At present, Cuba is reaping the benefits of organic farming. Of central importance is an understanding of natural systems of fertilisation and pest control in place of synthetic chemicals. "In the past three years, Cuba has used only 22 per cent of the pesticides it used in 1989," said Luis Garcia, head of Havana University's department of agro-ecology.

Cuba's transformation to organic techniques did not arise - contrary to the case in Europe and North America - from the luxury of consumer concerns with the health and environmental effects of conventional agriculture. It has been a state-motivated conversion stemming from the need to avert a general food crisis. Many families - not restricted to rural areas - till paddy by the roadside. In Havana alone, some 30,000 families have converted gardens into mini-farms since 1991.

In the outskirts of Havana, the Cuban Association of Organic Agriculture (ACAO) now runs mixed livestock and crop trials. Fernando Furies, director of ACAO, explains that the overall aim of the association is to develop systems suitable to provide enough nutrition for the family of an average Cuban campesino (small farmer) on a three-hectare plot of land.

"Because many farmers now have the freedom to farm individually, the production of organic food has risen exponentially and since 1993, 42 per cent of rice is now farmed organically," claimed Furies.

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