Resistance & Resilience: Responses to the Climate Crisis from Cuba & Puerto Rico Session 3: Agrifood Systems

Panelist Ana Elisa Pérez-Quintero relates lessons learned in resiliency from running an agroecological farm in Vieques PR.
January 11, 2021

The third session of the ongoing series Resistance & Resilience: Responses to the Climate Crisis from Cuba & Puerto Rico focused on local, just, and resilient agrifood systems on the islands, how expertise in this field is being understood and utilized to withstand the growing impacts of climate change, and how it is serving as a means of reclamation and restoration in the face of neoliberalism, neo-colonialism, and a 60 year blockade against Cuba.  

The panel brought in expertise from farmers, communities, researchers, and governments from the ground as represented by:  

  • Giraldo Martín Martín of the Pasture & Forage Experimental Station Indio Hatuey, Cuba.  
  • Sonia Alvarez Pineada and Luis Vazquez of the Cuban Association of Agronomists & Foresters (ACTAF), Cuba. 
  • Ana Elisa Pérez-Quintero of the La Colemana Cimmarona, Vieques, Puerto Rico.  
  • Georges Felix Center for Agroecology, Water, & Resilience, Coventry University, from Puerto Rico.

The session was moderated by Margarita Fernández, Executive Director of the Caribbean Agroecology Institute & Coordinator of the Cuba-US Agroecology Network, an alumna who earned her M.S. from Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (now Yale School of the Environment) and Ph.D. in Agroecology from the University of Vermont 

Participants marked just and resilient agrifood systems, like agroecology, as a shift away from industrial monoculture agriculture and export-oriented farmland use, a hallmark of many Caribbean islands for centuries and a key driver of the climate crisis. On Puerto Rico alone, it is estimated that more than 80% of food is imported, while the majority of its farms are directed to exporting crops. Participants cited this disconnect as one of the underlying drivers of food insecurity in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Aside from the human health costs, the sustainability of conventional practices was also called into question due to the intensity of needed inputs, like fertilizers and irrigation, as well as to their increased susceptibility to the effects of severe weather events brought about by climate change.  

Embracing agroecology as a solution instead of as a marginalized alternative approach, participants implement and promote practices such as crop rotations, increasing plant biodiversity, utilization of cover crops, and stepping away from industrial fertilizers as priorities and principles of agroecology. Cuba has many lessons to share with the world from their experiences transitioning to a more sustainable agrifood system, as necessitated by “The Special Period” of the early 90s, when it was forced to innovate in the absence of most industrial agricultural components. Also notable were innovations in the recycling of organic matter and waste in some Cuban farming examples, which have led to the novel creation of small-scale energy production, in the form of biodigestors, for the use of methane in powering households.  

The different political dynamics within the two archipelagos was a recurring theme throughout the dialogue. On the one hand Cuba, with a very present and active state apparatus, prioritizes facilitating research and work in the field of agroecology as a necessary response to the challenges of both economic sanctions and climate change. On the other hand, Puerto Rico, largely absent of government intervention, is embracing agroecology through a uniquely grassroots approach, building upon individual and collaborative endeavors to implement change across the islands. Participants from both Cuba and Puerto Rico underscored the importance of  establishing strong networks of farmers to share best practices and to provide insights and support as a means to build social and ecological resistance and resilience. They share recognition of the role of farmer-to-farmer relationships and support in ensuring food sovereignty, security, and sustainability in islands on the frontlines of climate change.


Written by Devin Osborne, Yale School of the Environment, MEM 21