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.
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?].
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.
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.
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.
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
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
La Felicidad, a small-scale permaculture garden, an education and urban agriculture center associated with FANJ
A lively 73 year old farmer, Jésus Sanchez, runs a permaculture backyard garden as an educational center, with training from FANJ.
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.
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.]
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.
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.