Urban Agriculture in Action: Cuba

When talking to people about local food production, I’m constantly asked whether I have seen the film about Cuba and local food production. Well yes I have, and I’d consider it one of the most important things to watch if you want to get a feel for how we (the West that is) may have to change our production systems in the face of Peak Oil. It’s called the Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil, and you can watch it on Google Video.


To summarise, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba had to cope with a sudden drop of imports of fossil fuel, fertilisers and other commodities. This “special period” meant that organic farming became the norm, people were trained to use permaculture principles in urban areas and the amount of food produced locally increased dramatically (well it had to really). The changes took several years and were facilitated due to the fact the government could give anyone who wanted it some land to grow on.

It’s a great positive video to watch, and I imagine the hardships endured by the population and the issues are a little more complex than we have seen. Unfortunately I have not yet found any recent statistics about how much organic produce is being grown over there. I’d also like to see some academic papers on yields achieved.

This idea of localised food production fits in with the whole idea of localisation of economies and communities. This is something which the Transition people have been pushing for a while arguing correctly that Peak Oil and Climate Change will make this sort of thing happen and we need to prepare for it. I’ve just read “Localisation as a response to peak oil and climate change – a sympathetic critique” by Peter North of Liverpool University. It contains a good overview of current issues, I found it’s opened a lot of new ideas for me to think about when thinking specifically about food production. For instance he argues that the “Transition” is being slightly naive about overthrowing the system without politics (although looking at today’s share prices the economic systems might just self-implode) something which I’ve seen other people mentioning recently.

The Thesis

M3 Back to London

So after months of idle and carefree travelling around hamlets, farms and towns of the we decided to head back to the big bad city (well my parents house) a couple of weeks early so I could get on with my thesis. The original plan was to get it done before Christmas but then during travelling I thought that I could intermit and get everything done after the travels. But after a wet September in Scotland I decided I wanted to get home, get warm and get writing!

Well it wasn’t quite that easy to sit down infront of a computer and “get writing”. It’s been about 10 days since we were back and I think I’m now in the position to actual start reading and researching. The bulk of the time has been spent sorting University accounts out, filing paperwork and erm, redesigning this website. Well I wanted to keep track of where my research was heading through the website so others can use the information, so I don’t feel bad at all about spending some time on it.

I’ve also finally got my laptop sync-ed with the desktop using the fabulous dropbox which basically keeps a folder sync-ed between multiple computers and all the files are available on the web too – handy if you aren’t at home and need to read a document. Actually I might make a page of all the tools I’ve used so far (such as google docs, zotero etc) to help keep me organised.

I’ve also started twittering but that’s mainly as I’m fed up with facebook but I did like seeing what everyone was doing.  When If I leave facebook It’ll be an easy way to keep in touch with people hopefully.

So the thesis. Well it’s about local food production, mainly looking at the suburbs of cities rather than the inner city or rural areas. My idea is that houses in these areas tend to have larger gardens and some more open space for growing but at the same time people tend to travel more than those in urban areas to shops, school and work. So their environmental footprint may be bigger. I want to do some surveys and mapping (I’m not 100% sure on my primary research at the moment) to see if this is the case and how much food could be produced.

Luckily there are quite a few initiatives around the country looking into localisation (or producing, living and consuming more locally), including of course Transition Towns. There are plenty of books on the subject (thats another idea a book list!) and many government documents which I can comment on once I’ve read them. Also helpfully I’ve got a couple of theses from ex-students at CAT so I can expand/improve on their work hopefully.

So it’s going to be a bit of a stressful battle over the next 12 11 weeks. I’ve at least got a deadline of Christmas Eve, so by then I can be drinking mulled wine and eating a mince pie with the satisfied feeling of having written 15,000 words on something (hopefully) interesting. And in the knowledge that I can head of to Europe and beyond without having to worry about it.

But for now, I’d better get reading….