Welcome to Alamar
This was a big exciting day as we were taking a trip to visit a working organopónico! This meant an earlier start than normal as we were driving out to Organopónico Alamar which is one of the largest and most famous organopónicos in Cuba. The site itself is situated in Alamar which is a small town on the Eastern outskirts of Havana with 27,000 inhabitants in the immediate community and 50,000 more in the outlying areas.
The organopónico was founded as a co-operative by four local men in 1997 and now extends to around 10 acres in total. Our visit began with one of the founders giving us an introduction to the history of the site before handing over to one of the growers, who was also a qualified agroecological engineer, to show us around. I do not know if it was a coincidence of all the people I had happened to meet, but once again both men spoke in absolute pride and positivity about their country and their community. A direct contrast to the impressions given by the British and American press that most Cubans are tired of Fidel and the socialist regime. It was also fascinating to hear their take upon co-operatives and how they function in reality in Cuba.
After our introduction we were taken on a tour of the whole site, which can be described as nothing less than exceptional. Here’s an outline of what we saw:
- A semi-protected cultivation house where plug plants are brought on before being moved outside.
- A processing plant for making natural fertilizers and insecticides as well as breeding natural predators like ladybirds.
- Literally acres and acres of beautifully cultivated land made up of a variety of raised beds and beds cultivating the soil directly.
- Semi-protected cultivation houses for growing crops like cucumbers.
- A huge area for making compost and substrates, including worm compost.
- A preservation room teaching and practicing the preservation of fresh produce.
- A large nursery and shop selling ornamental plants.
- A punto de venta where local people could buy freshly grown produce at low, low prices.
The whole place was an absolute revelation – especially when you look around the borders of the site, see the surrounding flats and are reminded that it is right in the middle of an urban neighbourhood. That really is placing food at the heart of a community!
After our visit to Alamar we headed back to INIFAT for a session on bio-fertilisers and bio-insecticides. This is one aspect of Cuban urban agricultural practice that I do struggle with. It is a subject that Cuba has done a great deal of research about alongside genetic engineering, although the research into genetic engineering appears to have dropped off a great deal in recent years. Their interests in the subject appear to be twofold. Firstly they have a genuine belief that these methodologies will play an important part in the future of agriculture on the island. The second motivation is that they need access to the hard currency that they can get when they sell the products that they have created overseas. I have to admit this is the first seminar I took part in where I had significant qualms or questions about any of the work that the Cubans are doing. Although all of these products originate from a natural source I do have to question the long term-validity of their semi-industrial production. I also feel there is a lack of research into the long-term impact of releasing this type of product into the natural environment. In my opinion I am much more convinced by an organic system that does not make use of this kind of industrially produced product.