by Sebastian Africano, International Director
Of all the memorable encounters during my ten days in Havana, Cuba for the 10th Convention on Sustainable Development and Environment in July, there is one that stood out most. A man stopped me between sessions and said he’d overheard I was from the U.S., and asked if I could help him identify someone from our delegation. Happy to help, I asked who he was looking for, and he said, “Sebastian Africano.” I almost fell backwards when he told me that he was from Guantánamo province (where my wife worked years ago), and that he was told to look for me by some of her former colleagues.
This man was Alexander Fernández, who works for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), and is also a member of the Cuban Association of Agriculture and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF). His specialties are in Sustainable Soils Management and Conservation Agriculture, and he is based in one of the driest regions of Cuba. Meeting him opened the door to a crucial network of people working on climate adaptation strategies for rural populations in Cuba, and led to a flurry of private meetings after the conference.
Cubans have much to teach, having lived through the forced austerity of “The Special Period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that time, Cuban people survived through solidarity and ingenuity, devising ways to produce their own food without the benefit of petrochemical and technological inputs. The lessons learned during these challenging times make Cuba a staunch ally in facing the challenge of climate change.
After an anemic 2014 harvest, several countries in Central America have reported net losses of staple crops in 2015 at over 60% due to drought, creating conditions of scarcity never before seen. Many of the approaches to agriculture and natural resource management that Alexander and his teams have been forced to adopt in Cuba hold pertinent lessons for those struggling in Central America.
This is where TWP’s model of leveraging local knowledge, building regional networks, and allocating resources to build rural resilience come into play. Over the next year, we seek to strengthen our bonds with Cuba, through educational exchanges involving our partners and donors, as well as by helping to fund local projects. Challenges as daunting as climate change require that we put our heads and resources together to find replicable and impactful solutions.