Fighting oil addiction with urban agricultureUrban agriculture can promote a wide range of sustainable development goals – for example, food security, energy efficiency, waste management, and employment. Cuba’s capital city Havana is cited as a world-leading example of good practice in urban food cultivation, producing up to 100% of its fresh vegetables. Urban farming saved the city when the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a sudden oil shortage and monetary shortfalls.
Keywords: urban agriculture, resilience, biodiversity
Considered by urban biodiversity and sustainability experts to be a leading model of urban agriculture, Havana has at least 30% of all its available land under cultivation. Havana’s urban farming expanded massively after 1989, when the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a sudden oil shortage – a critical problem given Cuban agriculture’s dependence on oil – and monetary shortfalls. The onset of food shortages, with resulting undernourishment and malnutrition, led to Cuba’s rapid adaptation to non-oil-dependent agriculture, including urban agriculture.
Policy measures, such as creative use of spaces for urban farming, planning farmers markets, and setting policies on food-species biodiversity have helped continually expand Havana’s urban agriculture. The impacts have been huge: a city of more than 2 million people with thousands of urban farms and community gardens, Havana has been able to produce between 45% to 100% of its fresh vegetables (various annual estimates), and up to 20% of the national fresh food total (see also Barcelona, Hanoi, Lubumbashi, Milwaukee and Shanghai).
The benefits of urban agriculture in Havana have been extensive:
- higher resilience of food supply chains
- boosted public health: particularly via improved nutrition due to greater access to food, and more available, less expensive, fresh vegetables
- water and waste management improvements
- biodiversity conservation: urban agriculture has preserved rarer plant species once part of the traditional Cuban diet but no longer found in rural agriculture. Examples include the arrow root (Maranta arundinacea L.), yam (Dioscorea alata) and the fruit tree capulí (Muntingia calabura Lin.). The food security drive includes policy on food-species biodiversity conservation for resilience.
- reduced energy use
- employment creation
- reduction of fossil-fuel use
Havana also demonstrates a range of practices for sustainable urban agriculture (UA):
- promoting organic UA: for example by banning chemical pesticides within city boundaries and training and sponsoring extension agents
- implementing UA on as much space as possible through creativity and intensity, even in the most densely populated areas of the city such as Old Havana
- official allocation of urban land plots for farming
- dependable fresh water infrastructure for UA
- municipal provision of high-quality compost, seeds, saplings research and development: laboratories and field testing sites, where a key issue has been integrated pest management
- providing strong incentives for engagement in urban agriculture, including establishment of farmers markets for selling agricultural produce (see also San Francisco 2)
Another confirming example of urban agriculture being rapidly implemented is provided by Rosario, Argentina, where a sudden economic crisis pushed two-thirds of Rosario’s 1.2 million residents into acute deprivation. The municipality responded with large-scale provision of urban public land and reserves for UA. Within just weeks, some 800 community gardens were established followed by several farmers markets to enable trading and cash-earning. Even after economic recovery, Rosario had thousands of urban farmers.
Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”, 2006, www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php
Catherine Murphy / Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy, “Cultivating Havana: Urban Agriculture and Food Security in the Years of Crisis”, Development Report No.12, 1999, www.foodfirst.org/en/node/273
Alain Santandreu, Alberto Gómez Perazzoli, Marielle Dubbeling, “Biodiversity, Poverty and Urban Agriculture, in Latin America”, UA Magazine Special issue: “Transition to Ecological Urban Agriculture: A Challenge”, no. 6, March 2002, www.ruaf.org/node/214
Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, Heather Boyer, Resilient cities: responding to peak oil and climate change, Washington, DC: Island Press, 2009
Peter Newman, Isabella Jennings, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems : Principles and Practices, Washington, DC: Island Press, 2008
Rachel Pinderhughes, “Alternative urban futures: designing urban infrastructures that prioritize human needs, are less damaging to the natural resource base, and produce less waste”, in Heberle, Lauren C. (Editor); Opp, Susan M. (Editor), Local Sustainable Urban Development in a Globalized World, Abingdon, UK: Ashgate Publishing Group, 2008
Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unup/unup/index_panel2.html
Text by: Aaron Thomas