PERMACULTURE IN CUBA

Designing sustainability

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Part I | Introduction

In the current circumstances of environmental crises constantly threatening humanity, it is not strange to meet those who seek an answer in technological advances. While these facilitate our lives, they can often create new dangers for our health and the planet — as the voracious agrochemical industry has shown, for example. However, some of the most effective remedies that we need in order to mitigate negative environmental impacts are closer, cheaper and far more feasible than what we would normally assume.

The biggest challenge is a radical transformation of thought that will allow us to reimagine our relationship with nature, living harmoniously with and within it. This is the purpose of permaculture, a life philosophy of subsisting by working with natural cycles and potentiating human and nature's wellbeing. Regarding food production, it promotes a method of land management that aims to make agricultural practices more consistent with the natural dynamics of the planet.

Permaculture focuses on human habitat design and farming methods which mimic the relationships found in the patterns of nature. Its central axes are food production, energy supply, landscape design and the organisation of (infra) social structures. It also integrates renewable energies and the implementation of resources recycling, benefitting ecological, economic, and social levels.

This movement promotes the sustainable use of space, self-sufficiency in food and energy production, and the rational use of available resources. In permaculture, our formulas are not fixed, but rather promote the adaptation and design of spaces according to the context. After all, sustainability is more than a motto, it is a lifestyle.

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Item 1 of 2

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Part II | The Cuban Context

Permaculture is a movement with an increasing number of followers in Cuba. Its principles are being employed in a variety of contexts, including 40-hectare farms and even apartments in Old Havana or Centro Havana. These systems make the most unexpected scenarios generate food, raise the quality of life for families and allow energy savings: a green roof can lower a room’s temperature by up to 3 degrees! The potentialities, as well as the achievements and challenges of this practice, were underlined in the keynote address of the engineer and permaculturist María Caridad Cruz Hernández, during the Encounter Conservation of Biological Biodiversity in Cuba 2020, at the University of Havana.

María Caridad Cruz Hernández, a member of the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (FANJ), pointed out how permaculture (permanent + culture) came from Australia to Cuba with the needs imposed by the period of economic crisis during the nineties. In 2012, some groups started to gain prominence. Today, there are more than 28 permaculture groups throughout our territory. Through courses and exchange meetings sponsored by FANJ, the main promoter of permaculture in Cuba, this network is very articulated and has generated significant development in small and large communities alike.

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

“The most effective work in promoting permaculture is from person to person: those who are practicing permaculture show others the results they are having, because the main idea is sustainability at the local level”, explains Cruz Hernández. “If there is a group of people interested in training, they can contact the Foundation directly or through our offices in the different provinces of the country.”

Cuban society needs these actions to reduce energy consumption and increase the availability of food products in the country, as well as the treatment of soils and the rational use of water — especially in the context of a harsh economic crisis, worsened by the United States' embargo and the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Agroecological production, through recycling techniques such as composting and dry toilets, has allowed some communities to guarantee the availability of healthy food for the population. Personal benefits are also added for those who develop these practices. The set of values promoted by permacultural practices can bring us closer to “mother nature”, encouraging us to work with and never against her.

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Item 1 of 8

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Photo: Abel Durán (Ramaviva Project)

Part III | Change of mentality


In Cuba, notable permaculture experiences can be found in places like Baracoa, Santiago de Cuba, Sancti Spíritus, Matanzas and Havana. But can permacultural practices be scaled up and sustain the nutritional needs at the national level in Cuba and elsewhere? “I think so”, says a FANJ's Local Development Officer. “You can always make better use of space, by coming up with the right designs and strategies. In Cuba, 75% of the population live in urban spaces, hence the importance of a design in the form of a system.”

When improving the energy efficiency of households, for example, it is common for permaculturists to break down walls to achieve natural ventilation and lighting. “This is key to reducing energy expenditure. That is why, above all, a permacultural approach takes a change of mentality and a lot of will for transformation.”

Although it tends to be confused with urban agriculture, permaculture presents considerable differences regarding concepts of system integration, nature and social life. “In permaculture, we speak of food forests”, she clarifies. There are designs in which nature can simply be and grow on its own, even in the tiny space of a balcony in crowded Old Havana.


Ysabel Muñoz Martínez
Environmental activist, Chevening Scholar, MLitt. Environment, Culture and Communication and former journalist at the Conservator’s Office of Trinidad

The project Farming for the future: ecological agriculture and food security in the 21st century is a cross-border initiative aiming to document the trends, challenges and opportunities in ecological farming across the world. This project was financed by the UK Chevening Scholarship Programme.