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Soil conservation in Cuba: A key to the new model for agriculture


Most aspects of agriculture in Cuba prior to 1989 were comparable to California: a high energy input, conventional agriculture (based on what the Cubans now call the “classical model”) in which little was done to protect the nation's soils from erosion, loss of fertility, salinization, and other forms of degradation. In stark contrast the new “Alternative Model,” which has been rapidly replacing the previous model since 1989, emphasizes soil conservation and rehabilitation and the general improvement of the nation's soils as the key to sustaining low-input production and attainment of food security. One of the first steps in implementing the new model was the launching of an ambitious program to reclassify, evaluate, and map the nation's soils in great detail, and to interpret the maps for management of sustainable production. A main feature of this program is coordinated fertility trials to determine, for each combination of crop and soil, the minimum quantity of plant nutrients needed to produce the crop. The build up and maintenance of soil fertility and productivity is being accomplished with various organic and mineral amendments and biofertilizers, produced or mined within the country (locally, where possible) and through rational management utilizing cover crops, green manures, crop successions (intercropping and rotations), and other appropriate technologies. Rehabilitation of degraded soils, tillage reduction, reforestation, vermiculture, vermicomposting, and other forms of waste cycling are other features of the new model that are important to soil conservation and maintenance for sustainable production.

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Additional information

Paul L. Gersper is Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management (Soil Science), and Director, International Visitors Program, College of Natural Resources, University of California at Berkeley. In recent years his research and teaching have focused on sustainable agriculture and rural development, emphasizing soil resource evaluation and utilization of organic amendments, following many years of focusing on soil-plant interactions in natural ecosystems.

Carmen S. Rodríguez-Barbosa is a doctoral candidate in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan. Her research is on political ecology and agroecology.

Laura F. Orlando is Executive Director of the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems in Boston, Massachusetts. She is currently working on technology development and pollution prevention projects with local governments and nongovernmental organizations in Latin America

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Gersper, P.L., Rodríguez-Barbosa, C.S. & Orlando, L.F. Soil conservation in Cuba: A key to the new model for agriculture. Agric Hum Values 10, 16–23 (1993).

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  • Food Security
  • Soil Fertility
  • Cover Crop
  • Green Manure
  • Soil Conservation