Cuban Home Gardens and Their Role in Social–Ecological Resilience

Abstract

Cuba’s political and economic isolation in today’s globalised world demands constant adaptation by its inhabitants. The Cubans’ capacity to adapt increases their ability to cope with change and to reshape local ecological and social systems, creating a more resilient system. Worldwide, home gardens are a community’s most adaptable and accessible land resource and are an important component in reducing vulnerability and ensuring food security. The role of Cuban home gardens in relation to political change and economic crisis was investigated in Trinidad de Cuba using standard ethnobotanical research methods. Major events, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic crisis as well as frequently changing Cuban policies on agriculture, food security, religious freedom and healthcare, have had an impact on household decision-making, influencing home garden composition and management. Social networking surrounding home garden produce plays an essential part in the continuous adaptation to change, aiming to increase a diversity of resources and strategies, hence resilience.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The Soviet bloc consisted of the Soviet Union and its allies in Central and Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania.

  2. 2.

    Further tightened in 1992 (Torricelli legislation) and in 1995/6 (Helms-Burton Act) (Nieto 2001; Suchlicki 2002).

  3. 3.

    Cuban agriculture was faced with an initial drop of about 70 percent in the availability of fertilizers and pesticides, and more than 50 percent drop in fuel and other energy sources produced by petroleum (Rosset 2001).

  4. 4.

    Farmers markets and private home ownership.

  5. 5.

    Indigenous knowledge: ‘local, orally transmitted, a consequence of practical engagement reinforced by experience, empirical rather than theoretical, repetitive, fluid and negotiable, shared but asymmetrically distributed, largely functional, and embedded in a more encompassing cultural matrix’ (Ellen 1998: 238).

  6. 6.

    The average size of a tropical home garden is usually much less than a hectare (Fernandes and Nair 1990; Howard 2006).

  7. 7.

    Home gardens may also harbour threatened animal species, but the focus here lies on plant diversity only.

  8. 8.

    ‘Wild’ is used here to describe plants growing spontaneously without active cultivation practices; these plants may have been cultivated before, escaped the garden boundaries or may be growing in fallow areas, etc. Here, the term ‘wild’ does not refer to genetic definitions.

  9. 9.

    ‘Food’ includes also use as drink and/or use as spice.

  10. 10.

    (1 CUP = 0,03530 € on 30.05.2006).

  11. 11.

    ‘Wild’ refers here to species collected from secondary forests and old swidden fallows or other sites that are not continuously cultivated or part of an agricultural programme.

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Acknowledgements

Research was funded by the Ernest-Thornton-Smith Travelling Scholarship awarded through the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. This research would not have been possible without the generous support of the homegarden owners in Trinidad de Cuba. I would like to thank Dr. Rajindra K. Puri (Kent University, UK) and Prof. Patricia Howard (Wageningen University, The Netherlands) for scientific support during research. I thank Prof. Christian Vogl (University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Austria) and Rebecka Milestadt (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden) for comments on previous versions of this article. I am also grateful to two anonymous referees for helpful reviews.

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Buchmann, C. Cuban Home Gardens and Their Role in Social–Ecological Resilience. Hum Ecol 37, 705 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-009-9283-9

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Keywords

  • Cuba
  • Resilience
  • Home gardens
  • Socio-ecological systems
  • Adaptation
  • Social networks
  • Economic crisis