SUBHEAD: Should Kaua‘i follow Cuba’s agricultural footsteps? By Michael Pilarski on 19 July 2009 in The Garden Island - http://www.kauaiworld.com/articles/2009/07/19/business/kauai_business/doc4a62befc552db556436660.txt
Image above: Looks like old Kauai, a historic Cuban cane haul train on way to sugar mill. From http://www.zelmeroz.com/albumquery/cuba.htm
What do Cuba and Kaua‘i have in common? Both are islands, and both had economies based on sugar cane plantations and tourism (Kaua‘i still has substantial tourism, but it is shrinking). They have taken widely divergent paths since Cuba kicked out the United States in 1959. Cuba has been under embargo by the U.S. ever since. Plantation sugar cane was still booming under Castro until the USSR fell apart in 1990. All of a sudden, Cuba was cut off from almost all petroleum fuels, tractors, tractor parts, fertilizer, other industrial agriculture inputs plus a big chunk of their imported food supply. Cuba was not focused on feeding itself, it was focused on exporting sugar. There was not enough food.
The society was cohesive enough to collectively tighten its belt and survive, even though people lost an average 30 pounds each over the next couple years while they invented a nation-wide gardening movement. Most of the sugar cane plantations switched to other food crops. There was a big change to animal traction for agriculture and organic fertilizers. A lot of the sugar cane plantation acreage was distributed to the plantation workers in the first five years after export/import collapse. In response to the imported fertilizer shortage, Cuba has gone on to become one of the world leaders in the development, large-scale production and application of nutrient-fixing, micro-organisms on soils and crops. This includes a wide-scale, large-scale use of vermicomposting (using wormbeds to convert organic matter to fertilizer). They are currently developing a technique of applying foliar sprays of nitrogen-fixing microorganisms which live on leaf surfaces. They also commercially produce soil phosphorus-solubizing bacteria. The red earth soils of Cuba and Kaua‘i have some similarities and the islands are both subtropical. So no matter what you think about the political scene, it would make good sense for Kaua‘i to research what Cuba has discovered about organic agriculture, vermicomposting and the agricultural use of micro-organisms. A good book to start with is “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba.” Okay, so there are also huge differences between the countries and I am not promoting their political ideology. Political differences aside, what can Kaua‘i learn from Cuba’s agriculture change-over? Kaua‘i is not likely to see an economic embargo, but it is obviously subject to economic downturns in the global economy. If tourism keeps dropping (which looks to be the case), there is going to be less money flowing into Kaua‘i’s economy. If Kaua‘i wakes up some day and finds that its imports of fossil-fuels, food, etc., are greatly reduced, then people will be very glad for any effort expended to plan and prepare for such an eventuality. How do we develop an agriculture (and gardening movement) which will make Kaua‘i less dependent on imported food? This means producing more food, a wider diversity of food crops and a higher quality of nutrient dense food. It is critical to figure out how to do all this while reducing imported agriculture inputs. Some of these questions will be explored in the Kaua‘i Agricultural Study currently being conducted (visit KauaiAgriculturalForum.org or contact email@example.com). If Cuba can do it than Kaua‘i can achieve this too, of that I am confident. The knowledge is available. Traditional ahupua‘a management, permaculture and other holistic, ecological, agro-ecosystem design systems are available. The people power is available within Kaua‘i’s diverse and capable population. And, there is a huge ground-swell of public support for local food production. If you are interested in learning more about Cuba’s transition to a food self-sufficient society, please join Malama Kaua‘i and Activate Kaua‘i for a free showing of “The Greening of Cuba.” Visit MalamaKauaiNews.org or ActivateKauai.Org for details. [Editor's Note: Michael Pilarski is a permaculture instructor, and led the two-week Permaculture Design course on Kaua‘i in March 2009]