The Malecon in Havana with people and traffic

Cuba Uses Localized Permaculture as One Solution to Peak Oil

Permaculture offers alternatives to fossil fuels by tackling problems on a hyper local level whilst remaining mindful of their place within the global picture. We find success when this is done in a manner that is sensitive to biodiversity and cultural diversity, whilst favoring a revival of traditional techniques and encouraging innovation.

Working smarter, not harder, and seeing nature as an ally are key pillars of the permacultural philosophy. It is in this way that we are transitioning away from fossil fuels and into a future which focuses on renewable resources (true sustainability) and communities in which we can thrive. We don’t have to destroy nature in order to provide for ourselves. Indeed, we can claim our place within ecosystems as stewards, restoring and improving them to live in harmony with other beings that also contribute towards optimal functioning of ecosystems.

Cuba and Peak Oil

Locally produced food means less fuel used on transport. Cuba is the case in point example of what happens when a community transitions away from a fossil fuel economy and back into a local one. For Cuba, this wasn’t so much a matter of choice as it was a kick in the knees–after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the country lost greater than half its oil imports and reached a state known as peak oil. It suddenly became a hassle for the Cuban people to simply drive to the next city for work each morning–and the scanty city buses were often too full for more passengers when they did come around.

Enter Permaculture

Thus, people had to rely on government rations for a time; the average weight loss was 30 pounds during the transition. Everyone was forced to not just re-evaluate priorities but learn how to grow food, ride a bicycle, and produce goods closer to home. With the help of Australian permaculturists, Cubans took over rooftops, alleyways, and every other square foot of land not being put to good use, and began to build their own soil and grow permaculture gardens.

“Today an estimated 50 percent of Havana’s vegetables come from inside the city, while in other Cuban towns and cities urban gardens produce from 80 percent to more than 100 percent of what they need,” Resilience writes. The result: more self-sufficient communities which consumed more fruits and vegetables; replacing petrochemicals with bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides and enlisting oxen as an alternative to machinery reliant on petroleum.

Focusing on locally produced foods and goods can also counteract the economical impact of plummeting oil prices while re-skilling and empowering our communities.

We can learn a lot from those who have already begun this transition. Cuba is a great example of what happens when a culture’s infrastructure crashes due to peak oil; with a reorientation around local production and methodologies that are not dependent on fossil fuels now proving necessary for survival.

Energy Solutions in Cuba

From Power of Community’s section on Energy Alternatives: “For areas not connected to the grid, small scale wind and hydro systems as well as solar panels are used. Priority is given to schools and clinics. Recently, more than 2000 rural schools were supplied with solar panels to have electricity. It was less costly to give them solar panels than to connect them to the grid.”

Cubans are also using the sun to heat water, and most incredibly, during harvest time (3-4 months per year) 30% of energy used is generated from biomass such as crop waste from sugar mills. An important note is that as of 2012, cubans were using 7 BOE (barrel of oil equivalent) per year whereas Americans were using 57 per person.

Some Lessons from Cuba’s Peak Oil Crisis:

We can learn from Cuba and plan ahead so we’re prepared. This begins with a shift in mindset, and attitude; leading to behavior that results in symbiosis with other beings on planet Earth and the tools we need to care for our communities.

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Here are some takeaway lessons from Cuba’s peak oil crisis.

1.Hyper locally produced food removes the need for expensive and environmentally destructive fossil fuel based fertilizers; all the waste products are reinvested into the system.

2.With Community Supported Agriculture and urban permaculture gardening, long-distance transport of goods that can be produced within city or county limits becomes unnecessary, therefore reducing global impact even further.

3.The permaculture ethics of perennial, regenerative solutions mesh well with renewable, passive energy as gained from ocean, compost, wind, and solar.

4.Planning ahead is important and can be the difference between crisis and transformation.

5.However, in the face of crisis, humans have demonstrated time and again the amazing powers of creative adaptation and resilience.

Watch The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil for the full story.

Comments and Questions

What about you? How successful have your permaculture systems been at reducing non-renewable inputs, increasing regenerative outputs, and healing the soils? Or, if you’re just starting out, how might this article assist your preparations for peak oil? How might you begin transitioning to a renewable energy, perennial agroforestry based lifestyle? Leave a comment below!

Sources:

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2006-02-25/power-community-how-cuba-survived-peak-oil

The Power of Community. How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (sub español)

The Power of Community – How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

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2 thoughts on “Cuba Uses Localized Permaculture as One Solution to Peak Oil

  1. Prior to Castro’s revolution, Cuba, the largest country of the Caribbean was the economic powerhouse of the region with wonderful resources and ideal climate. Afterwards, it relied on a dole from Russia and bad decision making by it’s dictator.
    Even with permaculture being implemented for the past 20 years, Cuban’s today rely on imported food for 75% of their caloric intake. Since 2000, most of that food comes from the USA. Given that banana/plantain, pigeon pea and sweet potato could be easily supplying the calories needed, the only conclusion that is self-evident is that permaculture in Cuba has been a dismal failure.
    These facts should not to diminish permaculture as an agricultural process, for it has been proven to work elsewhere. The solution, as Bill Mollison said, is almost certainly to be found to be the problem. The problem is that something in Cuba is turning what should be a success story into quite less than that. Jasmine Coster would be doing us all a service by exploring why permaculture hasn’t done more for the Cuban people than merely keep them from starving.

  2. Thanks for the info, please email docs on the practice of permaculture in Havana and lessons learnt regarding the cubans experiences on the use of permaculture

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