An article in the journal “Ecological Economics” entitled, “Urban gardens, agriculture, and water management: Sources of resilience for long-term food security in cities” states the following:

“Large cities mainly feed themselves by global food systems relying on fossil fuels to sequester foodstuffs from the farthest reaches of the planet, often with detrimental environmental impacts.  While such high global connectivity between cities and remote food supplies can decrease cities’ vulnerability to food shortages and build resilience during medium-severe crises, sudden severances of supply lines – that for instance peak oil scenarios threatens to levy – pose major threats to urban food security.”

Is the U.S. Vulnerable to a Food Crisis?

The U.S. is becoming increasingly reliant on imported foods

  •  According to the USDA,  from 1998-2007 seafood imports rose from $6.8 billion to $10.7 billion, fruit and nuts from $5.5 billion to $13.8 billion, vegetables and vegetable products from $3.4 billion to $6.9 billion, and processed grain products (bakery items, breads, cookies, pasta, etc) rose from $1.4 billion to $3.6 billion.

Agriculture and Oil Dependency

  • In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American.  Agricultural energy consumption is broken down as follows:
    -31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer
    -19% for the operation of field machinery
    -16% for transportation
    -13% for irrigation
    -8% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)
    -5% for crop drying
    -5% for pesticide production
    -8% miscellaneous
  • The U.S. imported over 60% of its oil in 2007.

Oil Imports to the U.S.

Cuba – A lesson in food resiliency

The Crisis

  • Cuba, up until 1989, relied heavily on importing food from the Soviet Union.  57% of the food that fed Cuba was provided by the Soviet Union.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba’s main food source disappeared almost instantly.
  • Food shortages started to occur.  Studies indicate that food availability dropped by approximately 60% between 1991 and 1995 leading to rationing (Novo, M. G., & Murphy, C. 2000).

The Response

“In September 1993, the Cuban Government issued Law No. 142, breaking up the majority of large state farms into Basic Units of Production (Unidades Basicas de Produccion Cooperativa (UBPCs), small collectives owned and managed by the workers.  Law No. 142 aims to connect the workers to the land, encouraging a concrete feeling of responsibility, to make the collective of workers and their families self-sufficient, to connect income directly to the degree of productivity and to increase autonomy of governance” (Novo, M. G., & Murphy, C. 2000).

Strong element of government support

The Cuban government created the Urban Agriculture Department.  Laws were changed to ease the regulations around “land-use”.  Gardeners had priority for all unused space.

Training and Education – Extension Teams

Each municipality has an “extension team”.  This team is responsible for becoming agriculture experts in the areas in which they are working.  They convey knowledge, work on solutions to issues unique to the area in which they are working, as well as facilitate the distribution of land to potential farmers.

Material Provisions – Tiendas Agricolas

“Agriculture stores” – 26 of them can be found in Havanna.  They provide any materials needed to facilitate farming (gardening tools, seeds, saplings).


The soil is Havana is not conducive to farming.  It is clay-like and lacks much organic matter.  Instead of planting directly into the ground, Cubans use a system of urban farming called, Organoponicos, or systems of raised beds.  The raised beds are filled with soil and organic compost material more suitable for farming.

The Result

Increased Food Production

Over 87,000 acres of land is currently being used for agricultural production in Havana.  In addition to vegetables,  Cuba produces 7.5 million eggs and 3650 tons of meat. There are over 8000 gardens in Cuba.

Table 1. Annual production of vegetables in Havana
Year Thousands of metric tons
1997 20.7
1998 49.9
1999 62.6
2000 120.1
2001 132.2
2002 188.6
2003 253.8
2004 264.9
2005 272.0

Job Creation

The urban agriculture workforce in Havana has grown from 9,000 in 1999 to 44,000 in 2007.  Employee pay is based on the profitability of each cooperative unit.  However, the wages of most workers are higher than most state employees.

Works Cited

Novo, M. G., & Murphy, C. (2000). Urban agriculture in the city of Havana: A popular response to a crisis. Bakker N., Dubbeling M., Gündel S., Sabel-Koshella U., de Zeeuw H. Growing cities, growing food. Urban agriculture on the policy agenda. Feldafing, Germany: Zentralstelle für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (ZEL), 329-346.


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