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Urban Farming to Tackle Global Food Crisis

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world’s population is becoming more urban by the day. By 2030, some five billion people around the world will live in cities. This year is the tipping point: urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) now outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report). 

But with rising food prices across the globe, many city-dwellers are experiencing hunger and real hardship. On international commodity markets, food prices have gone up 54 percent over the last year, with cereal prices soaring 92 percent (FAO – World Food Situation). While living in an urban environment means living cheek-by-jowl with other people, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to grow food and supplement urban dwellers’ tight budgets and boost diets.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people undernourished (FAO). But one solution, urban farming, can make a huge difference, as the Caribbean island of Cuba has shown.

Today, Cuba imports about 50 percent of its minimum fuel and food requirements – a cost that reached US $1.6 billion last year for food. (Reuters). The island has been buffeted by one food crisis after another in the past two decades, first by the collapse of its aid from the Soviet Union, and then by a fuel crisis. But now, urban farming in Cuba provides most of the country’s vegetables, thanks to urban gardens that have sprung up on abandoned land in the country’s cities and towns. And the food is pesticide-free: 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs on the island are organic (http://www.soilassociation.org/web/sa/saweb.nsf/Living/ whatisorganic.html).

These urban farms mean fresh food is just a short walk away from the people who eat it. And in a world of rising fuel prices, Cuba has reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food.

The urban farms have created 350,000 jobs that pay better than most government jobs. It has also improved Cuban’s health: many have moved from diets dominated by rice and beans and imported canned goods from Eastern Europe, to fresh vegetables and fruits.

While Cubans receive at least a basic state ration of rice, beans and cooking oil, the rations do not include fresh fruit and vegetables. After the withdrawal of Soviet subsidies, the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake fell sharply. Between 1989 and 1993, daily calorie intake dropped from 3,004 to 2,323 (UN). But with the growth of urban farms, this has moved up to 3,547 calories a day – even higher than the amount recommended for Americans by the US government.

The secret to this success has been the rise of entrepreneurs like Miladis Bouza, a 48-year-old former research biologist who had to abandon a comfortable middle class life after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her government salary dropped to US $3 a month. Unable to make ends meet and provide food for her family, she quit her job.

The Cuban government allowed people to turn unused urban land into mini farms. The cities have many vacant lots because the state owns most land and there isn’t competition from private developers, as in many other countries. Unusually for communist Cuba, 80 percent of the profits are kept by the farmers. This can be an average wage of US $71 per month.

“Those salaries are higher than doctors, than lawyers,” Roberto Perez, an agronomist who runs the country’s first urban farm, told The Associated Press. “The more they produce, the more they make. That’s fundamental to get high productivity.”

Miladis grabbed this opportunity to farm a half-acre plot near her home in Havana. Along with her husband, she grows tomatoes, sweet potatoes and spinach, and sells the vegetables at a stall on nearby busy street. This has enabled her monthly income to rise to between US $100 per month and US $250 per month, far more than the average government salary of US $19 per month.

Cuba was inspired by greenbelt farms in Shanghai (http://en.shac.gov.cn/hjgl/jqgk/t20030805_82028.htm): but Cuba has gone even further to make urban farming a key part of the national food supply.

All this urban farming is also all-natural farming. Farms have had to turn to natural compost as fertilizer, and natural pesticides like strong-smelling celery to ward off insects.

So-called organoponicos (http://academicos.cualtos.udg.mx/Pecuarios/ PagWebEP/Lecturas/ORGANOPONICOS.htm ) gather together a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. Customers are offered mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

“Nobody used to eat vegetables,” said David Leon, 50, buying two pounds of Swiss chard at a Havana organoponico. “People’s nutrition has improved a lot. It’s a lot healthier. And it tastes good.”

Published: June 2008

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Havana’s Restaurant Boom Augers in New Age of Entrepreneurs

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Cuba, the Caribbean island nation known for its 1959 revolution and its tourism industry, is undergoing a shift in its economic strategy. The country has had heavy state control of its industries and business activities since the country adopted the official policy of state socialism and joined the Communist economic sphere headed by the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, Cuba was pitched into an economic crisis as it lost access to preferential trade subsidies. This period is known as the ‘Special Period’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Period) and was marked by a severe reduction in access to fuel as supplies and subsidies from the Soviet Union disappeared. Some of the iconic images of the time include people abandoning their cars and turning to bicycles to get around, or using make-shift truck-buses packed with workers. Exports collapsed and slashed the size of the economy by a third.

Fast-forward to today, and tourism is booming. A record 2.7 million tourists went to Cuba in 2011, earning the country US $2.3 billion. And it is catering to this tourism market that probably offers the best near-term opportunities. With wages still just 50 per cent of what they were in 1989 many are taking up this new opportunity to become entrepreneurs.

To become an entrepreneur, Cubans need to apply for a pink identification card with their name and photo and the words “Autorizacion Para Ejercer el Trabajo por Cuenta Propria.” This gives authority “to work for your own account.” With the card, a person can start a business, hire staff and pay them what they like.

Cuba’s economy has been through many phases since the revolution, swinging between loosening up the ability of people to establish private businesses – and pulling back, restricting private enterprise. But since 2008, there has been a significant shift to encouraging greater private enterprise, entrepreneurship and the ownership of private property – once banned – to stimulate the economy.

“This is the most important thing to happen in Cuba since the revolution in 1959,” Juan Triana, senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Cuban Economy at Havana University, told The Sunday Times Magazine.

One visible sign of this change is the flourishing of what is called locally ‘paladar’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paladar), or privately run restaurants.

Paladares are usually located in a person’s home and staffed by family members. Their customers are a mix of tourists, expatriates living in Cuba, and Cubans with a high enough income to be able to afford restaurant meals.

The cost of a meal in these restaurants can run from US $40 to US $60 for two people.

Stocking the kitchen is not easy. Cuba experiences food shortages and there is still rationing for many. Basics like eggs can be hard to find. As for exotic, imported ingredients, many chefs rely on visitors to stock their larders.

Cuba will have to re-build its food sector to make this a lasting improvement.

The agriculture sector has declined and, where Cuba once provided a third of the world’s sugar harvest, the country now has to import half of its food supply. Measures are in the works to change this, with smallholder farmers now able to own 165 acres of land and sell their produce to private customers and hotels.

One restaurant owner, Héctor Higuera Martinez, told The New York Times:“You dream up a recipe that you’d like to make but then you can’t find the ingredients.

“One day you go out to get salt and there’s no salt. And I mean no salt,Anywhere.”

Martinez trained with a well-known Cuban chef and did a stint in Paris before returning to Havana. He has turned a 19th-century mansion into the restaurant Le Chansonnier (http://www.cubajunky. com/havana/restaurant_le_chansonnier.html) and decorated the walls with the work of local artists.

Martinez sees the paladares as a turning point in changing Cuba’s reputation for having boring food. “I believe we can play an important role in revolutionizing Cuban cuisine.”

Cuba is making the difficult shift from having an economy where 80 per cent of activity is in the state sector, to a mixed model balanced between private and public ownership.

Havana’s historic district offers tourists renovated colonial architecture mixed with shops, restaurants and bars. As a tourist strolls from the renovated district, they quickly come across the rest of Havana, which has beautiful buildings from the colonial period, 1950s American-influenced architecture with its fading retro signage, and more utilitarian Soviet-era architecture.

While charming and home to most of the city’s residents, much of it is rundown and crowded and in need of investment and renovation.

But things are changing fast. Oyaki Curbelo and Cedric Fernando use spices brought in by visitors for Bollywood, their restaurant in the Nuevo Vedado area (http://cubantripadvisor.com/destinations/havana-cityoutskirts/bollywood-paladar/). It has a small menu of Indian and Sri Lankan dishes, including shrimp curry with ginger and tamarind. The restaurant sources its curry leaves from a tree located in the Sri Lankan Embassy.

Another restaurant, Atelier (http://www.cubaabsolutely.com/articles/travel/article_travel.php?landa=70),located in a mansion in the Vedado neighbourhood, serves European Continental food and has a roof terrace letting diners enjoy the a view of the Havana skyline.

The restaurant Doña Eutimia (https://www.facebook.com/paladardona.eutimia) serves up Cuban favourites off the Cathedral Square. Specialties include a dish made of shredded beef with garlic, tomato, oregano and bay leaves.

At Vistamer (http://www.stay.com/havana/restaurant/4249/paladar-vistamar/),diners can enjoy garlic-laden lobster tails and lemon meringue pie. At the paladar Café Laurent (http://www.cubaabsolutely.com/articles/travel/article_travel.php?landa=71), the menu includes meatballs with sesame seeds and mustard in red-wine and tarragon sauce, according to The New York Times.

Habana Chef in the Vedado district (http://cubantripadvisor.com/destinations/havana-city-outskirts/habana-chefpaladar/) was started by Joel Begue and chef Ivan Rodriguez. Begue gained his experience in the state restaurant sector and took the opportunity to get a licence when the government offered them in 2011. He borrowed US $25,000 to start the restaurant and has been able to pay back half so far. His current success is prompting him to look into opening a second restaurant in the capital.

An enthusiastic Andrew Macdonald, who is looking for investment opportunities for a half a billion dollar fund held by the Escencia Anglo-Cuban firm, told The Sunday Times magazine, “Cuba is the top emerging tourism market in the Caribbean by a mile, and it’s in the top five emerging markets globally.”

Published: May 2012

Resources

1) Advice on starting a restaurant and links to additional resources. Website: runarestaurant.co.uk

2) How to start a restaurant: From Entrepreneur magazine, a guide to the planning required to start a successful restaurant. Website: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/73384

3) AlaMesa: A directory of restaurants in Cuba. Website: alamesacuba.com

4) Southern Innovator: Youth and Entrepreneurship Issue: The new global magazine is launching its second issue and is packed with innovative entrepreneurs and youth using business to tackle poverty. Website: http://www.scribd.com/doc/86451057/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-2

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Rammed-Earth Houses: China Shows how to Improve and Respect Traditional Homes

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

(Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The pace of change across the South has been blistering. Over the past decade, the overall population has moved from being primarily rural to majority urban. In the process, rural communities have suffered, as they have seen their young and ambitious leave in droves seeking a better life in cities.

More than 200 million Chinese farmers have moved to cities in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Chinese farms are tiny, with the average rural household farming just 0.6 hectares. And incomes are low compared to the cost of living: average annual income was just US$606 in 2007, a third of city salaries.

But it is possible to improve the quality of life in rural areas and in turn boost economic fortunes.

In China, projects that upgrade homes to modern standards while respecting traditional designs and architecture are breathing new life into rural communities. A return to the age-old technique of using earth as the principal building material is saving energy and keeping house costs low.

The tradition of packing earth to build a wall dates back to some of the earliest stretches of the Great Wall of China in 220 BC.

Currently it is estimated that half the world’s population-approximately 3 billion people on six continents – lives or works in buildings constructed of earth.

This traditional building technique is being used in the reconstruction effort to build new homes after the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The earthquake left millions of people homeless in the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years, and has made low-cost but efficient house building critical.

In western China, villages have been entirely rebuilt from scratch. The application of research and science to the traditional designs – roofs in the pagoda style, with buildings arranged around courtyards – enabled the development of homes that are energy efficient to run, and are more hygienic and earthquake safe. In Yongren County of Yunnan Province, over 7,000 mountain dwellers were moved to better farming land and over 2,000 homes were built in the new village of BaLaWu. Over 30 of the homes were built using rammed earth by the Xi-an team. 

“The original homes had very low living quality,” said team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (http://www.xauat.edu.cn/jdeg/about.html), which oversees building of the new homes. “The architecture layout of the indoor space and courtyard was not reasonable. In the courtyard the areas for living, raising livestock, storing and processing crops were mixed up. The indoor environment was not comfortable. It was cold in the houses during winter and hot during summer. Most of the rooms lacked natural lighting and were dark in the daytime.

“In the poor areas, many people still live in earth houses because of the low cost. However, most of the earth houses have low living quality.

“After we finished the project, through our design, the living quality was improved very much. The dwellers were satisfied with their new houses.”

Land reform in China has brought more hope to the country’s 750 million rural poor, many of whom live on less than US$1 a day. It is hoped that giving the rural poor more control over their lives will bring an improvement in agricultural production, food security and economic prosperity. Reforms also mean the poor have more secure land rights.

Hu said gaining the trust and buy-in of the villagers was critical to the success of the project.

“We built the first home as a demonstration. After we finished, the villagers could experience the advantages of the new home. Most of them decided to use our design and they could choose the one they liked from several proposals.”

Poverty is a big problem in the villages. Incomes are very low, at 2000 RMB per year (US $290). Hu said “families were given a house-building allowance of 8000 RMB (US $1,160) to meet the cost of building materials – and the land was free for them to use.”

“The villagers built the houses by self-help. We helped them to design and build the houses for free,” Hu said.

The houses are pioneering in using natural sources to provide light, heat, waste disposal and gas for cooking and heating.

“We used natural material like earth as a main building material to get good thermal mass and also to reduce CO2 emission,” Hu said.

“We designed a simple family sewage-purge-pool and marsh-gas-well system to reduce pollution and get energy from wastes.”

Using rammed earth has a long history in China. Across Western China, there are many buildings constructed with rammed earth. And using earth has many advantages when resources are scarce or expensive: “Earth buildings avoid deforestation and pollution, and can achieve low energy costs throughout their lifetime,” said Hu.

“With living standards increasing, more and more people would like to use burned bricks and concrete to build new houses, which will consume more energy and bring pollution,” said Hu.

But like any technology, the application of modern science and environmental knowledge to the traditional designs, can reap huge improvements in the quality of the homes and comfort levels. And win people back to the benefits of rammed earth dwellings.

“Building with earth materials can be a way of helping with sustainable management of the earth’s resources,” said Hu.

And Hu is adamant the new, environmentally designed homes respect the wisdom of traditional design.

“The new earth house design should consider the local culture. It should be proved that both the house style and the construction technique can be accepted by the users.”

Published: December 2008

Resources

  • The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: www.rdiland.org
  • Rural DeveIopment Institute has recently been given an award from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition to create Legal Aid and Education Centres in China’s countryside. Website:www.rdiland.org/PDF/092808_WorldBankComp.pdf
  • A blog gives more details on the Chinese rammed earth project. 
    Website:www.51xuewen.com
  • Earth Architecture, a book and blog on the practice of building with earth, including contemporary designs and projects. 
    Website: www.eartharchitecture.org

Sponsored by BSHF. BSHF is now called World Habitat and it aims to seek out and share the best solutions to housing problems from around the world.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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New Cuban Film Seeks to Revive Sector

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, the country’s film sector has largely survived on the largesse of the state. The switch to Communism as the guiding economic model of the country after the revolution led, at first, to generous support to filmmakers. The government ranked cinema ahead of television seeing both cinema and television as the two most important forms of artistic expression in the country. But as state funding has dwindled in recent years, adventurous independent filmmakers have tried to keep the Cuban film tradition going using other sources.

Prior to the revolution, Cuban cinema had been dominated by American and Mexican companies that used Cuba as an exotic backdrop for their productions and dominated the distribution of film in the country.

In the 17 years after the 1959 revolution, generous funding for filmmaking in Cuba produced 74 full-length films and 600 documentary shorts (Julianne Burton: Revolutionary Cuban Cinema). Soon Cuba had established a reputation for making its own, interesting, high-quality films. These range from “Memories of Underdevelopment” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memories_of_Underdevelopment) released in 1968, with its innovative narrative technique, to Academy Award-nominated “Strawberry and Chocolate” in 1993 and 2006’s “Tomorrow” (http://www.cubaabsolutely.com/articles/art/article_art.php?landa=23).

But funding for Cuban film has been dropping since the ending of generous state supports with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Cuba had received extensive subsidies from the Soviet Union and enjoyed preferential trading privileges.

But a new Cuban film is grabbing fistfuls of international accolades and shows it is possible to make films with a combination of foreign investment and state support.

The zombie horror-comedy “Juan of the Dead” (juanofthedeadmovie.com/lang/en/) has raised more than a few eyebrows but it is also showing a more commercial instinct among Cuban filmmakers and points the way to greater diversity in Cuba’s film sector.

The film’s poster declares: “50 years after the Cuban revolution a new one is about to start.” The film’s website is a colourful feast of images from the film and uses slick graphic design. It has previews, background resources and online clips for viewers to sample.

Calling itself a “zombie comedy”, the film was written and directed by Alejandro Brugués and produced by Gervasio Iglesias, Inti Herrera and Claudia Calviño.

The plot revolves around Juan, a 40-year-old man who has spent most of his life doing nothing. He and his lazy pal Lazaro witness people starting to attack each other. Mistaking this for another stage in Cuba’s revolution, the pair at first believe the government media when it says the incidents are provoked by dissidents paid by the U.S. government. But it begins to dawn on the two men they are surrounded by zombies. Taking a Cuban approach to the problem, Juan decides to get rid of the zombies while making some money at it.

“Cubans have basically three ways of dealing with problems: they try to make a business out of it, they get used to it and keep going with their lives; or they throw themselves to the sea to run away from the island,” Brugués says on the movie’s website. “‘Juan’ gave me the opportunity to make things really difficult for Cubans, filling the country with zombies, which is in a way what we have become after all these years, but also gave me a leading character that could take a different option, that could stand and say ‘I’m not going to allow this, this is my country, I love it and will stay to defend it’ … after trying to make a business out of it and keep going with his life, of course.”

The film has received enthusiastic praise from international film festivals and audiences, and its producers are hoping it will give a boost to Cuban cinema.

Released in 2011 as a joint Spanish/Cuban co-production, “Juan of the Dead” was filmed on location in Cuba’s capital, Havana. The country’s first feature length horror film in half a century, its title is a play on George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic “Dawn of the Dead”, which also inspired the successful 2004 British comedy “Shaun of the Dead”.

It cost US $2.7 million, and the funds were raised from Spanish investors and the Cuban Institute on Cinematographic Industry and Arts (ICAIC) (http://www.cubarte.cult.cu/paginas/servicios/directorio/directorio.php?id_institucion=77&selected=&offset=36&windowstart=1&letra=&canal).

Brugués was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976 and graduated from the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba.

He built up his expertise in the Cuban film industry as a scriptwriter for several Cuban films and is one of the partners at the Cuban indie film production company Producciones La 5ta Avenida (http://eses.facebook.com/pages/Producciones-de-la-5ta-Avenida/110339122340016).

His first feature film was “Personal Belongings”, which received worldwide distribution.

“I have been a follower of the zombie movies since I was a little kid (zombie movies have followers, not fans),” Brugués said. “The idea of ‘Juan’ simply came from watching the reality around me. That reality is Cuba, so one day inevitably, I was asking myself if we were so different from film zombies. Besides that, Cuba is a country that has been preparing itself for a confrontation with the United States during the last 50 years. So, what if instead of that, have to confront zombies?”

Brugués sees a coming together of independent filmmakers and state-funded filmmakers in the future: “At the moment there are two trends, films produced by Cuba’s state production company and films made outside of that,” he told the BBC.

“There needs to be a balance but I think the two will eventually merge. When this happens I think this will produce the best Cuban cinema.”

Resources 

1) UNCTAD Global Database on the Creative Economy. Website: http://unctadstat.unctad.org/ReportFolders/reportFolders.aspx?sCS_referer=&

sCS_ChosenLang=en

2) Creative Economy Report 2010: Creative Economy: A Feasible Development Option. Website: www.unctad.org/Templates/WebFlyer.asp?intItemID=5763&lang=1

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021