Farming like we're here to stay : the mixed farming alternative for Cuba

F.R. Funes Monzote

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Keywords: Crop-livestock, agro-diversity, mixed farming, dairy production, agro-ecological indicators, sustainability, energy efficiency, local development, Cuba

Specialization, as opposed to diversification, and export orientation have been historically the basis for patterns of dependence on external inputs and centralized decision-making in the Cuban agricultural model. Low autonomy in farmers’ decision-making (centrally-planned collective farms), scarcity of production inputs and extensive areas of abandoned land on the one hand, and increasing food imports on the other, are threatening sustainable development in the country. However, small farmers and an emergent sector of land tenants under a usufruct system are showing that food for the Cuban population can be produced efficiently and sustainably at home. These small-scale producers, cultivating about 25% of the available agricultural land, generate more than 65% of domestic food production, putting increasing pressure on the collective sector.
Over the last 15 years, agro-biodiversity and food self-sufficiency have been officially recognized as drivers for increasing productivity and autonomy in decision making. The economic crisis that started in 1990 in Cuba had a strong negative impact on agriculture, but at the same time created conditions for emergence of a new model strongly based on principles of organic agriculture and agro-ecology. Various alternative systems, aimed at sustainable development, were developed during that period, but most of these lacked an integrative perspective on farming system development and followed an input substitution scheme in which high-input industrial practices were substituted by low input agro-ecological ones. Conversion from specialized (monoculture) farming systems into mixed (diversified) farming systems is considered by that model to be an effective step towards implementation of sustainable practices in agriculture. Thus, the current research is aimed at filling some of the conceptual, practical and methodological gaps that constrain a comprehensive transition from specialized dairy farming systems to mixed crop-livestock systems at farm and regional levels. For that purpose a methodological framework was tested for evaluating, monitoring, comparing, analysing and designing land use management strategies for the conversion of specialized dairy farming systems into mixed crop-livestock farming systems.
Our results show that in comparing different systems, the issue is not simply one of high or low input, specialization or diversification, but that farming system-specific characteristics and the way in which inputs and agro-diversity are interrelated and managed also are at stake. We found that even in low external input agriculture, when comparing specialized and mixed farming systems, the latter achieved higher levels of food production and higher energy and protein production, as a result of more efficient use of natural resources available on farm (or locally). The unique position of the Cuban agricultural sector, both nationally and internationally, provides a context in which these results are highly relevant. High oil prices, climate change and high prices for food in the international markets, combined with national awareness of the necessity to substitute food imports for nationally grown food, as well as a recent government decision to make all unproductive land available for cultivation, open a wide spectrum of possibilities for adoption of alternative technologies. Diversification, decentralization, and movement towards food self-sufficiency are major trends in Cuban agriculture. However, these trends must be translated into systematic and consistent policies to ensure reliable and sustainable production, as well as agriculture’s contribution to a viable economy. Therefore, changes in Cuban agriculture should be driven by conscientious and scientifically-based policies.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van Keulen, Herman, Promotor
  • Lantinga, Egbert, Co-promotor
Award date14 Oct 2008
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789085049791
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • mixed farming
  • multiple land use
  • farming systems
  • biodiversity
  • use efficiency
  • sustainability
  • development
  • dairy farming
  • cuba
  • agroecology
  • agroecosystems

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