Institutional support for urban agriculture

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The support system for urban agriculture, along with the production system it served, was seen by many in the 1990s as the potential vanguard for a nationwide organic agricultural system. The sector was regulated and directed by the National Urban Agriculture Group (GNAU), comprising individuals from scientific and government institutions as well as urban farmers, and covering 26 sub-programmes (GNAU, 2000). Objectives and targets for these sub-programmes, which were for implementation throughout the country, are shown in Box 5.1. Urban agriculture was not only for larger cities; any conurbation from small villages upwards was obligated to have urban production of some sort.

In Havana Province, the Department of Urban Agriculture employed 292 workers, including 12-14 specialists within each of 13 municipalities. Each region had a Municipal Urban Farm Enterprise, which coordinated production, research and extension activities and networks (Ojeda, 1999). Details of the achievements of urban agriculture were regularly published in the national newspaper, Granma, and this publicity was used to encourage improvement. In each of the municipal people's councils was placed a qualified extensionist who liaised with farmers to develop demand-driven research programmes. Havana City had 67 such extensionists in 1998. INIFAT played a key role in coordinating urban agricultural research, which included, for example, the development of strategies for testing, evaluating and producing commercial quantities of bio-inputs (Wilson and Harris, 1996). The people's councils also

Box 5.1 Objectives of the National Urban Agriculture Programme, 2001

• To apply 10kg/m2 of organic material per year to organoponicos and intensive gardens, and a minimum of 20t/ha on plots and patios.

• To regularly revise the sources of organic material in the municipality and at the level of people's councils.

• To create optimal conditions for the breeding of worms.

• To popularise and implement vermiculture at the level of each unit of agricultural production.

• To improve the recycling and use of urban waste.

• To link the teaching of agronomy and animal husbandry at different levels with productive urban agriculture practices.

• To achieve links with producers and each of the following: agricultural polytechnics and animal husbandry institutes, university faculties and scientific institutions.

• To raise the agro-ecological awareness of the population in environmental education while maintaining high quality production.

Source: González Novo and Merzthal, 2002

assisted with services such as veterinary clinics, farmers' shops, nurseries and CREEs (Companioni et al, 2002).

All inputs, such as seeds and seedlings, biological pesticides, accessories and tools, could be purchased in municipal shops (such as the casa de semillas, house of seeds, or tienda del productor, farmer's shop). These shops were staffed by qualified technicians who also provided free technical advice on the use of organic inputs. Those farm units which followed the recommendations provided could be eligible for municipal support for equipment. Specific advice on soil fertility was also provided by provincial and municipal Organic Fertilizer Reference Centres. Twelve cooperatives3 in Havana collected and processed organic material and distributed it across the city (González Novo and Merzthal, 2002), and in 1998 a project commenced to create worm compost production centres in each province, with the eventual aim to have one in each municipality. An urban seed-savers' network was developed by the Cuban NGO - The Foundation for Nature and Humanity Antonio Núñez Jimenez (FANJ). This network aimed to conserve and use locally adapted varieties, using reliable producers to multiply seeds which were then distributed to other producers. The Foundation also produced a low-priced and widely available gardening booklet on permaculture methods entitled 'Se Puede!' (It's Possible!) (Weaver, 1997).

A substantial amount of retraining was undertaken, of departmental staff, heads of farm enterprises, and practical on-farm training. According to one researcher, each urban producer was going on an average of four training courses a year. The knowledge base was, however, low; an evaluation of the needs of urban agriculture in 1996 (Wilson and Harris) noted a lack of understanding of the purposes behind the techniques being promoted. Urban agriculture was monitored through a set of indicators that enabled improvements in sustainability. During the 1990s, limiting factors to production were identified as a general lack of resources, technical production constraints, theft of produce, and insufficient training for non-specialist growers (Chaplowe, 1996; Wilson and Harris, 1996; Miedema and Trinks, 1998).

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