s. Roberto Pérez, a well-known exponent of this Cuban approach to ecology, can be seen in this documentary.
2008:BBC programme on Cuba’s permaculture gardening

The BBC’s Around the World in 80 Gardens (2008) (viewable only in the UK) introduces the urban organic food gardening revolution in Havana, Cuba.

2008:Click HERE for a three-part talk by Cuban permaculturist Roberto Pérez that delves deeper into Cuba’s green revolution, and a half-hour video Peak Moment: Learning from Cuba’s Response to Peak Oil

A BBC2 program write-up.
2011: Roberto Pérez spoke at the Climate Change | Social Change conference, April 11-13, Sydney.  `Climate change means we must change’
Our Changing Climate environmental video essay

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Entrance to the La Felicidad Permaculture Garden associated with FANJ
Photo Pam Dawling

La Felicidad,  a small-scale permaculture garden, an education and urban agriculture center associated with FANJ

The entrance to La Felicidad Permaculture Garden, Havana, Cuba
Photo by Alan Ismach
Jésus Sanchez with tour guide Josetti translating, telling us about the permaculture garden La Felicidad.
Photo Pam Dawling

A lively 73 year old farmer, Jésus Sanchez, runs a permaculture backyard garden as an educational center, with training from FANJ.

Composting toilet at La Felicidad Permaculture Garden, Havana, Cuba
Photo by Alan Ismach

They have some small caged livestock, a composting toilet, vegetable beds following the Permaculture Guilds system, a shaded outdoor classroom, lots of explanatory posters and a model of the garden.

Map of La Felicidad Permaculture Garden, Havana, Cuba. Photo Pam Dawling

I was surprised to see the vegetable beds edged with upside-down glass bottles! [We have a “no-glass in the gardens” rule at twin Oaks, to avoid cuts.]

Permaculture raised beds edged with glass bottles. La Felicidad, Havana, Cuba
Photo by Alan Ismach

They had some plants growing on their house roof, where a few people at a time could view them. or get an overview of the garden.

Overview of La Felicidad permaculture garden from the house roof.
Photo Alan Ismach

See Learning About Permaculture at La Felicidad in Cuba, one of the Franny Travels to Cuba YouTube channel offerings. Franny was part of our January 2020 tour group.

Lunch on our own: I don’t remember what or where I ate. Or what I did in the afternoon. I probably ate my leftover pizza at the casa. I might have done some emailing. I’m surprised I didn’t write anything down. It’s hard to imagine I frittered away a whole afternoon of this special time! But I do remember dinner at the Garden of Miracles (Jardin de los Milagros Paladar) farm-to-table restaurant, with a guest speaker, Rafael Betancourt. I’ll tell you about that and their rooftop garden, another time.

 

Cuban Agriculture, French coffee plantation Cafetal Buenavista

Coffee bean drying beds at Cafetal Buenavista, Artemisa, Cuba.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cuban Agriculture, Tour of a restored historic early 19th century French coffee plantation (Cafetal) Buenavista, worked by 100 enslaved Africans, Las Terrazas Ecovillage, Artemisa.

This is an episode in the tales of my Agroecology Tour of Cuba in January 2020 with the Organic Growers School. Click the category Cuban Agriculture to see more posts in the series. In particular, refer to my most recent post on Las Terrazas. The Cafetal Buenavista is on the land of that ecovillage and bioreserve.

The master’s house at Cafetal Buenavista coffee plantation, now used as a restaurant.
Photo Pam Dawling

Buenavista is Cuba’s oldest coffee plantation, built in 1801 by French refugees from Haiti. The attic of the master’s house (which is now a restaurant) was used to store the beans until they could be carried down to the port of Mariel by mule.

Cafetal Buenavista plantation final drying floor and sheds.
Photo Pam Dawling

The coffee beans were sun-dried on huge drying beds during the day (top photo), then piled up every night in the center of the drying bed, and covered. If it rained, the beans were bagged up and stored in small low sheds, shown above.

The mill building at Cafetal Buenavista plantation.
Photo Pam Dawling
The coffee mill inside the thatched building at Cafetal Buenavista.
Photo Pam Dawling

The huge tajona (grindstone) that cracked the coffee beans is well restored and does move!

The coffee bean mill at Cafetal Buenavista plantation.
Photo Pam Dawling

Ruins of the quarters of some of the enslaved people held there can be seen alongside the drying beds. They were chained up at night in tiny 8-12 person stone cells built onto the walls of the coffee drying beds.

Cafetal Buenavista plantation. Cells where enslaved coffee workers were shackled at night.
Photo Pam Dawling

We had a talk about slavery with our Cuban tour guide Josetti. A study of the DNA of 2000 Cubans showed widespread genes from indigenous people, Africans, Chinese, Spanish and other Europeans. It’s impossible to tell ancestry from skin color. General guide: “Our mothers were Africans, our fathers European.” There is still individual racism, but it is not institutionalized as it is in the US, Josetti thinks. Slavery was abolished in Cuba in 1865, earlier than in Brazil, for example.

Photo Pam Dawling

The view from the top of the plantation is breathtaking!

For more, see and listen to:

Insight Cuba blog post on Las Terrazas

http://www.touristinyourtownpodcast.com/tag/buenavista-coffee-plantation/ Podcast

Shade-grown slavery

Slavery and Spatial Dialectics on Cuban Coffee Plantations, Theresa A. Singleton

I got a tick bite (was it one of the sterile ones Cuba has introduced to defeat tick-borne diseases? I didn’t get sick, so I don’t know that it wasn’t)

We got back on the bus to return to Havana for our last 3 days. Everyone wanted to stay in beautiful Viñales. We have a farm work project on Monday and a free day Wednesday (we might go to the beach). We returned to Havana, registered at our casas. I went with four others of the group to a small corner café, and spent 3 CUC on pizza and 2 CUC on a beer. The pizza was so big I still had leftovers to take home after I gave one piece away.1 CUC=$1 US.