Cultivating Local Leaders

Food security is a serious problem in Cuba. For decades the island’s agriculture was almost entirely based on sugar cane production, and because of the US embargo, its economy depended on massive exports to the Soviet Union. When the USSR collapsed, so did the precarious situation, and the government struggled to meet the population’s minimum needs. One of its successful coping strategies has been to develop urban agriculture.

Since 2009, Slow Food has been running a ‘train-the-trainer’ food education project with two communities on the island: first in Itabo, 90 kilometers from Havana, and then in Barrio Pogolotti, the capital’s first working class neighborhood, named after the Italian who developed it a hundred years ago. Since 2012 the project has also involved the municipality of Marianao, in the province of Havana.

The activities are run by the Proyecto Comunitario Conservación de Alimentos (community project for food conservation), a member of the Terra Madre network since 2004, and provide training on nutrition and sustainable cultivation of vegetables, fruits and herbs for home consumption. The seminars focus on organic production and the best techniques for obtaining abundant, high-quality harvests using limited resources.

Course participants are also provided with materials to help them go out and train other members of the community, so that the benefits can be spread and shared as widely as possible.

Though simple, this concept can have a very powerful impact in a country that imports 80 percent of its food needs. “After taking part in the 2006 and 2008 editions of Terra Madre in Turin, we realized how much the work we do with producers and children is in line with the Slow Food philosophy,” explains José Lama, the director of Proyecto Comunitario Conservación de Alimentos. “We’re all working for a better diet, for social justice and for food production that respects the environment and people.”

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