Cuban Scientist Dreams of a Sustainable Farming Community

This is an article about agroecologist Fernando Funes and his farm “Finca Marta”, in Artemisa, where he has implemented sustainable development models of production and society.

By IPS Cuba

Fernando Funes Monzote, in love with science and farming. Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

HAVANA TIMES – Eight years ago, agricultural engineer Fernando Funes put on a hat, some clothes and wellington boots and set out to take science to the land on his “Finca Marta” farm, which now provides work for 15 people. Today, he wants to expand his experience and create a sustainable farming community.

In the Caimito municipality, in the Artemisa province next to Havana, the farm’s staff grow herbs and vegetables on its eight hectares, keep livestock, produce biogas for the house and it also has its own apiary, all of which are eco-friendly practices.

“We have a level of organization, production and ties with markets that has given us experience, we want to duplicate this elsewhere, creating a community and social dynamic, not just a productive one,” Funes explained to IPS Cuba. Funes transformed a plot of land overrun with weeds into an organic farm.

Sustainable farming community

Funes said he not only wants for this farm to grow, but for this experience to be replicated in as many neighboring plots of land as possible, until a sustainable farming community is created in the next few years.

Finca Marta, the seed of a sustainable farming community farming community. Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

There are many models in the world: ecovillages; the Landless Workers’ Movement, in Brazil, and transition towns, in England, for example.

“Every country has a different model. I have seen and visited many of them, and I wanted to take the best of each experience for our community,” Funes admitted, who dedicated 20 years of his life to research and teaching.

He pointed out that this initiative is a united effort of different farms, who hold onto their individuality within the group, with shared goals such as protecting the environment, production, commercialization, agro-tourism, educational activities and research on and the introduction of renewable energy

“It isn’t only centered around production, but everything leads to it indirectly,” Funes explained.

Then, he added that, within this social and economic dynamic, funds and assets generated would also be invested in the community’s entertainment, such as a swimming pool, social center, a store, for example, where not only the communtiy benefits but other locals in the area too.

“We are going to encourage farms belonging to other families and make a social, human connection with them so that we can work together not only on this small space, but in a larger area, so that more people are looking after the environment, producing food and living in the countryside,” he planned.

Further projects

Planting on Terraces at Finca Marta.  Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

However, this isn’t the only project that Funes has in mind, who has been throwing some conceptual ideas about with experts at NGOs such as Cubasolar and the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation, as well as with experts who have worked on issues relating to communities and landscape architecture.

This entrepreneur is also working on proposals such as a fruit and vegetable company, a cooperative of consumers and an app to inform users when products are available and help facilitate food orders.

While he is working hard to bring his projects to life, the 15-person team on his farm are growing some 60 different types of plants, mainly vegetables, which are then sold to thirty-something private restaurants. They also sell honey to the corresponding state company and they receive tourists, via a travel agency, as part of an agro-tourism project.

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12 thoughts on “Cuban Scientist Dreams of a Sustainable Farming Community

  • That Nick is why I mentioned the snake incident (which incidentally was recorded by one of the camera operators who stuck to his position). I learned from it that snakes like the boa constrictor involved, eat seldom and are pretty somnolent, but a TV studio has a lot of very bright powerful lights, and that caused the snake which had been laid along the laps of the front row of the audience, to awaken and take a look around. That was when the trainer and his two assistants, decided to put it back into its big box, with the consequences i described. Once in the dark of the box it decided to snooze – but not before urinating on the hot tiled floor of the studio – I can’t start to describe the stench. But, all the time, the studio audience just sat in their places! The show had to go on and they certainly got their entertainment.
    As you will know, Cuba does have snakes, but all are non-venomous and small, only the crocodiles pose any threat – and fortunately the American ones are only found in the western tip of Guanahacabibes.

  • The agricultural sector is not the only one in which fortunes are made out of the exploitation and abuse of those at the bottom of the pile.
    You are absolutely correct to point out this sad fact Mr MacD.
    And thank you for your bovine insights. It is always good to learn stuff from someone with expertise in their field.

  • The “abuses of staff” are not confined to any particular industry Nick, Exploitation of man by man is part of history world wide. Just don’t label one selected industry!
    Back to the cows! You may be amused to know that many years ago when ITV had a program named “Don’t ask me”, produced in Leeds, a farmer from Shropshire sent in a question asking: “Do cows ever sleep”. He said in typical rural manner, that: “man and boy, I have never seen a cow sleep.” The program had a series of “experts” one was a lady medical doctor who gained fame, another was a Professor of animal husbandry from the University of Edinburgh and it was he who was expected to know the answer. Problem was that he didn’t know. So the Producer contacted a Professor at the University of Nottingham -who happened to be a friend of mine. He too didn’t know the answer, but said he knew a man who would, providing my name and telephone number. Upon ending his conversation with Leeds, he immediately called me, advising that I ought to seek a fee and a visit to Leeds to personally advise his fellow Prof. Within five minutes I had done so! So I travelled First Class by rail to Leeds, staying in a good hotel and attending the preparatory session at the studio to advise the Prof. and attend the actual show in the evening. All very entertaining as the largest snake in captivity (29′ 6″ long}, got loose in the studio with audience present and bit it’s trainer around the thigh. When I expressed my concern to him about the blood seeping through his pants, he gave a fascinating response: “Don’t worry, when they bite, they bite clean.” He and the snake were there because someone had asked if snakes have legs?
    However, back to the cows and the question! Yes, cows do sleep, lying down as they chew the cud (how many times prior to swallowing?), but the problem is that being ruminants with four stomachs, they produce those gases of which you wrote. So within 15 to 20 minutes they have to waken to stretch their necks and burp, or quite simply they would explode. QED.
    Animal behavioural studies are now quite popular and an autistic lady became quite well-known for designing handling facilities to minimize stress – remarkably similar to those I had previously designed, but fortunately not sharing her problem did not attract the interest of the non-agricultural community. As I indicated, I owe much to Nuffield for funding international research into the inter-relationship between cattle and those who tend to their needs.
    One final comment. The world record for milk production is held by a cow named Beecher Arlinda Ellen in Indiana with over 5,600 gallons in one year. The Professor from the University of Indiana who studied Ellen, and I shared platforms on more than one occasion.
    As you may also understand I view those scrub cattle that wander aimlessly around those hundreds of thousands of good agricultural land reverting to bush in Cuba with bemusement. Who if ever, because many appear aged, gets to eat them, ‘cos they sure ain’t providing milk – only methane!

  • Mr MacD,
    I do not dispute your specific comment regarding this European Heavyweight of the agricultural industry. I see that have considerable experience in this industry – your viewpoint comes from having had ‘skin in the game’.
    Given that experience, you will surely be aware of the abuses of staff within the sector. These abuses occur in Europe, The Americas, Asia etc.
    I do not imply that every operator is going to abuse or exploit their staff and I feel sure that a fine fellow such as yourself would most certainly not have been involved in such low practices when you were in this ‘field’.
    However, it is an absolute indisputable fact that abuse and exploitation of those at the bottom of the ladder in this sector goes on. For example I can tell you without absolute 100% certainty that it goes on in the U.K.
    As I say, not all operators abuse. But some of the world’s largest operators have been found to be at fault.
    As an expert in these matters, you will be aware of some of the detrimental effects of over intensive farming methods.
    You introduced the topic of Mercedes and whether their production could be described as ‘crude’. I merely mention one of the historically cruder aspects thereof.
    My knowledge of cows and their sleep is somewhat scant. I believe that they can have a nap whilst standing up ?
    But what do they dream about?
    Maybe some cows dream about grazing on a vast Uber-farm rather than on their humble smallholding ?
    Perhaps they dream about how the grass must surely be greener on the other side ?
    It comes as no surprise that you will see comparisons between Nazis and Communists. I’m sure there are certain comparisons to be found between Nazis and Capitalists too.
    All I can say is that I have Capitalist friends and Communist friends. But no Nazi friends.
    I congratulate you on your fortune Mr MacD. It is good to feel fortunate. Positivity feeds into wellbeing and good health.
    I was in the grand house William Morris’ was fortunate enough to live in as a child (Walthamstow, north-east London) a few weeks ago. It’s now a museum.
    You got good taste in wallpaper Mr MacD.

  • Re-read my comments Nick. I made a factual statement that Europe’s largest non-livestock farming business declined to consider operating in Cuba, the predominant reason being the one I described. Such businesses are well aware that good staff are the key to business success.
    You choose to describe large agricultural businesses as “conglomerates” does that term apply equally to other industries? I entered the agricultural industry seventy years ago. For well over forty years, I was the guy where the buck stopped. In all those years, I never employed what you call “Agricultural Labourers”. I did employ skilled arable, livestock and office staff. As I operated a management training scheme, several former employees moved into management positions. You obviously have a mental image of country yokels chewing “baccy” and oppressed by whip bearing overseers probably derived from either story books or Labour Party Manifestos.
    Folks will continue to drink milk and eat butter and cheese long after both you and I are kicking up the daisies. Do you know whether cows ever sleep?
    Yes, it is common knowledge that Peru is the origin of potatoes and they currently have (from my memory) about 450 varieties. Indeed it was some of those that were used by the lady I described, to further develop her thriving business. Regarding Lord Nuffield, I am a grateful Nuffield Scholar.
    Please don’t try to teach me please about the Nazi history related to the Jewish people. I had two good Jewish friend’s, one who escaped from Berlin and the other from Vienna -but who lost 23 of his relatives in the gas chambers. Also, I actually wrote an well researched article about Nazi history and dictatorship making some comparison’s with that of Fidel Castro and communism, but Circles as is his right, choose not to publish it. If only I could send you copy by e-mail, I would.
    You make the comment Nick that: “We only get one life each.” That makes us the fortunate ones when you do sperm counts. Life is in many ways what we make it. I have been fortunate in having a long one – following my management career I worked as a consultant until my 75th birthday. Despite all the trials and tribulations, I happily think of myself as fortunate.
    Finally, I recall decorating our hall and staircase fifty years ago with the other William Morris’s paper – indicative of recognizing even Socialist talent!

  • Good Gosh Mr MacD,
    You’ve got considerable time on your hands with all this self isolation. I shall do my best address your points in turn. Excuse me if I miss any out.
    Large scale farming conglomerates would most definitely jump at the chance to profit from fertile Cuban soil given the opportunity. Historically and currently, the very last thing that would impede such business would be the welfare of Agricultural Labourers.
    Large scale food production can be done in an intensive or non-intensive way depending on who’s doing it.
    Was William Morris (The Viscount Nuffield Car guy – not the Socialist wallpaper guy) a blacksmith? I thought he was a bicycle repair man. Maybe you refer to someone who fixes bikes as a blacksmith?? And surely his garages were in Oxfordshire not Sussex??
    Cows milk production is hugely polluting (methane) and hugely inefficient and will surely go into decline and gradually get replaced by alternatives such as oat milk and almond milk (themselves questionable in terms of, albeit lesser, environmental impact).
    I’m a big fan of potatoes of all types so their production is welcomed by me in all it’s forms.
    I have even grown them successfully myself.
    You ever been to Peru ?
    The variety of spuds they have there is a real marvel to behold.
    Mercedes Benz have always made great cars – these days they do so without the use of Jewish Slave Labour. Exploiting Jewish Slave Labour was most definitely a ‘crude’ form of production.
    Antibiotics should not be used in livestock production as a matter of course. Should be used sparingly.
    ‘Green Revolution’ ?? Massively controversial.
    Starvation is never a preferable outcome.
    ‘Peasant Farmers’ and Crofters can make their own minds up as far as I’m concerned. It’s their trade-off. We only get one life each.
    Middle Ages? No I don’t think it would be better to return to the Middle Ages coz there would be no internet so I wouldn’t be able to read your insightful and wide ranging comments Mr MacD…..

  • Outsiders will not “jump at the opportunity” to introduce efficient highly productive agriculture into Cuba although that is what is what is required and Cuba itself has demonstrated for sixty years a total incapacity to farm efficiently and productively.
    I say that because Europe’s largest non-livestock business, rejected outright, a suggestion made seven years ago, to make a proposal to the Government of Cuba. Their reason for doing so was that Cuba does not and will not permit overseas businesses to reward employees according to their contribution to the business. The Cuban government describes doing so as “corruption”.
    Agriculture is not a way of life – that is an incidental. It is an industry. There is a misconception that efficiency and high levels of production ought to be described as “intensive” and that that is necessarily bad. Would one apply a similar view to William Morris as originally a blacksmith producing his first car in his workshop, but then developing the Morris Car company at Nuffield and eventually becoming the largest car company in Europe? Should he have just continued producing the odd car in Sussex?
    Is it wrong to have sufficient managerial and investment levels that for example enable four people to house, feed and manage 500 cattle, milking 220 of them per day at an average production of over 1300 gallons per annum and enabling those four staff members to live in comfortable homes of over 1200 sq. ft., to take overseas holidays and to have their children achieving university education?
    Is it wrong to be able to produce celery in southern Spain and to cut, box, chill, transport to the UK and retail in supermarkets with a sell-by date seven days from the date of production?
    Is it wrong for a woman to grow and pick little potatoes, to sell them at a Farmer’s Market in 2lb bags, and twenty one years later to construct a 20 million dollar facility to wash. grade, pack and distribute that product nationwide, creating a demand that necessitates contracting production by over fifty farmers?
    All of that would be described as “crude industrial-scale Intensive agriculture by those who have a false conception of the reality of good agriculture, but hope to eat. All of that is factual and within my personal experience – and I was the one in my professional capacity who made the proposal to that European company,
    Should the production by Daimler of Mercedes cars be described as “crude”? Should antibiotics be abolished, or are they only appropriate for people who would deny them for a sick animal? As ICI and Unilever are dependent upon chemical production, should they be closed down? Was the “green revolution” in Asia a mistake? Would increased starvation have been preferable?
    Is it wrong for those who struggle to exist as peasant farmers or crofters, to forego their independence and way of life, in preference for a higher standard of living by working for others? Or would it be better to revert to the middle ages?

  • Mr MacD, I didn’t in any way suggest that the USA was responsible for good agricultural land reverting to ‘bush’.
    In my comment. Quite the contrary. I laid the blame squarely at the Cuban Government and the way they followed a poor Soviet model.
    Cuba needs to cultivate more of it’s rich and fertile lands. Hopefully this will be done by means other than returning to having its land exploited by outsiders who would jump at the opportunity to introduce a crude industrial-scale intensive farming model.
    The ‘intensive’ farming model is reliant on chemical fertiliser and antibiotics and has little respect for the land it uses. Ideologies are not the best basis for nurturing the land. Neither Capitalist nor Communist.
    If smaller scale production such as that described in this and other articles is multiplied across the island as I suggest, perhaps it would help withstand the potential future land-grab and accompanying onslaught of ‘intensive’ farming methodology.
    In the meantime, the multiplication smaller scale farming would produce more food.
    Producing more food in the meantime sounds like a good idea to me.

  • it isn’t the US that is responsible for all that good agricultural land reverting to bush Nick. In a world where food is in short supply – as demonstrated by Cuba itself, such waste is virtually criminal. Large scale agriculture requires skilled professional management, enthusiastic small scale operators although dedicated don’t possess such abilities. Cuba has those hundreds of thousands of unproductive acres. Folks like Fernando Funes Monzote do not possess the necessary management skills. Divide 800,000 acres by 18 (the equivalent of Fernando’s 8 hectares) and the result is that you need forty four thousand people with his skills and to equate with his 15 workers, six hundred and sixty thousand workers. I am not belittling Fernando’s endeavors, I wish him continued success, but to suggest that his methods are the solution to Cuba’s agricultural problems is unrealistic. But I would agree that Cuba does have at least six hundred and sixty thousand under-employed or unemployed. Productive work is a not commonplace.

  • This ‘constructive agricultural endeavour’ would absolutely remedy the problems at hand if it were rolled out on a large scale basis.
    This would get away from the ineffectual imitation of the initially poor Soviet model. A bad imitation of a bad model is double-bad. However, the Soviets did indisputably improve on their initially bad model. If the Cubans had modelled their bad model on the Soviet’s improved model, then the Cuban model may have been better than their disastrously f***ed up current model.
    That is, if anyone is still following me……
    The very worst outcome, which anyone with the even the most slender interest in Cuba as an entity would fear, would be that the fertile lands of the Pearl of the Caribbean were once again prostituted to the venal, cut-throat interests of the ultra-capitalist northern neighbours…….

  • A constructive horticultural endeavour, providing work. This type of project will not however remedy the problem of the hundreds of thousands of acres of good agricultural land lying fallow and reverting to bush. That requires farming in scale. Cuba has so many underemployed and unemployed, that with appropriate management, it could provide much higher food production, thus reducing its current dependence upon imports.

  • This is exactly what is required.
    This should be replicated throughout the island.

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