How would you interpret this case study by Sinan Koont: Sustainable Urban Agriculture in Cuba ?
Emir İnanç
1

That’s a good question. I’d say that it’s actually the complete opposite of self-organisation, by definition, because from what I can gather this was very much a government-led initiative. And it would have to be, because essentially this is going back to small-plot quasi-subsistence farming, and there’s a very good reason that hasn’t taken on in the “west” or any market based economy: because small farming is just awful in terms of economies of scale compared with a mid-scale or large scale farm (which isn’t to say that large-scale corporate farms aren’t often run in a manner awful for the environment). The book seems to be quite clear that the initiative was forced upon Cuba by necessity too, in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moreover, it would have been illegal for Cubans to market their produce for profit. To be sure, the Cubans had some license over how they managed their particular plot, but that’s not the same as self-organisation of an economy, because beyond that plot they would have been strictly controlled by the government in what they could do with the produce. So my suggestion would be that this wasn’t a self-organisational phenomena, it was a State led directive in response to a crisis.

Now of course, the book seems to sell this as a great success story. Urban food production increased hugely. But that’s definitionally true if you’re coming from a base of zero. It’s also claimed that that contributed to better nutritional outcomes. Again, that’s not too hard if large chunks of the population have been experiencing famine. The real question would be if Cubans are producing more and feeding as well by this scheme than under a different scheme like allowing large-scale farming for profit. Even allowing for any potential corporatist skullduggery I find it really hard to believe that it would be.

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