Promoting Rural Resilience: Lessons from Cuba

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

For many folks, Thanksgiving conjures up images of abundance and family, a smorgasbord of food laid out on the dinner table with smiling faces and conversations ranging from the day’s football matches to work or politics.

For Sebastian Africano and myself, the week of Thanksgiving involved a different perspective: learning about the challenges of food production and security in Cuba. Since the embargo was put into place in 1962, Cuban agricultural authorities have developed multiple strategies to sustain its population. Urban horticulture and permaculture have been built within the larger infrastructure of the socialist food production system. However, Cuba still faces serious food security issues.

The World Food Programme estimates that the island currently imports up to 70-80% of its food, meaning that only 20-30% of Cuba’s food is produced in-country. The pressure to grow more food locally will only continue to increase as the lucrative and fast-growing tourism market explodes in Cuba (eloquently discussed in a recent NYT article). The question remains: How will Cuba meet the increasing food demands from the tourist market?

Cuban plant nursery
In just over two years, this start-up nursery is now producing over 200,000 plants per year.

The primary purpose of our trip was to try to learn more about the opportunities for “agritourism” in Cuba. Agritourism is a type of tourism that brings visitors to a farm or ranch, to enjoy the rural setting, and to be educated on the food system and/or culture. In particular, we noticed that the Cienfuegos and Cumanayagua regions of Cuba, were excellent sites for agritourism due to the intriguing mix of cultural and musical efforts that are combining to preserve rural, Campesino culture, all while maintaining the foundations of sustainable agriculture in the region.

Some of the places we visited included the Universidad de Cumanayagua, Teatro Los Elementos, and the music group Kfé Mezclado, which is located at the base of a large mountain range in prime coffee country. Music and art are the lifeblood of Cuba in many ways, and these groups promote a uniquely authentic experience that is a gateway to the essence and soul of the country. At TWP, we strive to create authentic travel opportunities for intercambios, or exchanges, between our U.S. supporters, and our Latin American partners in Central America and the Caribbean, all working in the same vein for a healthy environment and human well-being. As we begin to build partnerships and travel opportunities within Cuba, we hope to convey the importance of sustainable travel, so that many people can enjoy Cuba’s unique offerings and livelihoods for years to come.

Lucas in Cuba
Lucas Wolf, TWP assistant international director, surveying yuca plants on a demonstration farm outside of Cienfuegos, Cuba.

The Cubans are eager to show the world their beautiful country and their ingenuity and thirst for innovation and knowledge. There is a warmth and genuine human spirit that seeps through in any conversation on the street or at the farm with the Cubans. Despite the transitional moment and the challenges inherent, particularly after the death of Fidel Castro and before the start of renewed uncertainty with a new Administration in Washington, we seek to create a broader horizontal dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba focused on education and innovation for all involved. Through it all, we at TWP strive to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, an ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and continue to further education processes, for local beneficiaries, for tour participants and for ourselves as an organization. Cuba, and its land and people have a great deal to offer when it comes to teaching in these areas, and we at TWP are hungry to learn.

If you would like to support TWP’s work to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, please donate today!

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It’s The Little Things…

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

What a week.

We at Trees, Water & People (TWP) would like to thank all of you who have spoken your minds, gathered in community, and laid bare your hearts in the aftermath of this recent election. We are proud to be an organization committed to working alongside you for the betterment of our global community and planet and will continue to lean into that commitment in the years ahead.

Last week I was reminded of the power that each of us holds to affect the world around us in a positive way – to extend a hand, build meaningful relationships, actively oppose injustice, and reinforce the beliefs we hold dear. I also came to understand that organizations like TWP will have to redouble our efforts in the coming years to deter the human and ecological threats posed by the incoming administration. We will not shy away from that challenge.

Unity Church in La Bendícion
Volunteers from Unity Church in Fort Collins, CO traveled to the community of La Bendición, Guatemala with us last winter.

The work we do, and the communities with which we work – from Native Americans on the Great Plains to indigenous communities throughout Central America – put TWP at the crux of some of the major social and environmental challenges of our time. As these challenges grow more acute in the coming years, we will work intently with those who value social, racial and cultural inclusivity, human rights, biodiversity, a clean environment, international collaboration, and a low-emissions future.

Travel is more important than ever. Getting to know parts of the world with which you are less familiar is the best way to test your assertions and broaden your perspective. Travel also exposes us to the scale of our global challenges and where YOU can be most effective in the effort to keep humanity thriving. Exiting our comfort zones enlightens us in the sense that it highlights the shortcomings of borders – a line on a map doesn’t isolate us from what happens on the other side of it.

CSU Alt. Break trip 2016
These Colorado State University students spent their spring break building a home for a Lakota family living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Photo by Vanesa Blanco Lopez.

Climate change is one arena in which this plays out, and one in which TWP will be very active in the coming years. Making sustained progress in the climate struggle requires that we work against those who would undo societal advances in favor of personal gain. Progress for some means a setback to others, so being the most academically or professionally prepared means little if you don’t intimately know what drives your stakeholders, and your adversaries.

In the coming years, we’re going to need your help to drive change in this adverse political environment. We need YOU to help us support indigenous communities protecting their natural resources. We need YOU to help create sustainable livelihoods for people in rural communities at home and abroad. And we need YOU to embrace the role you will play in creating ecologically, economically, and politically stable planet for future generations.

As our eco-heroine, Wangari Maathai said, “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” So please join Trees, Water & People in planting the seeds of a better future by making a donation that supports our work, or by joining us on a trip to where the work happens. It’s in our hands now – let’s make good on this opportunity to create the future we want to see.

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