Small farms thrive under Cuba’s unique blend of agrarian reforms, farmer autonomy and state support
By Christina Bronsing-Lazalde, Cuba Tour Coordinator
The son of two pioneers of the Cuban agroecology movement, Fernando Funes-Monzote has been steeped in sustainable farming his entire life. Two years ago, he decided to take his knowledge to uncharted territories. He wanted to prove that diversified, agroecological farming can not only be sustainable on good soils, but can transform poor soils into productive land. In a country known for its top-down policies, Funes-Monzote is a testament to the bottom-up, experimental nature of family farmers everywhere.
When Serápio, a 93-year-old farmer, was no longer able to work, he granted Fernando access to eight hectares of his land, about forty minutes outside of Havana. Fernando deliberately chose to carry out his experiment on rocky, hilly lands with poor soils overrun by marabú—an invasive species of thorny bush that covers close to 2 million hectares of land across the island. After removing over 6,000 bushes by hand, Fernando and a small team began to measure the land, plot contours, build fences, dig a new well and plan out the farm.
After only two years, Finca Marta—named after Fernando’s mother—is buzzing . . . literally. From one beehive in the first year to thirty hives and over three tons of honey in 2013, Fernando now has a contract with the state to maintain 20–30 hives on the land. The government furnished the equipment for the hives and provides a guaranteed market for the honey.
Tanya discusses the upcoming delegation to Bolivia, traveling in the Altiplano and the passion behind her work
Food Sovereignty Tour Coordinators (TCs) are the dedicated individuals who make our delegations possible. They are the intrepid and unsung heroes behind the magic of each Food Sovereignty Tour, working tirelessly not only to make this type of travel possible, but also to highlight the realities and successes of their tour region and build alliances on the ground. Our TCs are extremely knowledgeable about the destinations they travel to, and many of them are respected scholars and educators in their own right. This new series is an opportunity to introduce you to our TCs, highlight the amazing work they are doing and hear about why they do it.
As a researcher, activist, educator and author, Tanya Kerssen wears many hats—and she wears all of them equally well. Tanya joined Food First in 2009 and later helped to develop the Food Sovereignty Tours program as the second Program Director, and continues to support the program as a founding member of the Advisory Board. Currently, she manages the production of rigorous, action-oriented publications in her capacity as Food First’s Research Coordinator. On top of all this, she is the Tour Coordinator for Food Sovereignty Tours; delegations to Bolivia. Next month’s delegation will be Tanya’s seventh time guiding participants through the Bolivian Altiplano where groups have looked at themes from climate change to the impacts of the quinoa boom on small farmers.
Tanya is a respected quinoa researcher—she recently had a paper published on the impact of global quinoa boom on Bolivia (PDF) as part of the recnt colloquium on food sovereignty at the Hague, featured in last month’s Movements. She is also the author of Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras. Tanya is also active on the ground; most recently, she was part of a delegation that observed a critical and contentious presidential election in Honduras.
Movements connected with Tanya to discuss the upcoming Food Sovereignty Tour to Bolivia, the appeal and challenges of traveling in the Altiplano, the role that Bolivian farmers play in the global food sovereignty movement, and the inspiration and passion behind her work.
“As a Tour Coordinator, I have the privilege of hosting visitors to Bolivia, a fascinating country I love deeply. I get to watch participants have powerful, emotional and transformative interactions with small farmers who share with us the bounty of their harvests and the lessons of their rich life experience. And even though I say the participants are transformed, I am transformed too, by each delegation I do. Our participants bring so much knowledge and energy to the delegations. By the end, we’re crying and laughing together. We feel both humbled and empowered. And most importantly, we are energized to go forth and make change.”
A versatile Italian dish that showcases the simple elegance of peasant food
By Sofia Salazar-Rubio and Hayley Hedges
Before becoming a regular fixture of Italian fine dining, polenta had quite humble beginnings. Originally favored by peasants in northern Italy as a cheap and filling dish, this simple cornmeal porridge has overcome a tumultuous history to become a widely appreciated Italian comfort food.
Today’s polenta has evolved over the centuries, with its roots reaching back to the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers subsisted on a ration of grains, which were ground up and boiled into a porridge called pulmentum—the linguistic and culinary origins of modern-day polenta. Until the introduction of corn to northern Italy in the 1400s, polenta referred to any such dish, which was then made from millet, barley or chestnut flour.
Internet radio host Susan Youmans speaks with Food Sovereignty Tours
Food Sovereignty Tours Program Coordinator Katie Brimm was a guest on “What’s For Dinner?,” an internet radio show focused on the local and global networks that bring food to our dinner tables. Katie spoke with host Susan Yousman about the program and our upcoming Food Sovereignty Tour, Bolivia: Llamas, Quinoa and Andean Sovereignty.
Stream the interview online or download it for free here.
Thomas Friedman once said the hidden hand of the market needs the hidden fist of the military. The TPP and the Obama administration’s Pacific Pivot pack both.
By Christine Ahn, former Food First Policy Analyst
Originally published in Foreign Policy in Focus
The struggle for food sovereignty in the Pacific got a major boost last December when Billy Kenoi, mayor of Hawai’i’s Big Island, signed a law that prevents farmers from growing any new genetically engineered crops (with the exception of papaya). This follows a successful push on Kauai, at the other end of the islands, to force large growers to disclose the pesticides they use and which genetically engineered crops they are growing.
This is a major step in the battle for more ecologically sustainable agriculture in Hawai’i, which has suffered for over a century under the heavy weight of U.S. corporate and military domination.
Yet like other local, state, and national regulations intended to protect the public and the environment, these anti-GMO laws can be swiftly overturned if President Obama signs the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the world’s most ambitious and far reaching free trade agreement yet. On January 9, the U.S. Congress introduced “fast-track” legislation allowing the Obama administration to sign the TPP without undergoing public debate. Fast-track authority would grant the White House the power to speed up negotiations, while giving Congress only 90 days to review the TPP before voting.