Increasing the availability of and access to appropriate resources and technology

The second major factor to enable the scaling-up of organic agriculture was the need for improved access to organic inputs such as biological pest controls and manure. This was considered crucial by both farmers and institutional professionals and especially in order to turn around the process of soil degradation. By the end of the decade, agrochemicals were becoming increasingly available and were considered by many to be easier to apply and faster acting, albeit more expensive. It was not only input access but also availability, price and delivery that were of concern to farmers. Specific inputs, resources and technologies

Box 9.2 Perceptions and practices of organic agriculture by a pioneer farmer veteran in Havana Province

CPA farmer Ricardo Manuel had first encountered organic agriculture back in 1992 at a seminar heralding the inception of the Cuban organic movement. This approach was not new to Ricardo; it was similar to traditional agriculture that farmers had practised for centuries, whereas he had been encouraged to farm industrially for only four and a half decades. For Ricardo, organic agriculture was about timely planting, field rotations, soil improvement, minimal labour, crop associations, polycultures and enhancement of biodiversity. For him also, industrialized agriculture did not make good economic sense. He explained why he had had enough of this form of agriculture in the context of the Special Period: 'When the camel is in the desert with a long walk and a heavy load, he asks the flea to get off his back.' Why did he have this belief in organic agriculture when other farmers did not? Ricardo responded that 'Those who can believe are those with the most education and knowledge,' and added that 'People change when things start to work against the reality of what they see as being true.'

Ricardo had converted one of the fincas of the CPA to organic, and found that although bio-fertilizers were useful for the transition process they were unnecessary as part of a good ecological system. They were costly, and he found a better alternative to cover the shortfall in the low-yield conversion period was to grow higher-value crops. Owing to his use of green manures and minimum tillage, he had raised soil organic matter content from 0.5 in 1993-94 to pre-industrial levels of 5.0-6.0 by 1999. For pest and disease control, Ricardo did not feel that agrochemicals were completely redundant, but that they tended to focus on the wrong target, and although he had used biological controls during the conversion period, by 1999 these were no longer needed. Yields were now starting to increase as were biodiversity levels, and with rising bird numbers so there were fewer pest outbreaks. Although total yields were increasing, Ricardo pointed out the four-year, cyclical fluctuation in yields that related to weather patterns. To mitigate this cycle, in the difficult years he planted more resistant crops such as sweetpotato and cassava.

More labour had been necessary at the early stage of the conversion, but once the ecological basis was established, after 5-6 years, then labour requirements decreased. Ricardo stressed the importance of the learning process and the time required for this to occur. His farm colleagues were still noticing the differences in quality as regards food flavour and colour, as well as seeing the cost savings of the organic finca. Although Ricardo had never been in formal education, he had learned by 'reading, listening and looking', and now ran training courses on agro-ecology: 'Agronomists especially have to start learning everything through observation: mixing plants of different colours and smells to regulate insects, noticing air currents at different times of the year and wind direction, and the influence of the sun and the moon.' For him, there was a continual learning process between the farmer and nature, and between farmers.

Ricardo felt that integration was the key to sustainable agriculture in Cuba, and health the most important consideration with a balanced production-consumption chain and a balanced diet. His country was forging its own path, based on experience and knowledge, a path that could not be planned as with the industrialized model: 'This requires a slow, step-by-step approach, and the country would be wrong to hope otherwise.'

were identified as necessary in order to increase the use of organic inputs, as follows:

• The timely availability of biological pest and disease control inputs, and improved quality of these inputs including improvements in storage times.

• Availability and quality of green manure seeds.

• Appropriate crop varieties and quality seed.

• Simple receptacles for collecting biological inputs from the CREEs.

• Transport/fuel for travelling to collect inputs, from the CREEs, research centres, livestock farms and so on, and to facilitate farmer seed exchange or crop-livestock integration activities between farms, or to enable on-farm delivery.

• Finances to purchase those inputs that had risen in price, particularly manure, or regulation to maintain low price levels of these inputs.

• Traditional artisans such as blacksmiths, yoke producers and ox-drawn implement makers.

• Refrigerated storage for conserving soil activators such as Azobacter.

• A formalized institutional network for the diffusion of soil fertility inputs, based on the model of the CREEs.3

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