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Sustainable agriculture and food security in an era of oil scarcity - lessons from Cuba

By Julia Wright
Published by Earthscan
Website: www.earthscan.co.uk
2009, 261pp, ISBN 978 1 84407 572 0(Hb), £60.00

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba - the empire's minute and furthest-flung outpost - saw its fuel and food supplies vanish almost overnight, and the government had to act quickly to feed its people. While these constraints no longer exist, the short period when they did provides an interesting snapshot of a nation with no other option than to push for an organic, low input, "post-petroleum" food system.

With some 90 per cent of the world's farmers managing 75 per cent of global agricultural lands organically by default, and with various threats looming over non-organic farmers everywhere else, the Cuban experience may hold some valuable lessons. In fact, Wright contends that the country "pre-empted what many industrial countries will experience" and may even provide "great inspiration and vision for communities all over the world intent on developing localised, sustainable food systems."

This is certainly an interesting case study, although whether it is a useful blueprint for drawing wider conclusions in the 21st century is another matter. What it does show is that Cuba, faced with a lack of agricultural inputs and internationally-shunned, still managed to feed its population - and to feed it well. To this extent, it may also show that not only is necessity the mother of invention, but also that strong political leadership is vital in a time of crisis.

Date published: May 2009

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