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.

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

  • April 6, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    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!

  • April 5, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    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…..

  • April 5, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    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?

  • April 5, 2020 at 12:48 am

    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.

  • April 4, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    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.

  • April 4, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    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…….

  • April 4, 2020 at 10:39 am

    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.

  • April 3, 2020 at 6:10 pm

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

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