Cuban farmers are increasingly adopting ecological farming methods as the U.S. trade embargo continues to restrict the country's access to chemical fertilizers in the international market.
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Without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, Odrey Orta harvests more than a dozen different crops at his five-hectare eco-farm Ayala, located in Guines, a town some 45 km east of the capital Havana.
"We grow, plant and harvest plantain, sweet potato, cassava and corn as well as different fruits, including mango, guava and coconut," the 59-year-old farmer said.
His daughter Meliza Orta, 23, has also joined the family business and spends between four to six hours a day at the farm since her graduation from a veterinary technician program.
"This is something that improves our family's earnings," she said, adding "we abide by environmentally-friendly techniques."
The U.S. blockade has cost Cuba US$154.2 billion since 1962 when it was first imposed. But Cuba is undergoing a gradual economic recovery amid tightened U.S. economic sanctions.
According to Cuba's National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), there are some 1,500 eco-farms in the country's 15 provinces and the Isle of Youth. In the province of Mayabeque, 58 rural families compose the Humberto Hernandez agricultural cooperative, which grows vegetables and produce for their local community.
"We had a small plot of land, which has been turned into a very productive farm. Now people come here to buy pumpkin, plantain and garlic," cooperative director Omar Hernandez said.
The Cuban government continues to implement a package of 63 measures approved in April 2021 to spur national food production. Katia Hidalgo, a senior expert at the Institute of Animal Science, said eco-farming contributes significantly to the sustainability of Cuban agriculture.
By eco-farming, farmers are not only less dependent on imported fertilizers but also "more aware of the necessity to live in harmony with nature," she said.
Rolando Garcia, national director of international cooperation at ANAP, believes eco-farming plays a key role in Cuban economy. "Eco-farming is essential to the development of agriculture and food security," he said. "Cuban eco-farmers play a fundamental role nowadays."