CUBA is no stranger to change, despite seemingly being stuck in time. After more than 50 years of political and economic isolation from the United States, the two countries have begun to normalize relations. This presents new opportunities and new challenges.
During the Cold War, Cuba was politically aligned with the Soviet Union. While under a trade embargo from the United States, subsidized oil and chemical inputs from the Soviet Bloc put the small island nation on a path toward industrial agriculture and oil-based development.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cubans found themselves experiencing what many observers have called "simulated peak oil." That is, they had to rapidly adjust to a world where oil and chemicals no longer flowed freely. More than 25 years later, cars and tractors are relatively scarce in Cuba and most farming is done organically, by hand. That, along with a history of low-impact tourism and strong environmental regulation, means that many of Cuba's sensitive ecosystems remain intact.
In responding to ever-changing global dynamics, this small island nation has quietly become a world leader in urban farming, agroecology and ecosystem management. They are also testing new economic models that seek to work within the confines of a finite natural resource base while addressing social equality.
Now, as talks between the US and Cuba have begun, Cuba must once again adapt. US industrial agribusiness firms are eager to access Cuba's land, labor and markets. This will bring welcome change for many, but it also threatens to undermine the human-scale food systems and pristine ecosystems that now set Cuba apart from the rest of the world.
VCI envisions a future where Cuba's innovations over the past 25 years become the foundation for its future development, and for other countries seeking an alternative economic model.