Las Historias Detalladas (Basados en visitas de campo y entrevistas extensas)

Las Historias Cápsulas

  • Burkina Faso – Zabre – Proyecto Agro-Ecológico Femenil – Un proyecto agrícola integral mejora la economía y el estatus de mujeres rurales.
  • China – Sur del Desierto Taklimakan – Árboles Tamarix – Árboles resistentes a la sequía detienen el avance de las dunas sobre tierras agrícolas.
  • EUA – California (San Francisco) – El Proyecto Hortalizas – La agricultura organica practicada por prisioneros les devuelve su conexión con la tierra y mitiga la reincidencia.
  • EUA – Kansas – Land Institute – Restauración de hábitats de llanura en peligro a través de la agricultura sustentable.
  • EUA – Minnesota – Restauración del Lago Rojo – Indígenas Norteamericanos restauran arroz silvestre y peces nativos (walleye) en su reserva.
  • Canadá – Northwest Territories – Invernadero Comunitario Inuvik – Un inovador invernadero aumenta la seguridad y autosuficiencia alimentaria en el Ártico.
  • Alemania – Bavaria – Neumarkter Lammsbrau – Una cervecería utiliza un enfoque holístico, de agricultor a consumidor, permitiéndole prosperar mientras otras pequeñas cerveceras quiebran.
  • Costa Rica – Talamanca – La Iniciativa Talamanca – Una iniciativa comunitaria multifacética simultáneamente promueve la economía local y la conservación del ecosistema.
  • CubaAgricultura Orgánica y Urbana – La crisis económica resulta en el desarrollo acelerado de la autosuficiencia alimentaria.
  • México – Veracruz y Tabasco – Chinampas – Un antiguo sistema de cultivos es resucitado para brindar una agricultura de humedal sustentable a agricultores sin tierras.
  • India – Bengal Occidental – Plantación de Té Makaibari – La plantación de té Makaibari estimula al ecosistema natural para mejorar la sustentabilidad de su producción.

Burkina Faso – Zabre – Proyecto Agro-Ecológico Femenil

by Amanda Suutari

In the three states of Burkina Faso where PLY Women’s Association had projects, Zabre was the focus of the project evaluation. The area is a central plateau, mostly flat, tree savannah, with a long dry season (November-May) and rainy season (June-October). The population is mainly herders and farmers. The land had been eroding, especially on hills, and severely affected by drought and overexploitation by deforestation and overgrazing, mainly due to a concentration of farmers on exhausted lands worked without fallow due to population pressures.

PLY, evaluating the needs of the area in order to begin a project, found that despite women’s central role in socioeconomic life, their contributions were overlooked and they drew few benefits. PLY’s purpose was to improve the status of rural women, support their education and active involvement in development. They realized that improving soil fertility would allow for better agricultural production, giving means to achieve other social and economic goals.

In 1987 they began training sessions with manure and compost kits. The fertilizer was used in community peanut and cereal fields, and later spread to vegetable gardens where it was intensively used.

Enthusiasm over the initial success brought in new members and a dramatic increase in demand for training. PLY requested and got technical and financial support to begin a series of training workshops not only on composting, but on farming, controlled water use, and erosion control using bunds (see also Auroville, India case study) and gully dams, and programs for reforestation, including the nitrogen-fixing tree Acacia albeda.

Results of these workshops include:

  1. Improvement of soil fertility.
  2. Yields nearly doubled.
  3. Many lands previously considered unusable were opened up, as both women and men recovered degraded areas, using strip cropping on hilly areas.
  4. Erosion was controlled.
  5. The technique became popularized, with the number of farmers using it going from 25 to 8,000. This shows the potential for replication.

Since then PLY has diversified into other areas, including programs on education for girls, workshops on health and family planning, literacy classes, creation of cereal and vegetable banks, and income generation projects such as production of shea butter, natural insecticide (from neem oil), soap making, and weaving. Through this income, credit cooperatives were created for purchase of farm equipment. Through working with the villages and interviews to evaluate the projects’ success, monitors say that women are more confident, better educated, and gender relations are improved, with some elevated understanding among men of women’s problems and the need to assist them in domestic chores.

Services or benefits include: Erosion control, food security, income generation, poverty alleviation, improved confidence/status of rural women and gender relations, social relations, waste management, education (formal and traditional).

For more information visit the Financial Information Engine on Land Degradation.

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China – Sur del Desierto Taklimakan – Árboles Tamarix

by Amanda Suutari

Villages in the Taklimakan are threatened by mobile dunes caused by overgrazing, salinized soil from irrigated farming (the area is flat and had poor drainage) and overexploitation of fuelwood. Natives of the targeted region – -four counties in Hotan Prefecture – -were chiefly farmers and herders.

Scientists at a nearby institute, noticing the worsening conditions and encroachment of sand dunes, speculated that propagation of the tamarix, a small tree or bush known as the “salt cedar” could reverse the deterioration of salinized areas by acting as a “biopump,” keeping the groundwater well below the surface (as opposed to on or near the surface, where water would evaporate quickly and, combined with poor drainage, is the reason for salinization of soil).

Trees were planted in rows so that crops could be grown between them. Volunteer guards (who would be given a stipend from the profits gained from increased incomes) protected the nurseries. A rotational system was introduced for harvesting fuel. Results:

  1. Increases in wood and fodder for livestock from the tamarix bush.
  2. Increase in agricultural productivity, especially grain and cotton, and crops are now grown on rehabilitated land (60,000 hectares).
  3. Increased household incomes from agricultural improvement and from industries based on tamarix such as baskets, trolleys and earth carriers.
  4. Sand dunes are better controlled.
  5. The technology is being replicated elsewhere in China.

Services/benefits: Increased household income, food/fodder, fuel, erosion control

For more information visit the HORIZON Solutions Site.

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EUA – California (San Francisco) – El Proyecto Hortalizas

by Amanda Suutari

In the past three decades, the population in US prisons has been growing exponentially, as a direct result in shifts in policy towards mandatory minimum sentencing. While the majority of these prisoners were incarcerated for nonviolent crime, two-thirds of these return to prison after release. The US state and federal prison population recently exceeded two million. This has led to overcrowding in prisons, and an increased burden on the states (which have outsourced many services and aspects of the system onto private industry).

The San Francisco County Jail was built in 1934. Originally it had grown its own food, but prison counselor Cathrine Sneed began to revive the practice in 1982. Trained as a lawyer, Sneed chose to be a counselor in order to find a way to get people out of prison instead of putting them in. While in the hospital with a serious illness, she had a revelation reading Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which showed what happened when people were disconnected from their land, and realized that this was what was missing from the prisoners’ daily lives. Using abandoned buildings and fields, organic farms were set up where prisoners would work for two hours a day. The produce from these fields were donated to local soup kitchens and family shelters. The program was successful, prisoners looked forward to spending time outside and there was a waiting list for the program. But Sneed noticed that when prisoners were released, they had no skills, no money and no services to facilitate their reentry into society, and so recidivism (reincarceration) rates remained high.

In 1992, the Garden Project was started. This was a post-release program aimed at giving parolees confidence and skills. Participants of the program are paid a living wage of $11.00 per hour, with medical and dental benefits. They work eight-hour days five days a week, growing broccoli, lettuce, chard, collards, squash, leeks and pumpkins. These are sent to voluntary organizations helping poor seniors and families, and some 800 families per week receive food. Some of the food has been sold to local restaurants. The project has also grown to include the Garden Project Tree Corps, which works with the San Franscisco’s Department of Public Works, planting and maintaining newly planted trees throughout the city. It employs twenty people who have planted 3,000 trees in the city. There are also nutrition, literacy, and computer training programs. The Garden Project is made up of partnerships between the private and public sectors: for example, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, the San Francisco Department of Public Works, the California Department of Forestry, as well as private donations and customers.

Ex-prisoners, once leaving the program, have gone on to start their own landscaping businesses, some have entered the construction industry, and another started a licensed day-care center. Called by the US Department of Agriculture “one of the most successful post-release programs and community development programs in the country,” the initiative’s record has shown results. So far, some 4,300 participants have completed the program. Normally the nation’s recidivism rate of prisoners after a year is 55%, but after two years, only 24% of participants of the Garden Project return to prison within two years. This shows one successful way that former prisoners can return to society and out of the costly cycle of crime and incarceration.

For more information visit the San Francisco Gate and The Garden Project.

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EUA – Kansas – Land Institute

by Amanda Suutari

The Land Institute is researching and developing alternative agriculture in the heartland of agribusiness on the US prairies. Because of massive soil erosion, herbicides in waterways, and the overdrawing of the Ogallala aquifer, Land Institute co-founder Wes Jackson says, this region is headed for a collapse on a scale far surpassing that of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. But this imminent but ultimately avoidable catastrophe is not being addressed. The reason is that it is temporarily masked by the subsidized “cheap food policy” which lulls consumers into illusions of food security, and that soil is now eroding not visibly by wind but by water, where it flows into rivers and ends up eventually in the sea, and creates areas like “the dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. As with other groups bucking the industrial model, Jackson and his colleagues are making farms mimic natural systems in this case, suited to the prairie ecosystem made up of polycultures of perennial grasses.

After graduating with a PhD in genetics, Jackson began teaching environmental studies in California State University, but soon became dissatisfied with academia. So he quit his job and went back to his native Kansas with his then-wife, Dana, where they acquired a cow and some chickens and began farming. They decided to form the Land Institute, which would give students an opportunity to learn from direct experience.

The institute continues to evolve, but has kept its commitment to studying the prairie ecosystem and developing methods which reduce the impact on the soil, the need for chemicals, and for fossil-fuel driven machinery like tractors and ploughs. To do this, it developed the concept of “Natural Systems Agriculture.” The ecosystem, as the result of centuries of evolutionary selection for ecosystem function, has the ability to:

  1. maintain or build ecological capital
  2. fix or hold nutrients
  3. is resilient to periodic stress ie. drought or fire, and
  4. can manage its weed/pest/pathogen populations.

Since prairies naturally show a dominance for perennial grasses instead of the annuals like the corn, wheat, barley etc. grown on prairie farms (which together make up 70% of the human diet), the priorities of the Land Institute are to research whether perennials can produce a high yield seed, and if perennial polycultures can match or outyield perennial monocultures. So far, these results seem to be confirmed. A perennial polyculture in the prairies would change farming techniques in several important ways:

  1. permanent root systems would hold and build the soil,
  2. gowing perennials would eliminate the need for annually tilling and planting and reduce the need for fossil fuel-consuming machinery,
  3. diversity would increase resilience and thwart spread of pests, reducing or eliminating the dependence on chemicals.

To further recreate the prairie ecosystem, Jackson has begun keeping bison as they are well-adapted to the prairie landscape.

The Land Institute gives research opportunities to postgraduate students, and its work extends beyond natural to social systems, and links the consolidation and corporatization of farming to the overnight disintegration of community, public health and economies across rural North America.

The concept of “home coming” or reclaiming this rural way of life is part of Natural Systems Agriculture, and events and education in schools are other programs the Land Institute is involved in. The institute is gaining recognition from other researchers who are examining the potential of perennials and testing the approach, and the underlying principles resonate beyond the prairie ecosystem and have attracted interest from other parts of the world. Jackson has written a number of books and has won several awards, including the Right Livelihood Award. His former wife Dana Jackson is now head of the Land Stewardship Project and his daughter, Laura, is a researcher at the University of Iowa.

For more information visit the Land Institute and Audubon Society.

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EUA – Minnesota – Restauración del Lago Rojo

by Regina Gregory

The Red Lake Band of the Chippewa Tribe lives on an 837,000-acre reservation in northern Minnesota, an area about the size of Rhode Island. The band takes its name from the reservation’s Red Lake, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the U.S.

The traditional staple food of the Chippewa is wild rice, which once grew in abundance in the marshes around Red Lake. It is a 5-foot-tall aquatic plant native only to North America. In late August – the Wild Rice Moon – the Chippewa paddled canoes into the marshes to harvest the rice. The harvesting method included knocking some grains back into the lake to sustain future harvests, and leaving some grains on the plants as food for birds.

In the 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began impounding two nearby rivers, the tribe’s major rice-producing areas were destroyed or heavily damaged. Most people on the reservation no longer go “ricing” at all. But the band is trying to restore some of the old rice stands, and has purchased 2,500 acres next to the reservation for a commercial wild rice farm.

Besides making money for the band, the wild rice farm provides critical habitat for a large number of species. Eighteen species of ducks and geese eat wild rice and other plants that grow in the rice paddies. The dense vegetation provides ample nesting sites for bitterns and teals, and when the paddies are drained in late summer, the mudflats serve as stopover areas for godwits, yellowlegs, phalaropes and other shorebirds.

Red Lake also once teemed with fish, in particular walleyes. In 1917 tribal members launched a commercial fishery with gillnets on their portion of the lake, in addition to subsistence fishing. In the portion governed by the state of Minnesota, sport fishing by the general public flourished. Eventually people were taking more fish than the lake could provide, and harvests plummeted.

The Red Lake Band realized the walleye needed time to recover. In 1997 the tribe halted commercial fishing, and in 1998 stopped subsistence and sport fishing as well. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources banned walleye fishing in its portion of the lake in 1999. To augment the natural regeneration process a fish hatchery was established, and between 1999 and 2003 more than 100 million walleye fry were released into the lake.

The fish thrived, and the effort is now known as one of the nation’s most successful freshwater fish recoveries. The lake was reopened to walleye fishing, but in a cautious way to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

For more information see Restoring a Lost Legacy in the National Wildlife Federation’s journal.

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Canadá – Northwest Territories – Invernadero Comunitario Inuvik

by Amanda Suutari

This is a good example of increasing food security and self-sufficiency in a cold climate, as well as other important benefits the project has brought with it.

Inuvik is a town of 3,500 which lies 2 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, between treeless tundra and northern boreal forest. Permafrost and a short and unpredictable growing season limit agricultural possibilities, but between June and August there is 24 hours of sunlight, and so potential to make use of it under the right conditions.

In 1998, the Inuvik Community Garden Association decided to rescue a disused arena and adjacent school which were slated for demolition, with funds it had raised for this purpose. It replaced the walls with glazing and added a second floor, to create what is now the world’s most northerly greenhouse. On the first floor are raised beds for community plots which are reserved and paid for with a nominal annual fee (some of which are provided to elders and other community groups by local businesses), while on the second floor is a commercial nursery which grows bedding plants (starter flowers and vegetables, which are being bought and planted in gardens around town and has improved the aesthetic) and later filled with hydroponic cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables. The building also has space for workshops and gardening classes. The community garden has received funding from businesses and government. Starting in 2000, the project is still young but has begun a composting and town beautification scheme with hanging baskets for the main streets, and window flower boxes for the subsidized housing.

The greenhouse has become a focal point for community development and has attracted a variety of residents from various backgrounds (including indigenous Gwiichin and Inuvialuit) and age groups. There has been an enthusiastic response, with waiting lists growing for plot allotments. While the growing season is short, it is also very intense, with 24-hour sunlight creating an environment for vegetables to grow where they would not normally in the soil. This local availability of fresh food is important here where variety and quantity of fresh, produce is limited. This could reduce the dependence on food grown in distant places, treated by one chemical preservation process or another and imported over long-distance fossil fueled transport.

Benefits/services: social relations, waste treatment, recycling of disused building, food security/options, reduced dependence (during the growing season anyway) on distant food sources.

For more information visit Urban Agriculture Notes.

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Alemania – Bavaria – Neumarkter Lammsbrau

by Amanda Suutari

This is a good example of a brewery’s success in surviving hard economic times and its pioneering efforts to protect the environment, which has influenced the practices of its suppliers. Neumarkter Lammsbrau (NL) is a medium-sized brewery in Bavaria, historically a state with strong beer brewing (and drinking) traditions. It has been a family business for the Ehrnsperger family since 1800, and today has 80 employees under the management of president Franz Ehrnsperger.

At the end of the last century, two things were happening in this region. First, agriculture began intensifying, the environmental impacts of which were especially noticeable on the quality of water, the most essential raw material for beer. Meanwhile, the beer industry was ever becoming concentrated among a few large breweries, which was forcing small – and medium-sized brewers out of business. Larger-scale brewers were intent on quantity and growth at the expense of quality in order to stay “competitive.” Beginning in the 1970s, as Ehrnsperger saw this trend towards consolidation, he made a long-term strategy to ensure the brewery’s survival. This vision included two things: to survive the stiff competition, and to protect the company’s long tradition of quality. The management strategy holistically integrated all stages of the process from cultivation and preservation of raw materials, through all stages of brewing, to the marketing, sale, packaging, and distribution of the end product. The model was created to be dynamic, constantly developing and being improved.

Consideration was given not only to the consumer, but to the suppliers (farmers) and to the brewers (the staff). As the plan was long-term, there was a strategy for step-by-step implementation and room for trial and error. Some elements of the plan include:

  1. Influencing the cultivation methods of suppliers.
  2. Supporting organic farming.
  3. The wise use of resources.
  4. Developing a clean and self-sufficient energy supply.
  5. Influencing other sectors in the region to be more environmentally and socially responsible.

In the beginning, it was very tough, as the whole system was geared away from these goals. In the 1970s, the Neumarkter district had not a single organic farmer. It was generally assumed that chemicals were a necessary evil in agriculture, especially with hops, which are particularly vulnerable to parasites. Meanwhile, the intensive production that breweries were supporting was degrading water sources, whose purity was essential to the brewing process. The brewer hired a consultant, who began to introduce organic farming techniques to suppliers. The company created direct supply contracts with these farmers, which guaranteed them a market for their organic produce. In this way the farmers became partners in the initiative. After a few years the company was able to use all organic materials in its beer. Its achievements:

  1. NL began using natural gas in the brewery, and set a goal by 2000 to switch its fleet of delivery trucks from diesel to vegetable oil (couldn’t verify if achieved or not).
  2. It conducts annual environmental audits.
  3. It established criteria for the brewing of its beer in order to document some standards for an eco-brewing business.
  4. It established an environmental committee which is constantly improving upon its practices.
  5. It is certified under ISO 9001.
  6. The management style is such that employees are also actively involved with the company. Especially in the early days, employees were heavily relied on for their commitment and support to see the company through the necessary changes and trial-and-error process. Staff are informed about developments and participate regularly in training, and are encouraged to offer feedback and suggestions. An eco-library was set up on the premises. Employees take a great deal of pride working for this company and staff turnover is low.

The brewery has distinguished itself from other brewers and created its own ecological niche. Its pioneering practices have won it many awards, it has helped influence other small enterprises in Germany, and its efforts to improve are part of an ongoing process. It is also actively supporting the growth of organic farming in the region. It estimates that each crate of beer produced protects seven square meters of land. This is a model for replication and encouragement to other small enterprises (especially those in the rapidly consolidating food and beer sector) and organic farmers, local pride, and an example of adaptive management within the corporate sector.

For more information visit the UN Division for Sustainable Development.

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Costa Rica – Talamanca – La Iniciativa Talamanca

por Amanda Suutari

Con una población de 35,000 habitantes y un área de 3,000 km cuadrados la región de Talamanca se encuentra en el sureste de Costa Rica, haciendo frontera con Panamá en la costa del Caribe. Aunque socio-económicamente marginada, la zona es rica en biodiversidad y bosques tropicales y cuenta con muchas especies de flora y fauna particulares a la región. El Parque Internacional de la Amistad, patrimonio de la humanidad de la UNESCO, abarca ambos lados de la frontera

Las tasas de deforestación de Costa Rica son de las más altas del mundo. En Talamanca el cacao era la principal fuente de ingreso, pero el monocultivo lo dejo vulnerable a plagas. En 1979 un hongo se extendió como llamarada y acabó con la industria del cultivo del cacao de un día para otro. Los agricultores comenzaron a talar sus tierras para vender maderas, criar ganado y sembrar cultivos de exportación para cubrir las perdidas incurridas en el cacao, lo cual aceleró el deterioro ambiental.

Una ONG local, preocupada por la destrucción de los recursos regionales, comenzó a resucitar las técnicas agrícolas tradicionales y desarrolló proyectos ecoturísticos como una manera de escapar del ciclo insostenible de la creciente degradación. La Asociación ANAI (a la que después se unieron otras dos: APPTA, la Asociación de Pequeños Productores de Talamanca y el CBTC, o Corredor Biológico Talamanca-Caribe) desarrolló un programa llamado “La Iniciativa Talamanca” que simultáneamente promovió la economía y la conservación a nivel local. La iniciativa se basó en algunos principios fundamentales:

  • Desmentir el supuesto conflicto entre conservación y economía.
  • Valorar la participación de lugareños en la protección ambiental.
  • La urgencia de acción inmediata para rescatar los bosques tropicales.
  • El alto valor de los recursos naturales.
  • La necesidad de integrar necesidades ambientales, sociales, económicas y operativas.

Estos principios básicos fueron el motor de las consecuentes labores prácticas, entre estas:

  1. Encontrar alternativas al cacao. Aunque los campesinos sabían que la diversificación era mejor a largo plazo, necesitaban de apoyo y capacitación para hacer la transición. A partir de 1980, ANAI ayudó a implementar sistemas de agrosilvicultura que imitan al bosque natural, y a establecer viveros comunitarios. Lograron cultivar más de 150 especies de plantas frutales, medicinales y especias. Estos viveros unieron a comunidades, permitiéndoles cooperar y compartir información. Entre 1985 y 1990 se plantaron más de dos millones de árboles, tanto maderables como frutales, en predios familiares de la región, lo cual  diversificó enormemente la base de recursos. Al imitar los bosques naturales, se preservaron los insectos y  se mantuvo la salud de los bosques vecinos.
  2. La creación de mercados. Para que la biodiversidad fuera económicamente viable, APPTA ayudó a crear centros de procesamiento (que dan valor agregado a los productos), y a asegurar mercados. Esto se logró solicitando y recibiendo certificados de comercio justo, productos orgánicos y de madera sustentable. El éxito de esta estrategia ha resultado en que más de 1,000 campesinos han implementado “agro-ecosistemas” orgánicos que combinan cultivos de exportación con los de subsistencia. La APPTA es ahora el mayor productor y exportador de productos orgánicos de Centroamérica, con ingresos anuales de US$500,000, que en gran parte son reinvertidos en la economía local por parte de un gran numero de familias campesinas. La demanda por el cacao orgánico ha excedido la demanda, y el programa se ha expandido a países vecinos.
  3. La creación y expansión de redes sociales. A partir de las reuniones semanales de ANAI con agricultores y representantes comunitarios, surgieron otras organizaciones de base. Entre estas, la APPTA (mencionada previamente), un centro regional de comerció, y programas de ahorro y microcréditos a nivel aldea. En la actualidad están involucradas cerca de 20 organizaciones, junto con 1,500 familias y el Ministerio de Ecología y de Energía. La participación incluye a ambos géneros y a varios grupos étnicos (Afro-Caribeños, indígenas y mestizos). El centro de comercio regional lo establecieron residentes de la Reserva Indígena de Talamanca, y su mesa directiva y ejecutivos son lugareños. El centro capacita a cerca de 2,000 personas al año a través de talleres de salud, agricultura, conservación, educación ambiental para niños, y tecnologías apropiadas. Esto ha resultado en un alto nivel de conciencia ambiental entre los residentes de Talamanca.
  4. Ecoturismo. Desde su inicio en 1985, el turismo ha sido, según un informe, una “espada de doble filo”. Aún así, el énfasis ha sido en el control local del turismo; y la creación de instalaciones ecoturísticas (posadas) engendró estándares para otras empresas. En 1988, cerca de 20 asociaciones y empresas se unieron para coordinar el crecimiento de las instalaciones turísticas y de negocios relacionados a éstas. Actualmente hay cinco posadas ecoturísticas, todas de organizaciones comunitarias. Las utilidades benefician directamente a familias en la comunidad que a su vez invierten en empresas familiares. Reciente se estableció un fondo para la conservación al que los miembros contribuirán con un porcentaje de sus ingresos ecoturísticos. Cuando se estableció la Reserva Natural Gandoca Manzanillo en 1985, hubo mucha oposición porque les prohibía explotar el bosque que era su única fuente de ingresos. Hoy en día casi todos los residentes están comprometidos con la defensa de la Reserva debido a que el turismo de naturaleza ha mejorado su nivel de vida.

Los éxitos del proyecto lo hicieron merecedor al premio Equator Initiative de la ONU, y continúa consolidando sus logros y expandiendo sus esfuerzos, por ejemplo con el Corredor Biológico Talamanca-Caribe, así como compartiendo sus experiencias y lecciones con otras áreas.

Para mayores informes visite Television Trust for the Environment.

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Cuba – Agricultura Orgánica y Urbana

por Amanda Suutari

Cuba antes dependía de importaciones de la Unión Soviética para un gran porcentaje de productos básicos como fertilizantes, pesticidas, alimento para ganado y petróleo.  La agricultura era industrializada a gran escala y de monocultivos, muchos de estos para exportación.

Al colapsar la Unión Soviética en 1989, Cuba se hundió en una severa crisis económica, al desplomarse las importaciones de alimentos y otras necesidades como pesticidas y fertilizantes químicos. Dentro de un año el país perdió más del 80% de su comercio internacional, que junto con el embargo Estadounidense, resultó en una crisis de hambre y desnutrición conocida como el “periodo especial” de Cuba. Sin infraestructura, ni combustible para transportar alimentos del campo a las urbes, las ciudades no tenían manera de  alimentarse.

Esta crisis detonó acciones gubernamentales, movilizando recursos para transformar lotes baldíos en granjas y huertos. Distribuyó estos lotes gratuitamente a quien quisiera cultivarlos, y se cambiaron los cultivos de exportación por los de consumo nacional. El gobierno ofreció incentivos para que la gente regresara al campo a trabajar la tierra. En 1993 transformó sus paraestatales agrícolas en UBPC (Unidades Básicas de Producción Cooperativa), cooperativas de trabajadores a las que se entregó el 80% de las tierras del estado, incluyendo las plantaciones de caña de azúcar.

La Habana se convirtió en prioridad para el Programa Nacional Alimenticio, y en 1991, el gobierno comenzó a establecer huertos de investigación y de uso público aprovechando el trabajo colectivo y surtiendo a mercados en toda Cuba. Los agricultores y sus clientes ahora se encontraron en la misma comunidad; y las tierras abandonadas y en desuso generaron empleos, alimentos y barrios más verdes. Tiendas de semillas en cada municipio surtieron además de semillas, herramientas y abono natural junto con asesoría agrícola. Se hizo énfasis en la agricultura orgánica, y en toda Cuba se cambio la agricultura de altos insumos, por métodos autosuficientes y de bajos insumos que combinaban antiguas técnicas con nuevas prácticas orgánicas, por ejemplo:

  • La composta y vermicomposta
  • La mezcla de cultivos
  • La sustitución de fertilizantes artificiales por naturales.
  • La integración del ganado.
  • La rotación de cultivos.
  • La supresión de hierbas y maleza cubriendo el suelo.
  • El incremento en la diversidad de cultivos.
  • La promoción del control natural de plagas.
  • La conservación de agua y tierras.

Se aumentó el número de bueyes para reemplazar tractores ( a falta de combustible, llantas y partes de repuesto). Se crearon centros de investigación para desarrollar técnicas mas sofisticadas, como la vermicomposta, inoculantes de suelos y bioformulaciones. Además se establecieron más de 200 centros de producción de bio-pesticidas administrados por graduados universitarios, y para 1996 los reglamentos de La Habana solo permitían la producción orgánica de alimentos.

Cada cooperativa debía producir una cierta cuota de alimentos básicos para asegurar el abasto del país (incluyendo escuelas, hospitales y asilos). Las cooperativas podían vender el excedente en el mercado, y en 1994 hubo reformas con respecto a los precios con incentivos para disuadir la participación en el mercado negro.

Para 1995 se había superado la crisis alimentaría, y en 1996-97 Cuba logró la mayor cosecha de todos los tiempos para 10 de 13 alimentos básicos de la dieta Cubana. Las hortalizas ahora ocupan aproximadamente entre 3-4% de los predios urbanos (8% en La Habana) cuidados por 18,000 personas, lo cual implica que más de 35,000 hectáreas urbanas son dedicadas a la producción intensa de frutas, verduras y especias.

En el 2002, Cuba produjo 3.2 millones de toneladas de alimentos en hortalizas urbanas, brindando frutas y verduras orgánicas y frescas a la población y mejorando la dieta de los Cubanos. Las hortalizas anexas a escuelas para producir alimentos son más comunes, y la ecología es parte obligatoria del plan de estudios.  La mayoría de las familias rurales producen sus alimentos básicos, entre estos frijoles y tubérculos tradicionales. El interés en la energía sustentable y tecnologías apropiadas ha resultado en centros demostrativos, de investigación y de capacitación así como bibliotecas ambulantes, en toda la isla.

Como es de esperarse, las fuerzas del mercado presentan un reto al futuro del sistema: las granjas urbanas competirán por tierra con desarrollos turísticos (una importante fuente de divisas) y la apertura comercial de Cuba con EUA y otros países podría hacer que Cuba volviera a depender de alimentos importados.

Esta historia comparte algunos elementos con el de las hortalizas urbanas de Nueva York, pero a diferencia trata de un país en vías de desarrollo en una etapa crítica que le presenta la oportunidad de elegir saltarse algunas fases del modelo de desarrollo Occidental. Simultáneamente enfrenta los problemas del desempleo, la seguridad alimenticia, la ecología, la migración urbana, comunidades, reciclaje, un ambiente limpio y la calidad de vida tan carente en muchas urbes de países en vías de desarrollo. También demuestra como Cuba transformó una crisis en una ventaja.

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México – Veracruz y Tabasco – Chinampas

por Amanda Suutari

La evidencia arqueológica demuestra el uso de esta técnica pre-Colombina de cultivo húmedo en lo que es México, Bolivia y Surinam. Sin embargo, fueron los Aztecas quienes desarrollaron y aplicaron el sistema de manera más intensa. Derivado de las palabras Nahuatl “chinamitl” que significa “junco” o “canasta” y “pan” que significa “sobre”, dícese haber surgido del ciclo de inundaciones alternantes que necesitaba de un sistema agrícola que no dependiera de las lluvias. Básicamente son sembradíos elevados que se encontraban en medio de los lagos del Valle de México, donde se cultivaba maíz, fríjol, calabaza, chiles y flores. Eran rectangulares, midiendo entre 2-4 metros de ancho por 20-40 de largo. Se construían con estratos alternados de lodo y vegetación, creando una base porosa por la cual podía fluir el agua. Se aplicaba lodo justo antes de sembrar. Plantaban sauces en las orillas para romper el viento, evitar la erosión, ofrecer sombra, atraer aves e insectos benéficos, y como fuente de leña y material de construcción.

El laberinto de canales entre los sembradíos podía ser navegado por canoas y también brindaba peces, crustáceos y salamandras como fuente de proteína. Para ahorrar espacio, contaban con viveros que utilizaban más eficientemente la tierra, ya que los chiles pasaban la mitad de su periodo de crecimiento en estos, que representaban menos del 2% de las tierras de cultivo. Los tiempos de cosecha y de trasplantación desde los viveros estaban controlados para garantizar una fuente constante de alimentos, y se lograban 2 o 3 cosechas por año. El sistema era una manera eficiente de utilizar la tierra (lo cual explica como los Aztecas pudieron mantener una densidad de población tan alta), y las pocas que sobreviven tienen rendimientos similares a los de técnicas modernas.

El sistema comenzó a colapsarse con la llegada de los Españoles, cuyos antecedentes agrícolas eran muy distintos y quienes no apreciaron la gestión de cuencas necesaria para las chinampas. Los lagos fueron drenados y la urbanización del siglo pasado redujo el área de chinampas a unas 2,300 hectáreas, de las cuales la mitad se cultivan. En 1988 la UNESCO declaro la zona como Patrimonio de la Humanidad, lo cual ha motivado al gobierno Mexicano a rescatarlas, y continúan atrayendo interés como “museo vivo” que brinda lecciones sobre como adaptar estos sistemas de alto rendimiento y bajo impacto en otras zonas. Se calcula que si las chinampas existentes se utilizaran al máximo potencial, podrían satisfacer una cuarta parte de la demanda de verdura fresca de la Ciudad de México.

El ecólogo Arturo Gómez Pompa se involucró hace 30 años a través de un centro de investigación, pensando que aunque el sistema había sido adaptado a los climas y tierras de los altos centrales de México, podía modificarse y transferirse a tierras bajas de clima tropical (donde la evidencia arqueológica apunta hacia la existencia de sistemas similares).

En un experimento, se llevaron agricultores de chinampas a dos regiones, a Veracruz y los pantanos de Tabasco, para construir chinampas experimentales en las ciénegas y lagunas. El propósito no solo era incrementar la autosuficiencia, sino generar empleos y desarrollar alternativas que incrementaran la productividad de estos humedales. En el caso de Tabasco, muchos de los experimentos fallaron y se abandonaron al no poder replicar adecuadamente la chinampa y al ser demasiado desconocidas a los indígenas Chontales tanto los cultivos como la organización necesaria. Sin embargo, algunos ejemplos en Tabasco sí tuvieron éxito y están atrayendo interés. El proyecto más exitoso es una adaptación de la técnica chinampa al huerto Maya conocido como “pet kot”, un pequeño lote de uso mixto con árboles frutales y otros cultivos, que utilizó plantas acuáticas como fertilizante. Esto demuestra que a pesar de que las técnicas desarrolladas bajo condiciones distintas no pueden replicarse ciegamente, siguen siendo modelo para reclamar tierras marginales.

Servicios/beneficios: reducción de pobreza, uso eficiente de la tierra, alto rendimiento y bajo impacto, producción alimenticia, seguridad alimenticia.

Para mayores informes visite esta página en Geocities.

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India – Bengal Occidental – Plantación de Té Makaibari

by Amanda Suutari

The Makaibari Tea Estate is a 140-year-old family-run estate. Located near Kurseong town in Darjeeling, it is different from neighboring estates in various ways. First, of its 673 hectares, only 274 are under cultivation and the rest is forested.

In the past decade, tea production has suffered due to a decline in soil fertility, overuse of chemicals, and landslides. As well, the forest cover in other estates has dramatically been reduced. But the Makaibari Estate has survived the difficulties suffered by other estates because of the approach and methods used, which are based on the philosophy that forest conservation and tea growing are dependent on each other. While tea in the region is generally grown in monocultures, a series of changes came about in the Makaibari approach from 1945. Mulching began to be used on crops, followed in 1971 by permaculture by owner Raja Banerjee, who then in 1991 began applying principles of biodynamic farming as developed and theorized by Austrian Rudolph Steiner (best known for his theories on education). Taking permaculture a step further, biodynamics stresses “living soil,” and the farm as a living organism. As such, a balance of people, plants and animals is important, as are both visible and invisible cosmic forces (such as lunar and celestial phases, with which harvesting, weeding, planting and fertilizing must coincide).

On the estate, tea bushes are part of a larger subtropical rainforest ecosystem, which includes six tiers of plants, local forests, leguminous permanent shade trees, temporary leguminous shade trees, and finally weeds, creepers and ground vegetation. The forest cover helps to protect the tea leaves (much in the way “shade-grown coffee” is grown). Some grasses and herbs also have medicinal properties and act as natural insect repellents. The leguminous plants increase nitrogen content in the soil, and plant cover checks soil erosion and improves soil fertility through organic “green manure” (dead leaves, twigs and other forest litter). Biogas units provide some energy, and every household makes compost with cow dung and kitchen waste, which is sold to the estate, and preparations of which are made and sprayed on bushes.

The tea estate is home to wildlife such as hornbills and many other species of birds, as well as the leopard and barking deer. On the grounds, some 1,500 people live and work, and are taken care of from birth to death. While the local people are divided into clans and have had a long history of violence, they have managed to work together peacefully without friction.

The estate has won various awards such as the Organic Food Award. Its brands of tea are registered with TransFair International as fair trade products, and the estate is a member of the Joint Forest Management Campaign.

For more information visit Infochange.

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