THE HOLM TEAM
Agriculture. Resources. International
R.R. #1, HP-8, Bowen Island, B.C., Canada V0N
Fax: (604) 947-2321
A Letter of Invitation to Come
to Cuba in 2011
from Wendy Holm, Leader
Canada Cuba Farmer to
As a Canadian Agrologist, I very much welcome your interest in this
very special Program!
Since 1999, Canada-Cuba Farmer to Farmer Project has been bringing
farmers together to share knowledge and experience in the areas of
sustainable agriculture. Cuba is a world leader in the
rapid adoption of sustainable farming practices, the replacement of
farm chemicals with natural, biological controls and state support for
urban, organic agriculture and measures to stimulate peri-urban
agriculture. Canada is a world leader in best farm management
practices, farm cooperatives and the development of farmer-led
marketing initiatives. Together, we have more answers than we
have apart. The Project objectives are to create
cooperative capacity building in support of sustainable agriculture in
When the Soviet Union collapsed, all of Cuba’s sectors were forced to
adapt to a new reality. In agriculture the challenge was
particularly severe: Cuba had to move overnight from a
monoculture farm economy based on sugar to a nation that could feed its
population – 80 percent of which are in the cities - from a diversified
production base. This, without the benefit of farm inputs,
machinery, gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, or feed. To
accomplish this, the State looked to Cuba’s traditional farm
cooperatives for the model.
• Massive state farms were broken up and the land
redistributed into smaller, worker-owned cooperatives.
• Traditional farming methods were adopted, such as
the use of oxen to work the land. Cuba’s research institutes were
tasked with the responsibility of finding ways to replace chemicals
with natural fertilizers, integrated pest management and biological
• Small labs to produce the products needed by the
farmers in each area (Centers for the Reproduction of Entomopathogens
and Entomophagos) were set up across the countryside.
• Special incentives were created to encourage
• Vacant land in the cities was put to work
(incentives), and urban agriculture flourished.
• In 1998, Cuba won the Swedish Parliament’s Right
Livelihood Award for global leadership in organic agriculture.
• This summer, David Suzuki’s two part special on
Cuba that highlighted Cuba’s accomplishments in sustainable farming
• This fall, Cuba was named the only country in the
world to reach national sustainability by the World Wildlife Fund.
• On May 24, 2007, our project Enhancing Sustainable
Dairy Production Capacity in Cuba (a farmer to farmer dairy project we
have been leading through the Canadian NGO International Centre for
Sustainable Cities; we will visit this project as part of our tour) won
the prestigious Sustainable Development of Natural Resources or
Protection of the Environment Award, as part of the 15th Annual
Canadian Awards for International Cooperation.
The Program is 14 days in length. Days one, two and three are
spent in orientation meetings in Varadero, The next 8 days are spent
days in four Cuban provinces — Ciego De Avila, Camaguey, Granma and
Santiago de Cuba — visiting farms, agri-processing facilities, research
stations and intensive urban agriculture cooperatives (Organoponicos)
and meeting with and exchanging experiences with Cuban farmers.
On day 12 we travel to Havana, where we rest for a weekend prior to
There have been 28 Delegations of Canadian farmers – close to 600 in
all - who have traveled to Cuba with this Program since 1999.
As noted above, farmers participating inn this year’s Program will also
have the opportunity to visit a dairy cooperative we have been working
with on a farmer-to-farmer basis for 18 months to create a sustainable
dairy production model based on solar powered fences, rotational
pastures, grass/legume “pedestals” and on-farm ration production.
In a very short time, milk production has tripled.
This project - Enhancing Sustainable Dairy Production Capacity in Cuba,
undertaken through the support fof the Canadian International
Development Agency and Canadian NGO International Centre for
Sustainable Cities - is what won us international recognition at the
15th Annual Canadian Awards for International Cooperation this
May. We have two more years of work to perfect the model.
Subsequent to that, we hope to replicate this success in a peri-urban
setting using municipal effluent for irrigation. We will
visit the site of this next project in Bayamo.
It has been said that Cuba is both far behind us and way ahead of
us. Of course, not all of Cuba’s approaches are
transferable. Different climate, Different labour costs.
Different farm economy. But surprisingly, many are.
In 2006, I brought a group of Canadian entomologists to Cuba to learn
how a relatively poor country like Cuba has achieved world leadership
in the production of biological controls. They were impressed.
For the past five years I have had the pleasure of teachin a 3-week
university course for Canadian students (UBC LFS 302a International
Field Studies in Sustainable Agriculture: Cuba http://ctlt.ubc.ca/distance-learning/courses/lfs/lfs302a).
At the end of the course, they must answer the questions “What is
happening in this country, what factors have influenced this, and what
lessons, if any, does Cuba’s experience offer the rest of the
world. With permission, the essay of one student is attached.
This program offers Canadian farmers the opportunity to see and
experience first hand how a small country can achieve what the rest of
the world is trying to accomplish in a vibrant and engaging
The cost to participate as a Delegate in our 2011 Program is $3,200 CAD
plus airfare. This includes all accommodation, all meals
(excluding beverages and 3 lunches and 2 dinners in Havana), tips,
transportation in Cuba, translation, and airport transfers in
Cuba. Additional costs incurred by each Delegate may
include airport parking, airport accommodation in Canada (for flights
departing or returning late at night or in the early morning hours),
airport departure taxes (Cuba $25 USD), the cost of connecting flights
in Canada and incidental expenses.
If you are a farmer, we would be very pleased to have you and your
family members join us. This trip is deductible as a
business expense for farmers.
Please feel free to contact me for any further information!
Wendy Holm, P.Ag.
UBC AGSC 302: Field Studies in Sustainable Agriculture, Cuba, May 1-22,
Essay submitted in partial fulfillment of course requirements
June 5, 2005
Question: What is happening in Cuban agriculture, what are
the factors supporting this, and what, if any, relevance does this have
to broader issues of global concern?
Cuba’s experiment in organic agriculture does have
relevance for the wider world – if we are first careful to understand
the unique circumstances of their success. Cuba differs greatly from
the majority of the modern world, especially since the collapse of the
Soviet bloc. It is isolated, politically, economically and
geographically. There is an overwhelming amount of state presence and
control in nearly all economic activity. The influence, limited to the
point of imperceptibility, of multinational corporations on both the
economy and state policy bears almost no comparison to current trends
in the rest of the world where these corporations often exercise
significant control over government policy through their economic
clout. Politically, despite one-party rule there is a significant and,
frankly, surprising amount of political freedom and an empowering
grassroots structure to political organization. This is combined with a
powerful and wide-reaching state apparatus, allowing for much higher
levels of state control and faster action than in most of the Western
There are also issues of resource scarcity and necessity, both of which
are somewhat unique to Cuba. Following the collapse of the Soviet bloc,
due to Cuba’s political and economic isolation, importing food at
affordable prices was not a plausible option, nor was the continued
import of agricultural inputs, fuels or machinery. Cuba simply lacked
the resources to either continue with industrial agriculture or to feed
its own people with food imports. This left two options: political and
economic reform, likely to be on the Americans’ terms, in order to end
the blockade, or massive agricultural reform with the goal of
self-sufficiency. The first option was for obvious reasons unpalatable
to the Cuban government; this left them with the absolute necessity of
devising a way to feed their people without modern machinery, inputs or
techniques. Cuba’s experiment in organic agriculture was thus not truly
an experiment but rather a matter of national survival.
The development of organic agriculture in the West will, in all
likelihood, take place very differently than it has in Cuba – barring,
of course, an agricultural crisis brought on by falling yields.
Currently organic agriculture is developing along a grassroots path –
adopted piecemeal by individual farmers concerned with environmental
impacts or with the economics of production (especially given rising
demand for organically-produced goods). Without a serious food
supply crisis, western states are unlikely to throw their weight behind
a national-scale transition to organic agriculture – the status quo
will rule, supported by the political and economic clout of large
agribusiness which stands to lose the most from a transition to
reduced-input, reduced-mechanization, reduced-GMO and reduced-monocrop
style of production characteristic of organic agriculture.
Even should these states want to support organic agriculture, they
would not be able to support it nearly as effectively as the Cuban
government, which after all does, for better or for worse, exercise a
far higher level of control over political and economic activity than
do any Western countries. Furthermore, it is an unfortunate reality
that, facing the combined political and economic clout of MNCs, global
financial institutions promoting austerity at all costs to national
development, cheap imports of agricultural products from world markets
and economically powerful nations bent on preserving their interests
regardless of the sovereignty of others, most developing countries
simply lack the ability to transform their agricultural production from
industrial monocrop agriculture to sustainable, low-input,
Cuba’s importance is not, therefore, as a blueprint for the development
of organic agriculture in the rest of the world; Cuba’s circumstances
are, for the most part, unique and irreproducible. Cuba’s key
importance lies in the fact that it is a working refutation of the idea
promoted by many that organic agriculture is incapable of meeting world
food needs. A country with few resources, few allies, limited income
and a colonial past which left them far behind much of the world in
terms of national development has managed on a national scale that
which many have proclaimed impossible.
Cuba’s example will help support the expansion of organic agriculture
in Western nations as well as providing an alternative framework for
agricultural recovery should the threatened agricultural crisis arrive.
Rather than showing what should be done, it shows what is possible: a
better lesson in the end, as nations with vastly different
circumstances will be able to apply Cuba’s knowledge and achievements
in politically, culturally and economically appropriate ways - that is,
if they are willing to learn these lessons. So far it appears that they
are not; it appears that there will need to be some sort of crisis of
necessity, just as there was in Cuba, to promote the massive change in
thinking and practices necessary for the national-level transitions to
organic and sustainable agriculture. If we do not learn before it is
too late then, at the very least, we will know that there is the
potential for sufficient production should current practices prove
truly unsustainable. It is to be hoped, however, that Cuba’s example
will motivate others, be they individuals or states, to attempt the
same, in adapted and appropriate ways, while the adoption of organic
and sustainable agriculture is still a luxury rather than a necessity.