NOTE: While a variety of organizational models exist, including the truly independent farmer who is not a member of a cooperative, this report will only discuss the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC), Agricultural Production Cooperative or CPA, and the Credit and Service Cooperative or CCS.
Small farmers working on privately owned farms and in cooperatives have made major contributions to the successful implementation of agroecology in the countryside.
In order to understand the importance of small farms in Cuba today, some background is necessary.
In September 1993, the Cuban government unveiled a major reorganization of agriculture, restructuring state farms as private cooperatives. At the time, Fidel Castro said, “The state has not had success in the large farm business.”
The new farms (which now make up the largest sector in Cuban agriculture) were called UBPCs or Basic Units of Cooperative Production. Policy change was based on a growing perception that smaller farms would be more easily managed and better able to take on the sustainable agriculture practices that now seemed necessary.
Reorganization was meant to promote decentralized decision-making regarding production that would, at the same time, allow centralized planning in areas of biological diversity, pest control, and water and other resource management.
Still in operation today, UBPCs (like Maniabo in Las Tunas) are smaller than the previous state farms. They are also member-owned and member-managed. The cooperative, not the state, owns production, and the cooperative member’s earnings are based on his or her share of the cooperative’s income. The UBPC also owns buildings and farm equipment, purchased from the government at discounted prices with long-term, low interest loans (4 percent).
The greatest structural difference between UBPCs and the other farms that we will discuss is that the state retains ownership of the land, leasing it on a long-term basis, rent-free. Also, most UBPCs produce sugar. They are given quotas for sugar production, limiting any other crops that they might produce. Therefore, they have little to sell in the agricultural markets, a fact which restricts their options and their income.
In addition to UBPCs, the breakup of large state farms has freed large plots of land for other types of use, and the government has turned over land to both private farmers and agricultural cooperatives.
Today, the private sector occupies a central place in agricultural production.
Agricultural Production Cooperatives or CPAs are the traditional revolutionary form of cooperative production in Cuba. They were first created 20 to 30 years ago by farmers who voluntarily chose to unite their private individual lands and resources in order to attain increased production along with marketing and economic efficiency.
Although for some time the CPAs were of minimal importance, they began to rebound in the early 1990s as new members joined, drawn to farming by the advantages of rural cooperative life with respect to income, access to affordable food, and housing.
CPAs served as models for the creation of UBPCs since their yields have been greater than those of the state farms. Internal organization is similar to that of UBPCs, but their management techniques tend to be more advanced and, as noted above, they own their own land.
The Credit and Service Cooperative (CCS) is an association of small landowners who own and manage individual plots, joining with other small farmers to receive credit and services from state agencies. They may also share certain machinery and equipment and, thus, are able to take advantage of economies of scale for certain activities.
CCS members purchase inputs and sell products at fixed prices through state agencies, based on production plans and contracts established with the state distribution system. Any production above and beyond the contracted quantity may be sold in farmers’ markets at free market prices. These small farmers have been the most productive sector in Cuban agriculture, outperforming both agricultural cooperatives (CPAs) and UBPCs.
CCS farmers also have higher incomes than members of other cooperatives. Because these small farmers produce more with less, the National Association of Small Producers (ANAP) began a program in 1998 to strengthen the business side of the co-ops. They are now able to open bank accounts, hire administrators and market representatives, and negotiate credit.
In addition to the Maniabo UBPC discussed earlier, I was able to tour both CPAs and CCSs.
Site Visits: I visited two independent family farms in Sancti Spiritus. The first was on a steep hillside on land given to the owner during an agrarian reform after the revolution. The second had been the property of the owner’s grandfather. Thus, it had been in the family for a substantial period of time. Both farms used agroecological principles. However, the two farms were not equally prosperous. Although it was clear that there were vast differences in CCSs, both farmers were clearly proud of the work that they were doing, and proud of the contribution they were making to agroecology in Cuba.
The first impression upon arrival was of precautions taken against the spread of disease. Before entering the farm area, the soles of my feet and my hands were treated with a chloride solution.
The eighteen year old farm was worked by three family members. It had been organic for nine years. The owners had altered their farming methodology because they were achieving inadequate yields under the ‘old’ system. The landscape is inhospitable, marked by steep landscapes and erosion.
Yet the owner is proud of the integrated planting of crops, including pumpkin, maize, and beans. The small organiponic produces vegetables and herbs for family use – plantains, yucca, rice, corn, and coffee.
The farm also produces nine kinds of fruit as well as both fowl and cattle (for both milk and beef).
Impressively, the farmers were working under hardship conditions having had only one third normal rainfall for the year. They had a well which reached down eight meters and was used for irrigation.
This farm, established in 1888 by the owner’s grandfather, was a family farm worked by seven individuals.
The seven hectare farm raised four crops including tobacco, had pasture land, raised fruits, and contained forestry. It was not totally agroecological as this technology is not possible with tobacco.
It did practice crop rotation, as well as raising herbs for green medicine, and providing bat fertilizer. The firm also practiced biodynamic farming, a type of farming based on the cycles of the moon.
The small farmer on privately owned land has become the backbone of Cuba’s agroecological movement. He is more efficient and more productive than either UBPCs or state farms. He is also more prosperous than most other Cuban workers.
Photographs by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe