2008-12-06 Cuban environmental study tour 2

CDR – Committees for the Defence of the Revolution

If you go on a study tour of Cuba your tour is likely to include a visit to a CDR.  The largest organisation in Cuba – each apartment block is a CDR. They act as means of informing communities but also getting feed back on what popular opinion on topics is. We visited one to see children talking about a project they were undertaking to look after animals. Because of the CDR’s some socioeconomic projects can be done quickly throughout the country – such as changing the light bulbs to more environmentally friendly forms.

I guess the CDR’s play a role in putting in place plans to cope with evacuation of the population when the hurricanes strike. Certainly the Cuban system seems to prevent deaths – there was a lot of hurricane damage this year.

Pay in Cuba
Not everyone gets the same pay in Cuba – as there are perks for certain workers who are paid bonuses in CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso – also used as tourist money). 1 CUC is currency worth 24 peso but was originally worth over 100 Peso. The government is reviewing its twin currencies and eventually may revert to one.

Ration shops

Everyone has a ration book in Cuba and there are special ration shops in each neighborhood. You only get your local rations from your local ration shop. As well as staples like rice and beans – pork and chicken are available from the ration book. Fish and beef are not – they are expensive – you have to pay CUC’s for these.

Local farmers markets in Havana

For some food not in the ration book there are the local farmers markets. We visited two – where local small scale farmers sell there produce. – because of the hurricane damage root crops predominated and there were no bananas. Of great interest in the second market we visited was the big entrance sign with a list of the nutritional value of a range of crops.


Main crops were Taro, manioc, tomatoes, okra, garlic, guavas, bananas and watercress pak choi, lima beans vinegar and palm wine in plastic bags.

For cheaper fresher vegetables such as salad crops and tomatoes and herbs a visit to your local Organoponico is the order of the day.

City vegetable production – Organoponicos

Concept was launched early 1990’s to bring production of vegetables to the populous during Cuba’s “Special period” when oil was scarce. There are many Organoponicos around Havana. 300,000 workers are involved in this kind of work. They have allowed the populations access to 75% of their vegetable legumes and roots requirement. The Organiponico we visited is one of the flag ship examples. It began in 1997 and is now 10.8 ha of pristine weed free vegetables, (some protected with shade housing) and they now produce rabbits, chicken AND eggs as well as having fruit tree production. Fruit trees ornamentals and spiritual plants (part of the African cultural legacy) are propagated. Medicinal plants and plants for tea like Anise are also cultivated. Some ‘Value added’ products such as ketchup are also produced.


This Organiponico was set up on waste ground that was formerly part of the stadium for earlier Latin American games. It produces 350 tonnes of fresh produce – most is sold within an hour of harvest – local people from apartment blocks come and buy in pesos from a simple covered outlet on the edge of the organoponica. They also supply 15 hotels in Havana (produced sold to them in CUC which is the currency tourist’s use). Staff consists of 38 women, 16 professors, 2 PhD’s 25 technicians. Remember wages here are low about 40 pesos a month (although there are perks for certain groups of workers in Cuba – and people working on the land are well treated). They don’t have to pay for housing electricity – cars and petrol – if their job requires these – meals are provided and they can buy vegetables at production prices. They are experimenting with different types of varieties of crops – bred or produced in Cuba and they also save seeds of 15 varieties of seeds – there is an element of international training here too. The site is very noisy with many animated Cubans talking – there is much manual labour.


Organiponicos around the city are organic – because of the concerns about spraying harmful chemicals. Our guide around the Organiponico was a former university lecturer and he admitted although there was organic production of tobacco, bananas and vegetables there couldn’t be enough to meet the countries requirements. Vegetables grown included lettuce, onions, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, manioc, taro and radish. Fruit include coconuts, avocado, citrus, guava, tropical cherry and noni (Morinda citrifolia) a foul smelling medicinal fruit high in Vitamin C with anti obesity and many other beneficial health properties.


Compost is made on the Organoponico using green waste, sugar cane bagasse and Effective Micro-organisms  (EM)


©  Andrew Ormerod 2013

About cornucopiaalchemy

Dr. Andrew Ormerod has 14 years experience working as the Economic Botanist at the Eden Project - researching topical stories, artefacts, ethnobotanical inks, catering and retail links to exhibits. Previously I was involved with plant breeding and plant tissue culture working on a range of crops including winter cauliflowers, agricultural lupins, vining peas, wheat and barley and coconuts. I am now freelance and am interested in opportunities for lecturing; writing articles; consultancy linked to development of botanic gardens for crops based exhibits; supply chain work for unusual food or non-food crops with interesting stories about plants and people attached to them.
This entry was posted in Cuba, Food and Nutrition, Food Resilience, Health, Latin America, Sustainable production. Bookmark the permalink.

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