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Cuba’s Urban Gardens – The Other Side of the Coin

Cuba’s Urban Gardens: The Other Side of the Coin
October 14, 2014
Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES – To expand on my previous post dealing with Cuba’s urban
vegetable gardens, or organoponicos, I would like to share a number of
thoughts on the main health risks stemming from urban or semi-urban
agriculture.

I would like to say beforehand that, despite these criticisms, I
consider this agricultural model far less harmful than
technologically-intensive forms of extensive agriculture, whose
environmental impact has been catastrophic (as the so-called “Green
Revolution” that began in the mid-20th century clearly demonstrated).

Urban and semi-urban agriculture can have both positive and negative
effects on human health and environmental conditions. The most
significant impact may be the contamination of crops with pathogens such
as bacteria, protozoa or viruses, resulting from irrigation using
contaminated water or sewage that has not been adequately processed, or
owing to solid organic residues.

These residues are commonly made up of household or market waste
products, sewage, human excrement, manure and agro-industrial residues
which are occasionally used to improve soil quality.

It is true that, in Cuba’s case, the greater part of solid organic
residues come from the work done within the urban garden itself, but
this does not exclude the possibility that other residues are used.

Composting is the recommended way of processing urban organic residues.
This isn’t always done, or it is done incorrectly. The result is that
pathogens are not eliminated and that rodents and insects that can carry
disease are drawn to the site.

The presence of non-degradable materials can also cause those who work
in these places injuries and infections. Pollution with heavy metals can
also result from the mixing of organic materials with industrial waste.

Another negative effect of these practices is contamination with
residues from agro-chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and
fungicides. As a general rule, these types of substances are barred at
urban vegetable gardens, but, the fact of the matter is that they are
used in Havana, particularly as a pest-control mechanism.

That fact alone could suffice to discredit the program as a whole, but
it is done in secret, in order to guarantee greater productivity and
thanks to the way these gardens operate outside community control.

The fact these gardens are not integrated into the community makes it
next to impossible for them to obtain residues that can be used as
nutrients from surrounding homes or industry.

In addition, the risk of contamination by agro-chemical residues,
polluted water or solid organic residues grows exponentially in the
cases of urban gardens located close to garbage dump-sites.

The notorious case of Cuba’s largest dumpsite, located on 100 St, in
Havana’s neighborhood of Marianao, is illustrative of this. Its residues
have affected nearly all surrounding crops, both at urban vegetable
gardens and traditional croplands.

Under these types of conditions, as in those in which crops are close to
highways, contamination through the absorption of heavy metals found in
soils, air or water, is a dangerous risk.

Only the community’s real involvement in the handling of such spaces
could guarantee the efficient protection of crops against the many
contaminating agents out there. Cuba, however, has merely created more
State establishments, akin to rationed product points, where vegetables
are simply sold, and, to top things off, in a manner subordinate to the
inefficient Ministry of Agriculture.

In general, customers only demand a good supply of products and
affordable prices, and do not concern themselves with the quality of the
production process, those who work there or the harmlessness of the product.

They are helpless consumers, exactly what the system has produced.

I don’t want to conclude without first restating my position on this.
The “Green Revolution” brought considerable storage problems, excessive
seed and complementary technology costs, technological dependence, the
loss of traditional crops and the appearance of new plagues, all the
while leading to mega-projects in which individuals ceased being farmers
to become countryside laborers.

At the other end of the spectrum, ecological agriculture, of which urban
and semi-urban agriculture and organoponics are part, is aimed at the
reduction of urban food insecurity, greater access to food products,
improved diets for the low-income population, better physical and
psychological health, improved hygienic conditions and broader green
spaces in people’s immediate surroundings.

Let us prevent the State from once again destroying a viable option.
Let’s make it our option.

Source: Cuba’s Urban Gardens: The Other Side of the Coin – Havana
Times.org – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=106725

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