During Cuba's Special Period following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1991 and the dramatic reduction of financial and energy resources almost overnight, farm families were challenged to develop a food system capable of feeding themselves and their communities without the use of petroleum-based inputs. That meant no chemical fertilizers or pesticides to nourish and shield crops from pests and disease and no gasoline to fuel trucks to transport produce from rural areas to cities.
They met that challenge by rediscovering and reinventing the traditional farming practices of their ancestors who modeled their farms based on their observations of the natural world. In the process they developed what amounts to a "post-petroleum" system of food production called agroecology - a sustainable, resilient approach to growing healthy, nutritious food without adversely impacting terrestrial, aquatic or atmospheric environments.
I founded the Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network (CUSAN) in 2015 following a week-long visit to Cuba organized by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in October 2014. We went there to have a look at their agroecology system up close.
Cuban farmers demonstrated in the most powerful way under the most challenging circumstances that growing food without the aid of chemical fertilizers and pest controls can be the foundation of a country's agriculture system. We felt that we could learn a great deal from them and them from us. The Network was established as a way for sustainable farmers in Cuba and the U.S. to share experiences.