Sunday, November 11, 2018

Indio Hatuey

"Cuban agriculture has moved beyond carbon neutral and into drawdown territory."

Worm Farm, Centro de Beneficio de Hortalizas u Minindustria UBPC Vivero Organopónico Alamar

The Cuban experimental station of Indio Hatuey, in the Matanzas state near Perico, is a perfect example of what nations can do when they undertake to respond to climate change in a serious way. 
 
Indio Hatuey was inaugurated in March, 1962 to research sustainable agriculture, not just for Cuba but for the Caribbean region. Its name is very revealing, because if one wants to become food-secure in the poor soils and alternating wet-dry extremes of the tropics, one needs to approach those challenges very differently than the European conquerors did. They imported African slaves and planted sugar. While that might have supplied plenty of rum, it is not all that great at feeding a human population, or securing its health and well-being.
 
Hatuey was a cacique (chief) from the island of Hispañola, where Columbus first set up his odious operations of torture and ethnic cleansing. Seeing what the Spaniards did to the Taíno people because they refused to be enslaved, Hatuey led 400 warriors in wooden canoes across the difficult sea passage to Cuba to warn his Taíno brothers and to organize resistance. “They are cowards,” Hatuey said. “They cover themselves in iron rather than fight like men.” Tragically, his warnings fell on deaf ears. His stories of men mounted on tall beasts using weapons of lightning and thunder that struck down warriors at a distance with invisible arrows were thought crazy fantasy.
 
When the Spanish arrived their Toledo swords, arquebuses, muskets, and Andalusian warhorses made minced meat of the Taíno. Hatuey was burned at the stake on February 2, 1512.
 
The population that existed on Hispañola before European contact has been studied by archaeologists, linguists, and geneticists. Calculations vary but given the density of cities and network of roads, Hispañola’s pre-contact population was between 2 and 18 million. The combined population of the two countries occupying Hispañola today, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is 21 million.
 
The Taíno knew how to farm in these difficult conditions. They drew upon the techniques of terra preta soil formation originating to their South, chinampas aquaculture and milpa agroforestry used so successfully to their West, and the fishing communities to their North and East.
 
Hans Peter Schmidt of Ithaka Institut captures integrated aquaponics and agroforestry at CENSA in Matanzas
The Taíno of Cuba, with a third more agricultural land than Hispañola, likely had an even greater population. Within a century, or two at the most, the Taíno were virtually extinct. Today only one remnant group of a few families is left in Cuba. The race died because they lacked immunity to foreign diseases. They died because they made poor slaves and did not convert to Catholicism. They died because to the Spanish they were expendable.
 
If you consider for a moment what it was like to be in Cuba in March of 1962 it is all the more remarkable that Castro should endow a research station named after a Taíno cacique. Before 1959, Cuba was one of the poorest countries in the world, even compared to Haiti, an African-American nation whose economy was bled of 51 billion dollars over 150 years to repay France and the Western powers for the value of the slaves liberated by independence. 
 
Havana slums, 1955, in the shadow of a casino
After four centuries under the thumb of Western powers, Cuba was in even worse condition. Infant mortality stood at 80.69 deaths per 1,000 live births, among the worst in the world. While the average industrial salary in Cuba was the world’s eighth-highest, more than a third of the population was kept in abject poverty. Schools and teachers did not exist in rural areas and 41.7% in the countryside were illiterate.
 
Cuban author and martyr, José Marti, whose image is ubiquitous in Cuba today, wrote in 1804:
There are men who can live contentedly even if they live undignified lives. There are others who suffer as if in agony when they see people around them living without dignity. There must be a certain amount of dignity in the world. There must be a certain amount of light. When there are undignified men, there are always others who have within them the dignity of many men. There are the ones who rebel ferociously against those who rob nations of their freedom, which is robbing men of their dignity.
The ones who rebelled ferociously were Hatuey, Marti and Castro. When Cubans toppled the US puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista on December 31, 1959, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA-Chief Allen Dulles, were so appalled they cajoled President Eisenhower to allocate $13.1 million to a CIA plan for an amphibious invasion supported by B-26 bombers out of Guatemala. When the five infantry battalions and one paratrooper battalion of CIA mercenaries landed at Playa Giron — the Bay of Pigs — Castro stood atop a tank and directed fire himself. As the invaders were encircled and captured, President John F. Kennedy, who had inherited the operation when he took office in January 1961, decided the venture was folly and refused to authorize further air support. He told the Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee, “The first advice I’m going to give my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid feeling that because they were military men their opinions on military matters were worth a damn.”
 
When the dust had settled, Kennedy’s general approval rating actually increased from 78 percent in mid-April to 83 percent in late April and early May. Although 63 percent of Americans did not want the US to remove Castro, Kennedy authorized Operation Mongoose to do precisely that, by assassination. He imposed a complete trade embargo against Cuba. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, he imposed strict travel restrictions for U.S. citizens. All the while, Kennedy knew that these policies, although politically important in holding off Republican hawks, were counterproductive.
I believe that there is no country in the world, including the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my countrys policies during the Batista regime. I believe that we created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth and without realizing it. I believe that the accumulation of these mistakes has jeopardized all of Latin America. The great aim of the Alliance for Progress is to reverse this unfortunate policy. This is one of the most, if not the most, important problems in America foreign policy. I can assure you that I have understood the Cubans. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy, interview with Jean Daniel, 24 October 1963
 
Cuba has survived the aggression of its northern neighbor. Article 50 of its revolutionary Constitution declared:
Everyone has the right to health protection and care. The state guarantees this right by providing free medical and hospital care by means of the installations of the rural medical service network, polyclinics, hospitals, preventative and specialized treatment centers; by providing free dental care; by promoting the health publicity campaigns, health education, regular medical examinations, general vaccinations and other measures to prevent the outbreak of disease.
In 1961 it launched the Literacy Campaign, with 1,000,000 Cubans directly involved (as teachers or students). The US struck back, training and funding counterrevolutionaries to reduce support. Young teachers and students were shot, lynched, tortured and murdered by CIA-funded militants. And still, by 1962, the country’s literacy rate had reached 96%, one of the highest in the world. By 1986, Cuba had achieved 100% literacy. By 1990, Cuba’s infant mortality rates of 13 deaths per 1,000 live births were the lowest in Latin America. 

Indio Hatuey’s microorganism lab produces 24000 liters of EM per month.
In 1962 when Castro named the research center for Hatuey, he was honoring a fellow revolutionary, but he was also honoring the indigenous wisdom of the Taíno. The research coming from that institution, and from the branches it spread across the country, revived interest in native grasses, plants and trees. During the Special Period, Cuba revived oxen, shifted to all-organic, and took up Permaculture. Cuba developed integrated pest management, organic certification, agroforestry crops, specialty breeds of farm animals, urban agriculture and the widespread use of effective micro-organisms (EM). 
 
Hans Peter Schmidt tests electrical conductivity in biochar-aided fermentation.
This past week we saw some of the most sophisticated science experiments underway anywhere in the world. In the laboratories of Indio Hatuey, Cuban scientists are making biochar in kon-tiki kilns, fermenting lactobacillus cultures in closed vats of biochar, worm composting liquids, and moringa leaves, inoculating that “bokashi” into thermophilic compost and adding EM from their own microbiota breweries to charge the biofertilizer. 
 
Their composting operation has fewer emissions of greenhouse gases and better bacteria and fungi. The biochar takes Cuban agriculture beyond carbon neutral and into drawdown territory. The soils being revitalized produce spectacular bounties of crops in good seasons and bad, resist the damage of exotic pests, droughts and hurricanes, and take nutrient densities of food to new highs.
 
Hasta la revolución siempre.


 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Hope from Havana

"We need to ditch consumer culture in favor of conserver culture. Cuba knows how to do this."
 


Where I am staying in Havana there is no internet. There is an international hotel within walking distance where you can buy minutes for a few CUCs. Internet access, like travel for USAnians, was looking promising not too long ago as Cuba and the US embarked upon a slow reconciliation process. Hotel and restaurant developers and tour operators rushed in ahead of the crowds. For a brief moment everyone was making money. Then US policies reversed and the boom went bust. When 3G will get to Cuba now is anyone’s guess.
 
On the way here, I watched two videos that gave me a new perspective. I would link them to the article but can’t at the moment. The first was a fresh interview with former professor Guy McPherson that provided new insight into the course of his turn away from the “life of leisure” — university tenure — to live in a mud hut in the desert (and attract others to do likewise), there to await the end of civilization, if not actively assist in its demise.
 
At the time, he believed from the writings of Utah professor Tim Garrett that civilization is a heat engine and that unless arrested, global warming will kill us all. His prescription was to turn the key and shut that deadly engine down as quickly as possible.
Of course no one did, so he and his partner left the mud hut and moved to a farm in Belize to wait out the end.
 
Now he admits he was wrong about at least a part of that. Because the aerosols industrial civilization sends skyward each day bounce light back to space, the planet is a degree or two cooler than it would be if industrial civilization suddenly ended. Global dimming has been buying time to mend our ways. But, if everyone up and moved to mud huts, or a farm in Belize, the end of the human story would ensue rapidly and it would not be pretty.
 
He and his partner have now returned to live in upstate New York and do their part to keep civilization intact a little longer. It seemed the more ethical course.
 
The second video I watched was Stuart Scott’s latest taping with climate scientist Peter Wadhams lamenting that our system of economics incentivizes carbon dioxide emissions and dis-incentivizes removal. Until that changes, there is little hope for a reversal of the pre-ordained fate McPherson describes.
 
However, you need to remember that the Chinese are now able to produce a bag of biochar fertilizer that costs $1 less than a comparable bag of chemical fertilizer and produces 15% better results, on average. Because a Beijing Sanju biofertilizer factory uses crop residues previously burned as feedstock, in the process converting labile photosynthetic carbon — temporary soil carbon — into mineralized carbon — permanent soil carbon — each factory effectively removes 66 kilotons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year. The price-to-yield factor disposes of Wadhams’ complaint. Just ask any farmer if he would like to get something much better for less than what he is paying now.
 
China had constructed 5 of these factories when I toured one in September. Another 20 were under construction, with 200 more planned. By 2020 they will likely be exporting the technology all along the New Silk Road, to Indochina, India, Africa and Latin America. It is simple, scalable and shovel ready. It does not need to change any economic paradigms to get going. It does not require approval by the White House or Senate. It does not require either the Aquarian Age or the collapse of industrial civilization. It is a strategy that can re-green the desert and turn the tide.
 
Which brings me to why I am in Cuba with Hans Peter Schmidt from the Ithaka Institut in Switzerland. The Swiss government, through its development agency, has decided to back pilot projects across the country, training farmers how to make and use biochar to regenerate the soils of this much abused island.
 
Cuba supplies the other half of the necessary solution. The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging. We need to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere. To do that, we are going to have to tamp down our carbonized ways, gradually, even as we draw the legacy carbon out of the air. This will require societal behavioral change. We need to ditch consumer culture in favor of conserver culture. Cuba knows how to do this. It was forced to when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s, a time known to every Cuban as the “Special Period.”
 
During the Special Period tractors ran out of diesel and were replaced by oxen. Private cars were abandoned in favor of Chinese-made bicycles and “camels” — massive articulated buses. Water was hauled to upper floors of apartment houses by bucket. Caloric intake of the population declined by a third.
 
 Foreground — modern Cuban prosperity, Midground —1980s Russian-made Lada, Background — pulley hoist on roof for water bucket
 
Cuba survived that period and learned to thrive, just as it has survived every insult hurled at it since its student revolt and popular revolution in the 1950s. Today it risks back-sliding into affluence from its burgeoning tourist trade, but at least there are not all those annoying advertisements on state-run television.
 
To keep going despite 50 years of blockade and economic sanctions, being cut off from most modern technologies, in the center of the Atlantic hurricane alley, and still struggling with the cultural residues of slavery, colonialism and wars of liberation, Cuba developed an inner strength and self-pride that made it nearly immune to the bullying machinations of its neighbor to the north.
Cubans follow the daily Trump soaps on CNN same as everyone else
 
Cubans don’t relish sacrifice and struggle, but they don’t shy away from it either. They are working on the two most important pieces of the climate puzzle — one technological, the other behavioral — and are going to become something the rest of the world will emulate in coming years.
 
 
 
 
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