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How Cuba Leads the World in Permaculture (Podcasts – Parts I & II)

Part I: Cuban Food Crisis after the Soviet Union Collapsed

Roberto Perez, speaking at IPC10 in Jordan
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

Part I: Cuban Food Crisis after the Soviet Union Collapsed

Roberto Perez is a pioneer of the permaculture movement in Cuba where a food production revolution occurred starting in 1993, four years after the 1989 collapse of the USSR and the socialist block. In the interview, Perez describes the hunger crisis that followed the loss of Cuba’s main trading partners and food resource. The US embargo was tightened during these critical times that Cuba termed the “Special Period” when hunger plagued the island. The US cut off all food imports and punished ships from other nations that dared to dock in Cuban ports with cargo for Cuba. The collapse of the Soviet Union and eastern block cut off oil supplies to the island which lost 70% of oil imports compared to previous years. Cubans turned to sustainable agriculture without the use of petro chemical fertilizers and pesticides which were no longer available.  Hunger propelled Cuba to adopt permaculture approaches to urban and rural agriculture.  It is a fascinating story of dealing with peak oil, something the whole world now faces. Perez is featured in a film called The Power of the Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

I was excited about the possibility of interviewing visiting Cuban permaculture expert Roberto Perez, who was only available on Saturday when KPFA had no engineers on duty. What to do? My husband Paul Richards, who has successfully initiated several permaculture projects in our backyard, set up a recording studio by his computer in our house with a new microphone. He hung blankets on two projection screens to create a make-shift sound booth. We were ready to record. The information-packed interview is presented in two parts. Part II includes information about the 11th International Permaculture Convergence in Cuba in November, 2013, and Perez’s work with the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity.  He also will let you know how U.S. citizens can legally travel to Cuba to attend this world convergence of permaculture experts, become a certified permaculturist and tour permaculture sites throughout the island.

Part II: The 11th International Permaculture Convergence and the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity in Cuba, 2013

Part II: The 11th International Permaculture Convergence and the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity in Cuba, 2013

Roberto Perez reviewed in Part I of this two part interview how Cuba’s import/export economy collapsed along with the Soviet Union and socialist block. With the disappearance of their largest trading partners, Cuba could no longer export sugar or other commodities in exchange for food, petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides for the island. By 1993 food scarcity mounted into a crisis of widespread hunger that Cuba calls their “Special Period.” A new emphasis on self sufficiency in food production emerged, accelerated by the tightening of the US embargo during those years.

In Part II, permaculture expert Roberto Perez discusses his activities, as a director of the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, to counter the food crisis that occurred in Cuba. Antonio Nuñez was a revolutionary guerrilla fighter under Che Guevara, and then the Minister of Agrarian Reform.  He succeeded Guevara as president of the Cuban National Bank and later served as president of the Academy of Sciences and ambassador to Peru. The Nuñez Jimenez Foundation was founded in 1993 as an NGO upon Nuñez’s retirement from government service. 

Roberto Perez joined the team and with his colleagues began introducing permaculture ideas and techniques to produce food sustainably without pesticides or petro-chemical fertilizers in the cities and countryside. Australian experts initiated training and soon Cubans were training each other and the ideas spread. Today Cuba leads the world in sustainable agriculture. Sixteen Cuban cities keep themselves supplied in leaf vegetables. Small livestock and poultry are raised on roof gardens, balconies and vacant lots. Rural farms are restoring the traditional ways of using oxen, eliminating mechanization and its environmental polluting outcomes.  Compost is now widely generated to fertilize the earth.

Into this exciting transformation on the island comes the 11th International Permaculture Convergence to be held in November, 2013, in Cuba.  Perez tells how U.S. citizens can legally travel to Cuba to participate in the Convergence through Global Exchange and other groups. This trip is open to full time professionals, practitioners, students and activists in the areas of agriculture, food and nutrition, environmental protection, environmental education, appropriate technology, and other fields related to permaculture and to sustainable agricultural development in general.

Perez’s California tour was hosted by the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, California and the Movement Generation Project of Berkeley, California.

One Comment

  1. ‘Tis great to read that US citizens are now free to travel to Cuba. That is progress after all these many decades.

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