Greg Watson visits Cuba

After visiting Cuba in 2014, as part of a delegation, a report was written by Greg Watson, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture and now Director of Policy and Systems Design for the Schumacher Center.

cuba 2


The Cuban agricultural system: beautiful, healthy fruits and vegetables being grown on urban, suburban and rural farms without petroleum inputs.

Much of this success can be attributed to the adoption of decentralized agrarian policies that encouraged individual and cooperative forms of production beginning in the 1990s. Overly bureaucratic state-run farms were replaced with thousands of new small urban and suburban organoponicos, parcelas, and patio gardens, and millions of acres of unused state lands were made available to workers for small-scale farming.

Equally impressive and more surprising were the candid conversations regarding the changes taking place in the country. People spoke openly of the economic failures of socialism while also reminding us of the ethical shortcomings of capitalism. Cuban intellectuals, government officials, and activists are searching for a new economic model somewhere between these two poles, which is certainly an over-simplification of an incredibly complex challenge. The agricultural cooperatives may offer a glimpse of such a model.

cuba 1

Cuban farmers, researchers, and government officials have over the years developed what is arguably the most comprehensive, time-tested system of agroecology in the world. They have also refined the Farmer-to-Farmer method of communicating information. Troves of technical reports have been amassed. U.S. farmers in search of tools that can help enhance their efforts to build economically viable sustainable farm businesses could benefit from the Cuban experience. In exchange, U.S. farmers could share tips on marketing and distribution that could be helpful to Cuban farmers and cooperatives.

Sharing the lease agreements of the community land trust, as one tool in a new economics tool kit, could provide a method of achieving more ownership opportunities in buildings and crop production for Cuba’s farmers without taking the land itself out of the commons.

Cooperatives are key to the survival of the Cuba’s agroecology system within a new economic environment that will unfold rapidly. The cooperative models have demonstrated that Cuba can integrate some aspects of private enterprise into their society without compromising fundamental social values – in essence an ethical economics based on the premise that people and the environment matter more than profit.

Forty-five days after we concluded our visit to Cuba, the media was abuzz with the news that the United States and Cuba had agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations. This new relationship will unfold while Cuba is in the process of reinventing its economic system.

How will renewed diplomatic relations with the United States affect Cuban agriculture?

The full text of Greg Watson’s report can be accessed here.