A Quarterly Newsletter for and about International Cooperation with Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Cuba.
Volume 9, Issue 4   Fall 1999

Alternative Nobel Goes to Cuban Group Promoting the Organic Revolution

STOCKHOLM and OAKLAND: The Grupo de Agricultura Organica (GAO), the Cuban organic farming association, which has been at the forefront of the country's transition from industrial to organic agriculture, was named as winner of a major international prize—the Right Livelihood Award—commonly known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize.'

The Grupo de Agricultura Organica is one of four winners of the 1999 Right Livelihood Award, chosen from more than 80 candidates from 40 countries. GAO brings together farmers, farm managers, field experts, researchers, and government officials to develop and promote organic farming methods.

Its aim is to convince Cuban farmers and policy-makers that the country's previous high-input farming model was too import-dependent and environmentally damaging to be sustainable, and that the organic alternative has the potential to achieve equally good yields.

"This award is truely an honor for Cuba, for GAO, and for all the farmers, researchers, and policy makers who have struggled to make organic farming work in Cuba," said Dr. Fernado Funes-Aguilar, President of GAO. "We hope that our efforts will demonstrate to other countries that conventional chemically-dependent agriculture is not the only way to feed a country."

During the 1990s Cuba overcame a severe food shortage caused by the collapse of its trade relations with the former Soviet-bloc and the on-going U.S. trade embargo. Self-reliant organic farming played a significant role in overcoming the crisis.

GAO was founded in 1993 as the Asociación Cubana de Agricultura Organica (ACAO), but recently changed its name when it was legally incorporated as part of the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forest Technicians (ACTAF). Over the past five years it has built up an impressive program of lobbying, training courses, workshops, documentation centers, demonstration farms, and exchange visits for farmers, and has held three international conferences.

"I hope this award will awaken the world to the amazing achievements Cuba has made in organic farming and food security", said Martin Bourque, Sustainable Agriculture Program Director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy. "Through their hard work,innovation, and scientific excellence, GAO and the whole Cuban agricultural sector have demonstrated that low-input sustainable agriculture can work on a national scale."

Food First has had a scientific and technical exchange program with GAO for several years, and will co-sponsor GAO's Fourth National Encounter on Organic Agriculture in May of the year 2000.

GAO is the first Cuban winner of the Right Livelihood Award. It shares the prize money of SEK 1,800,000 (approximately US $225,000) with a Colombian network, Consolidation of the Amazon Region (COAMA), working for indigenous rights and biodiversity, and with Chilean-Spanish lawyer Juan Garces, who is honored for his untiring efforts over many years to bring the former Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, to justice. One of the world's leading promoters of solar energy, Hermann Scheer, receives an honorary award.

The prizes will be presented at a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament on December 9, the day before the conventional Nobel Prizes. Founded in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award has honored more than 80 outstanding individuals and organizations for work contributing to a better future for the world.

Peter Rosset, executive director of Food First, said: "This award shows the enormous potential of sustainable agriculture, which is so underexploited in other countries. The whole world should learn from Cuba." Dr. Rosset went on to say that "in Cuba, organic is for everyone, not just for those who can afford it."

For more information on the Grupo de Agricultura Organica or Food First, you can contact Food First staff members who are available for comment, and access the following website: http://www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/cuba. Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, 398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618, USA; telephone: (510)654-4400; fax: (510)654-4551; http://www.foodfirst.org

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advanced organic methods in the urban and rural sectors. The National Institute for Basic Research in Tropical Agriculture (INIFAT) has research stations across the country that specialize in the specific challenges of their area. They construct and maintain nurseries and assist farmers with technical questions through their extension programs. The Plant Protection Research Institute has created more than 200 Centers for the Reproduction of Entomophages and Entomophathogen (CREEs) that research and produce biological controls. The CREEs are located throughout the country, supplying farmers and gardeners with new and useful biological products.

The international community could learn a great deal by aiding and studying this system. With continued commitment and international support, the Cuban organic movement can become a new way to think about food production. With so much hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. and across the world, and the persistent social and environmental degradation caused by our current "modernized" system of agriculture, it is time for us to seriously consider our alternatives. Cuba presents us with a case where alternatives are practiced, and where they are succeeding in increasing food security and environmental safety.

Cristina Kanizares is Progam Asssistant for Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy. This article was taken from their materials and is available for viewing online at http://www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/cuba/2-2000-cuba1.html.

In this issue ...
Agent Orange Update
Cuba Pages
Debt Relief and the Economic Crisis
Vietnam Women's Union Hosts Energy Training
What Happened to the Trade Agreement
The Legacy of the Khmer Rouge
Conference Report III

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