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Reflection on Sustainable Agriculture course in Cuba

In June’s E-Canopy we shared a story of the first OTS course in Cuba, Sustainable Agriculture.  The course provided a wide overview of the state-of-the-art of Cuban agriculture. Currently, Cuba is a world leader in sustainable agriculture.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, confronting extreme scarcity of agricultural inputs and energy, the country was forced to develop cutting-edge agricultural inputs and re-shape their production strategies to feed its population. 

Sustainable Agriculture aims to make agriculture more environmentally sound (including mitigation and adaptation to climate change), and more socially just, and economically viable. This implies making changes in system design and management, and ensuring real possibilities for farmers, especially in developing countries located in tropical regions, while enhancing food security and protecting the environment.

We are sharing a note we received from one of the students who participated in the course.  This student reflects on the importance of field-based research and courses, and how she plans to implement her experience with her future career in forestry.

Dear Dr. Babbar,

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you my invaluable experience participating in the course on sustainable agriculture in Cuba this past May 2017.

For two weeks, I traveled around Cuba with the Organization for Tropical Studies, as a participant in their first-ever short field course on sustainable agriculture in the country.  Due to the nation’s unique history and periods of hardship and scarcity, the Cuban people have created some truly ingenious techniques for producing their own organic fertilizers and other inputs, for making use of any and all resources within their reach, and for using their land to its maximum potential.  Throughout our two-week journey, our international group of students and professors met with various Cuban farmers, researchers, and inventors every day who taught us about different aspects of the agroecology movement that now defines so much of Cuban agriculture.  Through the conversations we had with these remarkable people, and the hands-on field practice we used to explore certain agricultural techniques, I learned more than I ever could’ve hoped about new ways to approach food production.  Many of the methods and philosophies we discussed also apply to land use in a broad context, not solely to agriculture, and I hope to be able to put them to use in my work.

Though the focus of the trip was not to study forestry, I discovered that Cubans inherently use trees on their farms in many different ways, and view trees as integral parts of a farm’s ecosystem.  One farmer in particular, Sr. Correa, understood that trees can be a valuable long-term investment in the land and in his family’s future.  Using this mindset, he created a highly productive system pairing shade-grown coffee with valuable timber trees that would be useful in many coffee-producing regions around the world.  This is exactly the kind of creative and intelligent blend of multiple land uses that I hope to employ in my career, so it was wonderful to see this practice in person.

In addition to learning about sustainable agriculture issues in Cuba, the connections I made with international researchers and experts through the context of this course are also very valuable to me.  This provided me with the unique opportunity to interact with scientists on the forefront of developing agroecological land use techniques, and expanding my exposure and professional network this way will be beneficial for my future career.
Overall, this course greatly enriched my understanding of the challenges we face in feeding our growing population, and I’m very glad to have witnessed Cuba’s solutions to these issues first hand. Part of my trip was funded by a scholarship from the Organization for Tropical Studies.  I am extremely grateful for my wonderful experience in Cuba made possible by your funding, and I look forward to further investigating the concepts I learned from the course as I explore ways to make the blend of forests and food a more common global practice.

Thank you!

Kendall D.

Last Updated ( 07/13/17 )
Organization for Tropical Studies
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