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Cubans hope urban gardens will solve food shortages caused by hurricane damage.

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REUTERS – Oct 28, 2008
Reuters video in Spanish, linked. The video doesn’t seem to have been picked up by a news outlet and there is no news commentary in the footage. A raw script, which accompanies the video, and translation of the comments by the Cubans who were interviewed, is attached below this article.

Cubans hope urban gardens will solve food shortages caused by hurricane damage.

In the face of its greatest food shortage since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has fallen back on urban agriculture, which helped provide relief in the 1990’s during the Caribbean island’s “special period”.

The destruction of roughly 30 percent of the communist island’s food after devastating hurricanes has put the spotlight back on a practice borne out of necessity during communist Cuba’s most desperate hour.

Nearly two months on from the last of Hurricane Ike’s downpours, basic staples like lettuce are still hard to come by, save for select spots like a decade-old nursery in the eastern Havana suburb of Alamar.

The urban farm at Alamar operates on short cycles, and utilizes an organoponic model that combines organic – defined here by a lack of fertilizer or other additives – and water-submersion hydroponics techniques. An artificial irrigation system provides the foundation of the system.

The harvest is distributed through an adjoining cooperative distribution network.

“As of now, we sold in the previous month’s time, a critical month, roughly 50 kgs of lettuce, more than two tons, and lettuce production has practically been stabilized, and chard production will be stabilized, there are tomato plants, plenty of radish has been sold, the sale of other aromatic plants has remained steady and is not even satisfying the demand because of the large effect [from the hurricanes], but the recovery began immediately,” Miguel Salcines, the administrator of the organoponic farm at Alamar, said.

The urban farms, which appear in as unlikely spots as parking lots and roof terraces as well as more ordinary venues like personal gardens, now provide for 50 percent of the vegetable produce consumed by the nearly 11 million Cubans.

“In the end, the policy of urban agriculture is bringing results. You can see that we have vegetables in this organoponic garden and in these selling units,” a shopper at Alamar, oncologist Jesus Perez Alvarez, said.

The success of the model, that has flourished at other Havana farms like that of Bahia, has drawn the official seal approval of the Cuban government, despite the implicit autonomy it entails.

Grocery shoppers at the Bahia urban farm credit the model with helping Cuba overcome the devastation caused by the hurricanes.

“The situation really is getting better, now for example there’s lettuce, chard, some vegetables here and in other places, but it’s undeniable that the country hasn’t yet recovered,” Cuban retiree, Silvia Valladares, said.

And unlike the state-run grocery markets, the urban farms aren’t as exposed to the highs and lows of the Cuban economy at large, directly moving their produce to their communities.

The model’s record of consistently offering a full range of food items is among its chief selling points.

“I don’t have time to go to the farmer’s market everyday, and there are times when a product comes in, and there are times when not, and there are plenty of shortages. And here, you can plant something, and at least that helps,” Cuban retiree Angel Romay Ortis said as he began work on his own urban farm.

Havana froze prices in September in the wake of the hurricanes, but urban producers still offer fruits and vegetables at lower prices than the state markets – also offering a wider range of produce.

What began with a cooperative of four farmers in 1997 has developed into a sector that counts 160 producers working on 11 hectares of land – the equivalent of 13 soccer fields – to produce 240 tons of produce each year. And the urban farmers’ output of 50 percent of the island’s produce is accomplished on just 20 percent of the island’s arable land.

As one way of increasing production, Cuba announced on Monday (October 27) it would allow most farms to purchase basic supplies at stores for the first time since the 1960s, when the US-embargo came into effect.

Since officially taking the helm of the Cuban state on February 24, 2008, Raul Castro has expressed his desire to apply such a productive model throughout the whole of Cuba’s socialist economy, emphasizing benefits of entrepreneurship.

For his work at Alamar, an urban farmer earns 950 Cuban pesos (USD 42.75) a month, nearly double the average Cuban’s salary.

Script for the Video Shot in Cuba

Link to video from Cuba in Spanish here.

1. VARIOUS OF SPRINKLERS AND ARTIFICIAL IRRIGATION SYSTEM AT EAST HAVANA ALAMAR ORGANOPONIC DISTRIBUTION FARM

2. MEN WORKING VEGETABLE FIELDS AND ORGANOPONIC GARDEN

3. FIELD SEEDED WITH VEGETABLES USING SHORT ORGANOPONIC CYCLES

4. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ADMINISTRATOR OF EAST HAVANA ORGANOPONIC ALAMAR
FARM, MIGUEL SALCINES, SAYING:

“As of now, we sold in the pervious month’s time, a critical month, roughly 50 kgs of lettuce, more than two tons, and lettuce production has practically been stabilized, and chard production will be stabilized, there are tomato plants, plenty of radish has been sold, the sale of other aromatic plants has remained steady and is not even satisfying the demand because of the large effect [from the hurricanes], but the recovery began immediately.”

5. PEOPLE ARRIVE FOR SHOPPING AT ALAMAR ORGANOPONIC DISTRIBUTION COOPERATIVE

6. VARIOUS OF MEN TAKING LETTUCE HEADS FROM A WHEELBARROW FOR PURCHASE

7. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) CUBAN ONCOLOGIST, JESUS PEREZ ALVAREZ, SAYING:

“In the end, the policy of urban agriculture is bringing results. You can see that we have vegetables in this organoponic garden and in these selling units.”

8. WOMEN ARRIVING TO CHECKOUT LINE AT EAST HAVANA BAHIA ORGANOPONIC COOP

9. VARIOUS OF PEOPLE BUYING VEGETABLES AT CHECKOUT COUNTER OF EAST HAVANA BAHIA ORGANOPONIC DISTRIBUTION COOP

10. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) CUBAN RETIREE, SILVIA VALLADARES, SAYING:

“The situation really is getting better, now for example there’s lettuce, chard, some vegetables here and in other places, but it’s undeniable that the country hasn’t yet recovered.”

11. VARIOUS OF MAN PREPARING A PIECE OF HIS PROPERTY INTO URBAN FARM TO GROW VEGETABLES

12. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) CUBAN RETIREE, ANGEL ROMAY ORTIS, SAYING:

“I don’t have time to go to the farmer’s market everyday, and there are times when a product comes in, and there are times when not, and there are plenty of shortages. And here, you can plant something, and at least that helps.”

13. WOMEN WALKING TOWARDS STATE AGRO-MARKET AT VEGETABLES STAND THAT HAS EMPTY SHELVES

14. VEGETABLE STAND WITH TABLE READING:
“GARLIC, $2.50 EACH,”AND “YUCCA $1.50 EACH,” (“AJO, C/U $2.50″ AND “CHOPO, C/U $1.50″)

15. EMPTY SHELVES AT FARMER’S AGRO-MARKET VEGETABLE STANDS

16. VARIOUS OF MEN SEEDING VEGETABLES USING SHORT CYCLES AT EAST HAVANA ORGANOPONIC DISTRIBUTION COOPERATIVE