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Healing the Rift

As John Bellamy Foster explained in “The Ecology of Destruction” (Monthly Review, February 2007), Marx explored the ecological contradictions of capitalist society as they were revealed in the nineteenth century with the help of the two concepts of metabolic rift and metabolic restoration. The metabolic rift describes how the logic of accumulation severs basic processes of natural reproduction leading to the deterioration of ecological sustainability. Moreover, “by destroying the circumstances surrounding that metabolism,” Marx went on to argue, “it [capitalist production] compels its systematic restoration as a regulating law of social reproduction”—a restoration, however, that can only be fully achieved outside of capitalist relations of production.1

Recent developments in Cuban agroecology offer concrete examples of how the rift can be healed, not simply with different techniques but with a transformation of the socio-metabolic relations of food production. Numerous scholars have described the scientific achievements of Cuban organic agriculture. However, the success of Cuban organic agriculture and the potential for it to influence other Latin American and Caribbean nations must be understood not simply as the application of new agricultural technology, but rather as an example of social transformation in its entirety. As Richard Levins notes, “To understand Cuban agricultural development it is first necessary to look at it closely in the richness of detail….Then we have to step back and squint to capture the truly novel pathway of development as a whole that Cuba is pioneering.”2

‘Land is the Treasure, Labor is the Key’

Marx’s concept of metabolism is rooted in his understanding of the labor process. Labor is a process by which humans mediate, regulate, and control the material exchange between themselves and nature. Land, the earth (and the ecological cycles that define it), and labor, which is the metabolic relation between human beings and nature, constitute the two original sources of all wealth. During a trip to Cuba with a group of agricultural researchers late last year I watched a horse-drawn cart transport organic produce from an urban garden of raised beds to the community stand nearby. I noticed a phrase painted on the wall of a storage building: “La tierra es un tesora y el trabajo es su llave,” land is the treasure, As John Bellamy Foster explained in “The Ecology of Destruction” (Monthly Review, February 2007), Marx explored the ecological contradictions of capitalist society as they were revealed in the nineteenth century with the help of the two concepts of metabolic rift and metabolic restoration. The metabolic rift describes how the logic of accumulation severs basic processes of natural reproduction leading to the deterioration of ecological sustainability. Moreover, “by destroying the circumstances surrounding that metabolism,” Marx went on to argue, “it [capitalist production] compels its systematic restoration as a regulating law of social reproduction”—a restoration, however, that can only be fully achieved outside of capitalist relations of production.1

Recent developments in Cuban agroecology offer concrete examples of how the rift can be healed, not simply with different techniques but with a transformation of the socio-metabolic relations of food production. Numerous scholars have described the scientific achievements of Cuban organic agriculture. However, the success of Cuban organic agriculture and the potential for it to influence other Latin American and Caribbean nations must be understood not simply as the application of new agricultural technology, but rather as an example of social transformation in its entirety. As Richard Levins notes, “To understand Cuban agricultural development it is first necessary to look at it closely in the richness of detail….Then we have to step back and squint to capture the truly novel pathway of development as a whole that Cuba is pioneering.”2

‘Land is the Treasure, Labor is the Key’

Marx’s concept of metabolism is rooted in his understanding of the labor process. Labor is a process by which humans mediate, regulate, and control the material exchange between themselves and nature. Land, the earth (and the ecological cycles that define it), and labor, which is the metabolic relation between human beings and nature, constitute the two original sources of all wealth. During a trip to Cuba with a group of agricultural researchers late last year I watched a horse-drawn cart transport organic produce from an urban garden of raised beds to the community stand nearby. I noticed a phrase painted on the wall of a storage building: “La tierra es un tesora y el trabajo es su llave,” land is the treasure, labor is the key. Witnessing a cooperatively run farm grow and deliver organic produce for its community provided a visual representation of Marx’s concept of metabolism. Land, providing the essential raw materials, is treated as a “treasure,” one that must not be exploited for short-term gain, but rather replenished through rational and planned application of ecological principles to agriculture (agroecology). And labor, being the physical embodiment of a “key,” can access the land’s rich qualities to provide healthy subsistence food, equally distributed to the local community.

Marx has two meanings for the term metabolism. One referred to the regulatory processes that govern the complex interchange between humans and nature, specifically with regard to nutrient cycles. The second holds a wider, social meaning describing the institutional norms governing the division of labor and distribution of wealth. The analysis of the metabolic rift addresses both of these meanings. In the ecological sense, Marx notes that capitalist agriculture ceases to be “self-sustaining” since it can “no longer find the natural conditions of its own production within itself.”3 Rather, nutrients must be acquired through long distance trade and separate industries outside of the agricultural sphere. This creates a rift in the natural cycles of soil fertility and waste accumulation.

In the wider, social meaning of metabolism, a rift is created between humanity and the natural world due to the relation of wage labor and capital. Private property in the earth’s resources, the division between mental/manual labor, and the antagonistic split between town and country illustrate the metabolic rift on a social level. In capitalism the rift is manifest in many ways, such as the primacy of corporate speculation in real estate, the loss of autonomy of subsistence farmers to the knowledge of “expert” technicians, and the demographic transition from rural farms to urban centers.

‘This is Beautiful Work’

In Cuba I was fortunate to speak with many of the farmers who worked on the organiponicos. I was frustrated that my elementary Spanish did not allow for a sophisticated conversation, but I was able to formulate a basic question. “Do you like this work?” I asked a farmer who had been showing me around the urban plots. Without hesitation, the farmer warmly replied, “Este es trabajo bonito,” this is beautiful work. Through further translation and site visits to four provinces throughout Cuba, I learned how the transformation of food production serves a practical function in Cuba; it supplies nutritious calories without the use of petroleum products, an essential ingredient in most global agribusiness food production.

The Cuban agricultural model reconnects the natural cycle of nutrients, and grounds human labor in the countryside with productive labor in the cities. The transformation of socio-metabolic relations allows biodiversity to act as a resource for food production, such as providing habitat for beneficial insects, rather than a challenge to overcome. New models of ownership and distribution allow for participatory decision making at all levels of cultivation, harvest, and consumption. A new type of labor relationship is introduced, one in which indigenous farmers interact with trained agronomists to best fit a crop to the natural environment, climate, and geography. And in opposition to the skeptics who question whether this model “can only happen in Castro’s Cuba,” farmers described the recent experiences of traveling to other Latin American and Caribbean nations to disseminate this new model of food production.

Reestablishing the Spatial Relations of Nutrient Cycles

Cuban agriculture has been lauded for its application of rational science to achieve organic agriculture.4 Accolades have come from international organizations such as those that voted to give the Cuban Grupo de Agricultura Organica the Alternative Nobel Prize for “developing organic farming methods.” The success lies partly in discovery of new methods, but also in transmitting the new information for local implementation. The 280 successful Centers for Production of Entomophages and Entomopathogens (CREEs) are a testament to the potential for rational organization of a national program for biological pest control by production of organisms that attack insect pests of crops.5 State-sponsored research that develops natural pesticides and bio-fertilizers is crucial to creating an alternative to conventional agriculture; however, it is not the fulcrum upon which metabolic restoration pivots. In order to understand the healing of the metabolic rift in relation to ecological processes, one must understand the spatial reorganization of nutrient cycling.

The ecological understanding of metabolic rift is premised on the spatial relations of physical processes regulating nutrient cycling. The separation of people from the land (rural to urban migration) creates a rift in the metabolism of nature-society relations since nutrients are transported away from the productive crops and farms where they originated, and accumulate as waste products in distant population centers. To replenish the biostructure of the depleted soil, capitalist agriculturalists must obtain nutrients through appropriation (i.e., the historic guano trade) or artificial industrial production (i.e., contemporary synthetic nitrogen) to be continuously applied to farmland. This system of food production severs the natural process of nutrient cycling, and introduces new ecological contradictions associated with the energy requirements for long distance trade in fertilizers while at the same time nutrients accumulate in the sewage of the cities. In a similar manner, the separation of agricultural animals from the cropland that produces their feeds creates a metabolic rift by interrupting the material exchange between grain feeds/livestock and livestock manure/grain feeds. As Foster and Magdoff note, “This breakdown of the physical connection between the animals and the land producing their feeds has worsened the depletion of nutrients and organic matter from soils producing crops.”6 The resulting consequence is the intensification of fertilizer application required to grow grains to meet an increasing demand for concentrated livestock production. The separation of humans, livestock, and crops breaks the return flow of nutrients to the land.

Cuban agriculture over the past thirteen years has worked to reestablish the spatial relationships between nutrient cycles and material exchanges. A key principle of Cuba’s agroecology is the “optimization of local resources and promotion of within-farm synergisms through plant-animal combinations.”7 The improved spatial integration of plants, animals, and humans can reduce the need for long-distance trade and replenish the fertility of the soil through nearby nutrient sources. Local socioeconomic circumstance and biophysical constraints dictate the type of spatial arrangement of nutrient cycles that are possible. During my visits to Cuban farms I witnessed how farming practices can sustainably cycle nutrients from either local sources or from on-site synergisms. Local resources are used to promote nutrient cycling, with methods for on-site integrations. Each of these methods attempts to fundamentally alter the spatial relations of nutrient cycling and waste assimilation in food production.

Worms, Cows, and Sugarcane

The essential factor required by all farmers for successful food production is nutrient-rich soil. Before the Special Period, Cuba relied on imported, synthetic fertilizers to achieve agricultural productivity. Today, organized systems that unite human labor, animal and crop by-products, and natural decomposition provide the essential nutrients for sustainable food production. The pathway that leads to replenished fertility and health of the soil does not require long distance trade or intensive energy inputs, rather it relies on the functions of biodiversity and ecological efficiency.

During a visit to a cooperatively run farm in East Havana, a farmer knelt down beside one of many long, rectangular concrete rows that served as high-density housing for the California red worm. He scooped his palm beneath the dark rich top layer of soil to reveal a small sample of the 10,000–50,000 worms that inhabited that particular square meter of biomass. In commercial-scale production, the worms can produce 2,500 to 3,500 cubic meters of humus from 9,000 cubic meters of organic material (a cubic meter is approximately the same volume as a cubic yard).8 Vermiculture, the method of using worm casings for soil fertilizer, is carried out on the farm so that workers can monitor daily the temperature and moisture of the worm habitat, and apply the nutrient-rich supplement to the crops at the correct time. Vermiculture in itself is not a revolutionary technique, however in Cuba it represents the final stage in an integrated process that reorganizes the use of local products to grow food.

The farmer explained how the worms can produce humus faster by using animal waste rather than vegetable waste, so he routinely obtains cow manure from a nearby farm. The cow manure is itself a product of local nutrient recycling, considering the feed inputs used to nourish the cows are the by-products of local crops. Although Cuban research centers realized decades ago that cattle could be well nourished by forage grasses, legumes, and crop residues, the prevalence and accessibility of cheap, imported cattle grain from Soviet nations left the benefits unexamined before the Special Period. A change in the material conditions of feed availability, however, allowed for closer inspection of the most sustainable uses of local resources. Cuban researchers learned that by-products from the sugarcane fields provided biological enrichment to cattle diets, and began using these “waste products” as the primary supplements for cattle feed.9 By-products from the sugarcane harvests include bagasse, molasses, and cachaza, as well as fresh cane residues such as the tops of cane stalks. Sugarcane as cattle fodder offers alternative solutions for both metabolizable energy and for protein supply. As two researchers into Cuban agroecology state: “The experiences of various countries over the last 15 years have demonstrated an economic advantage to using sugarcane as the main energy source for cattle feeding in beef and milk production. These systems are of special relevance for tropical countries during the dry season, the optimum season for the sugarcane harvest, and in turn, the most critical one for pasture and forage availability.”10

As the farmer conveyed this cascading path of nutrients from sugarcane fields to cattle troughs, from cow manure to worm bins, from worm casings to organic agriculture plots, I began to see how the nutrients within this one province of Cuba were connected through the metabolic actions of the plants and animals. This particular flow of nutrients (sugarcane, cow, worm, crop) delivered to local organic farms is not standard across all of Cuba because other regions have different resources available that can be substituted. For example, in Matanzas—the primary citrus producing province in central Cuba—orange rinds are fermented into silage to serve as cattle feed.11 Substituting local resources based on availability minimizes transportation energy expenditures and makes ecologically efficient use of nearby nutrients, thereby altering the spatial relationships of conventional agriculture’s fertilizer and waste disposal systems.

Another Pasture is Possible

As we drove down the lane to the “Indio Hatuey” Experiment Station I noticed a fenced and forested landscape on both sides of the road. My naïve assumption that this was some kind of a wood fiber plantation reflects the narrow range of delineated possibilities I’ve been trained to identify as either forest or pasture. Specialized production that produces a particular landscape is the standard model for intensive agriculture, and it represents one in which metabolic interactions between species are intentionally and intensively denied. The artistic sign at the entrance of the Pasture and Forage Experimental Station depicting cattle grazing in trees and tall grasses, surrounded by a symbolic beaker of science, was my first introduction to the sustainable silvopastoral systems.

“Welcome on behalf of the workers,” said Mildrey Soca Perez, the director of research at the station. The presentation began with a description of the holistic and interdisciplinary objectives of this experimental station, followed by a discussion of the ecological efficiency associated with livestock-crop integration. Before the Special Period, Cuba relied on an intensive production model for cattle grazing to secure milk and protein for the population. The Special Period triggered a search for alternative means of livestock production using local resources. Knowledge was reconstructed from small farmers who had preserved traditional mixed systems of land use. The spatial reorganization of crop growth and livestock production yielded mutual benefits of nutrient fertilization and waste assimilation. In hindsight, Cuban researchers from the Pasture and Forage Institute recognize that “the separation of crop and livestock production that took place was wasteful of energy and nutrients.”12 As the cows emerged from the forest trees and the researcher described the energy transfers between cows, tree leaves, and grasses, I began to see the ways in which this integration was another concrete example of restoring the rift that had occurred between constituent elements of our food production systems.

The Indio Hatuey farm raises cattle in fields planted with the tree Leucaena leucocephala.Cows eat the leaves and branches of this short and heavily forked tree, and workers regularly prune the trees so that the branches are accessible to the cattle. The cows also graze on the grasses in the trees’ understory. Leucaena trees fix nitrogen, thereby replenishing the soil that nourishes the grasses.

In addition, the cow manure helps boost the soil fertility for the trees and grasses. The utilization of organic compost on specialized monoculture systems and/or on large-scale production units has high transport and application costs, and specific labor and equipment requirements. Cuban researchers have found, however, that “when the scale of the system is kept smaller, and the degree of integration high, using these techniques is much easier, and in fact becomes a functional necessity of the system, while guaranteeing nutrient recycling.”13

The leucaena trees provide shade for the cows, thereby reducing heat stress and increasing productivity. To ensure ample photosynthesis for the grasses, the trees are planted in rows extending East-West to maximize the sunlight reaching the ground. The leucaena tree roots prevent erosion by maintaining the integrity of the soil structure, and special attention is given to the cow-tree ratio to ensure that soil compaction does not result. The researchers at Indio Hatuey station found that this system of grazing resulted in 3,000–5,000 liters milk/hectare/year with increased quality in terms of fat and protein content. In addition, the silvopastoral methods reduced the fluctuations of milk production between the rainy and dry seasons and increased the reproduction rates of the cows.

Silvopastoral methods do not only apply to cattle grazing and milk production, as these types of integrated systems are being researched for sheep, goats, pigs, and rabbits. The Indio Hatuey station also conducts research on grazing horses in orange orchards. The horses clear weeds from the orchard floor, reducing the need for herbicides, and provide manure fertilizer to maintain soil fertility. From an economic viewpoint, the orange/horse integrated system yielded a profit that was 388 Cuban pesos/hectare/year higher than the orange monoculture without animals.14 In each of these cases, the spatial relations of food production are researched and managed to maximize nutrient cycling and adapt the production system to biogeochemical features of the landscape.

On-farm experience in integrated livestock production is demonstrating the potential and viability of widespread conversion to crop/livestock systems. This transformation has implications that go beyond the technological-productive sphere. Rather, these changes directly or indirectly influence the economic, social, and cultural conditions of the small-farming families by reinforcing their ability to sustain themselves through local production. The Cuban farmers and researchers who explained the processes of local and on-site nutrient cycling helped me to see the many hands of workers that allowed this process to continue. New labor relationships, new decision-making structures, and new land and food distribution patterns not only allow for Cubans to subsist on healthier food in an ecologically sustainable manner. These structural changes have fundamentally altered society’s metabolism.

Reestablishing the Labor Relations of Food Production Systems
As noted, Marx used the concept of metabolic regulation in a wider, social meaning to “describe the complex, dynamic, interdependent set of needs and relations brought into being and constantly reproduced in alienated form under capitalism.”15 The needs and relations of social metabolism are regulated by the institutional norms governing the division of labor and distribution of wealth. The limitation of human freedom caused by the social metabolic rift provided Marx with a concrete way of expressing the notion of the alienation of nature. This second meaning of metabolism goes beyond the physical laws of nutrient exchanges and addresses the transformation in labor relations and property tenure that must accompany ecological changes if long-term sustainability is to result.

Cuba’s conventional agriculture, dependent on fossil fuels and mechanization, was carried out on large state-owned farms that controlled 63 percent of the arable land. By the end of the 1980s, state-owned sugar plantations covered three times more farmland than did food crops, making it necessary for Cuba to import 60 percent of its food, all from the Soviet bloc. The severe food crisis resulting from the Soviet collapse and the stringent U.S. economic blockade took a physical toll on the Cuban population, as the average Cuban lost twenty pounds and undernourishment jumped from less than 5 percent to over 20 percent during the 1990s.16 The agrarian reforms, which transformed land tenure and distribution outlets, were the key to recovering from the food crisis.

In September 1993, the Cuban government restructured the state farms as cooperatives owned and managed by the workers. The new programs transformed 41.2 percent of state farm land into 2,007 new cooperatives, with membership totaling 122,000 people.17 The cooperative owns the crops, and members are compensated based on productivity rather than a wage contract. In addition to being monetarily paid, the associated producers agree to provide meals to workers and personal gardening space for growing and harvesting family provisions. This change in land tenure has not only allowed for better application of organic farming methods, it has reconnected the worker to the land. This reconnection occurs both figuratively, as seen in the worker’s description of the farming job as “trabajo bonito,” but also geographically. The design of Cuba’s agricultural systems is taking into account the need to stabilize rural populations and reverse the rural-urban migration. Cuban agronomists at the Pasture and Forage Research Institute understand that this can only be achieved by rearranging productive structures and investing in developing rural areas, giving farming a more economical and social foundation.18

In addition to the cooperatively owned farms, the Cuban government has turned over approximately 170,000 hectares of land to private farmers. This reflects Marx’s view that “a rational agriculture needs either small farmers working for themselves or the control of the associated producers.”19 The government retains title to the land, however private farmers receive free rent indefinitely, as well as subsidized equipment. Many Cuban families are now viewing farming as an opportunity and have left the cities to become farmers. The National Association of Small Producers states that membership has expanded by 35,000 from 1997 to 2000. The new farmers tend to be adults with young families (many with college education), early retirees, or workers with a farming background.20

Expanding labor opportunities in rural agriculture only addresses one side of Cuba’s food production system. The emphasis placed on urban organic gardening transcends the town/country divide using a different strategy—introducing food production systems in abandoned city spaces. The organiponicos’ productive raised beds offer organic produce to surrounding neighborhoods from what were once garbage dumps, parking lots, and demolished buildings. Today, urban gardens produce 60 percent of the vegetables Cubans consume.

The urban agriculture movement began informally based on the need of urban dwellers to meet basic food requirements. The Cuban government recognized the potential for urban agriculture and created the Urban Agriculture Department to facilitate the movement. The state formalized the growers’ claims upon vacant lots and legalized the rights to sell their produce. All urban residents can claim up to one–third of an acre of vacant land, as long as they abide by the rules of all organic farming methods. By the beginning of 2000, more than 190,000 people had applied for and received these personal lots for use in organic farming. In total, 322,000 Cubans are involved in urban agriculture. The Urban Agriculture Department has acted to support and promote urban agriculture by opening neighborhood agricultural extension services where growers can bring their produce to receive technical assistance with pest and disease diagnosis, soil testing, etc.21

The transfer of technical agricultural knowledge from agronomists to food producers represents one side of the equation for successful sustainable agriculture. The Cuban model of agriculture recognizes that the artificial divide between mental and manual labor limits the range of opportunities for productive food systems. The goals of a participatory democracy for agricultural decision making have been incorporated into the new farming model, and this is made possible by the new ownership patterns. For example, the smaller cooperative farms are offered assistance by People’s Councils, located in all fifteen provinces of Cuba.22 The People’s Councils are comprised of local food producers and technicians that work together to advise the area’s farmers on best practices suited for that area. The trained agronomists work with the farmers in site-specific locations to determine the most appropriate techniques.

Farmers’ knowledge is also incorporated into agricultural conferences and academic proceedings. Fernando Macaya, the Director of the Cuban Association of Technicians for Agriculture and Forestry (ACTAF), spoke of a Provincial Meeting of Urban Agriculturists he attended in November 2006. Of 105 research papers delivered, 53 were presented by food producers, 34 from research technicians, and 12 from academic professors—61 of the presenters were women. The inclusion of experiential knowledge with experimental data leads to the application of rational science, equally accessible to all members of society. Younger generations are invited to participate in agricultural clubs in school, and teachers are encouraged to promote ecological classrooms. The most recent ACTAF-funded project brought puppet shows to elementary schools, addressing how to grow and use various medicinal herbs.23 Bridging the artificial divide between mental and manual labor is possible with new labor relationships.

The rift in the social metabolism can be overcome by melding the town/country boundaries (changing land tenure), as well as intersecting the roles of mental and manual labor (changing the division of labor). These two actions involve transformation of food production. But there is another relevant feature of the social metabolism of agriculture—the distribution of the harvest’s “wealth.” A key theme of Cuba’s sustainable agriculture is diversification of channels of food distribution. Rather than allowing one central authority to control all food distribution, flexibility is built into the distribution process to meet the populations’ varying needs. To help people cope with persistent food availability problems, a ration card is maintained which guarantees every Cuban a minimum amount of food. The diets of children, pregnant women, and the elderly are closely monitored, and intentionally low meal prices are offered at schools and workplaces, with free meals at hospitals.

Neighborhood markets sell produce from organiponicos at well below the cost of the larger community markets, providing fresh vegetables for those who cannot afford the higher prices. By the beginning of 2000, there were 505 vegetable stands in Cuban cities, with prices 50–70 percent lower than at farmers markets.24 The private farmers markets were opened in 1994 to allow outlets for increased production and greater diversity in produce. The private farmers markets provide producers with another means to distribute goods once basic necessities of the population have been met. Even though the private farmers markets operate on principles of supply and demand, governmental controls are in place to deter price gouging and collusion.
Attention is given to identifying low-income groups, and social assistance programs are created to address their food access. Marcos Nieto, of the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, describes how “planning takes into account geographic patterns of distribution of the population, especially with regards to areas of high population density, or limited access, or poor soils, etc.”25

Sovereign Agriculture in Latin America?

The rift in social metabolism of food production under capitalism is aggravated by private ownership of land, the strict division between mental and manual labor, and the unjust distribution of the fruits of labor. Cuba’s model of agriculture systematically transcends these alienating conditions, reconnecting farmers to the land through cooperative production, participatory decision making, and diversified distribution. Can this vision for ecological sustainability and social equality extend beyond the island of Cuba?

Cuban farmers are traveling to Latin American and Caribbean nations to assist farmers in setting up similar types of food production systems. Indeed, Cuba’s fastest growing export is currently ideas. Cuba hosts many visiting farmers and agricultural technicians from throughout the Americas and elsewhere. Cuban agronomists are currently teaching agroecological farming methods to Haitian farmers, as well as assisting Venezuela with their burgeoning urban agriculture movement.

It is not only Cuban farmers that are dispersing these ideas. Peasant movements throughout Latin America are returning to traditional agrarian practices and demanding land redistribution that allows for subsistence food production. The Latin America School of Agroecology was created in August 2005 in Parana, Brazil. Founded by a partnership between two peasant movements—the Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores sem Terra, MST) and Via Campesina—the school focuses on bringing the principles of agroecology to rural communities throughout Latin America. According to the coordinator of the MST, Robert Baggio, the school will construct a new matrix based on agroecology. This new matrix, he explained, will be geared to small-scale production and the domestic market, respecting the environment and contributing to the construction of sovereign agriculture (http://www.landaction.org).

In this spread of metabolic restoration, we get a glimpse of Marx’s vision of a future society of associated producers. In volume 3 of Capital, Marx wrote: “Freedom in this sphere can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their own collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”26

The psychological barriers that often prevent this vision from seeming possible are based on a myopic view—that of agribusiness as usual: where cows do not graze in forests and crops do not grow from worms; where farmers do not do science and workers do not eat their harvests; and where the metabolic rift in ecological and social systems becomes intensified with the ever-increasing quest for profit accumulation. Cuba’s agriculture shows that the potential for metabolic restoration is real, and it can happen now. The advance of these ideas through the rest of Latin America provides hope for future transformations.

Notes

1. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1976), 637–38.
2. Richard Levins, “The Unique Pathway of Cuban Development,” in Fernando Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance (Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2002), 280.
3. Karl Marx. Grundrisse (New York: Vintage, 1973), 527.
4. See Peter Rosset, “Cuba: A Successful Case Study of Sustainable Agriculture,” in Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick Buttel, eds., Hungry for Profit (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); and Sinan Koont, “Food Security in Cuba,” Monthly Review 55, no. 8 (January 2004): 11–20.
5. Funes, et. al, eds., Sustainable Agriculture.
6. John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, “Liebig, Marx, and the Depletion of Soil Fertility,” in Magdoff, Foster, and Buttel, eds., Hungry for Profit, 53.
7. Miguel Altieri, “The Principles and Strategies of Agroecology in Cuba,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, xiii.
8. Eolia Treto, et. al., “Advances in Organic Soil Management,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, 164–89.
9. Marta Monzote, Eulogia Munoz, and Fernance Funez-Monzote, “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, 190–211.
10. Rafael Suarez Rivacoba and Rafael B. Morin, “Sugarcane and Sustainability in Cuba,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, 255.
11. Mildrey Soca Perez, personal communication, December 1, 2006.
12. Monzote, et. al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 190.
13. Monzote, et. al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 205.

14. Monzote, et. al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 200.
15. John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 158.
16. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank, and World Resources Institute, World Resources 2000–2001—People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life (UNDP, 2000).
17. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels (Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers, 2006), 59.
18. Monzote, et al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 207.
19. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (New York: Vintage, 1981), 216.
20. Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 60.
21. Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 61.
22. Juan Leon, personal communication, November 27, 2006.
23. Fernando Macaya, personal communication, November 27, 2006.
24. Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 61.
25. Marcos Nieto and Ricardo Delgada, “Cuban Agriculture and Food Security,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture.
26. Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 959. is the key. Witnessing a cooperatively run farm grow and deliver organic produce for its community provided a visual representation of Marx’s concept of metabolism. Land, providing the essential raw materials, is treated as a “treasure,” one that must not be exploited for short-term gain, but rather replenished through rational and planned application of ecological principles to agriculture (agroecology). And labor, being the physical embodiment of a “key,” can access the land’s rich qualities to provide healthy subsistence food, equally distributed to the local community.

Marx has two meanings for the term metabolism. One referred to the regulatory processes that govern the complex interchange between humans and nature, specifically with regard to nutrient cycles. The second holds a wider, social meaning describing the institutional norms governing the division of labor and distribution of wealth. The analysis of the metabolic rift addresses both of these meanings. In the ecological sense, Marx notes that capitalist agriculture ceases to be “self-sustaining” since it can “no longer find the natural conditions of its own production within itself.”3 Rather, nutrients must be acquired through long distance trade and separate industries outside of the agricultural sphere. This creates a rift in the natural cycles of soil fertility and waste accumulation.

In the wider, social meaning of metabolism, a rift is created between humanity and the natural world due to the relation of wage labor and capital. Private property in the earth’s resources, the division between mental/manual labor, and the antagonistic split between town and country illustrate the metabolic rift on a social level. In capitalism the rift is manifest in many ways, such as the primacy of corporate speculation in real estate, the loss of autonomy of subsistence farmers to the knowledge of “expert” technicians, and the demographic transition from rural farms to urban centers.

‘This is Beautiful Work’

In Cuba I was fortunate to speak with many of the farmers who worked on the organiponicos. I was frustrated that my elementary Spanish did not allow for a sophisticated conversation, but I was able to formulate a basic question. “Do you like this work?” I asked a farmer who had been showing me around the urban plots. Without hesitation, the farmer warmly replied, “Este es trabajo bonito,” this is beautiful work. Through further translation and site visits to four provinces throughout Cuba, I learned how the transformation of food production serves a practical function in Cuba; it supplies nutritious calories without the use of petroleum products, an essential ingredient in most global agribusiness food production.

The Cuban agricultural model reconnects the natural cycle of nutrients, and grounds human labor in the countryside with productive labor in the cities. The transformation of socio-metabolic relations allows biodiversity to act as a resource for food production, such as providing habitat for beneficial insects, rather than a challenge to overcome. New models of ownership and distribution allow for participatory decision making at all levels of cultivation, harvest, and consumption. A new type of labor relationship is introduced, one in which indigenous farmers interact with trained agronomists to best fit a crop to the natural environment, climate, and geography. And in opposition to the skeptics who question whether this model “can only happen in Castro’s Cuba,” farmers described the recent experiences of traveling to other Latin American and Caribbean nations to disseminate this new model of food production.

Reestablishing the Spatial Relations of Nutrient Cycles

Cuban agriculture has been lauded for its application of rational science to achieve organic agriculture.4 Accolades have come from international organizations such as those that voted to give the Cuban Grupo de Agricultura Organica the Alternative Nobel Prize for “developing organic farming methods.” The success lies partly in discovery of new methods, but also in transmitting the new information for local implementation. The 280 successful Centers for Production of Entomophages and Entomopathogens (CREEs) are a testament to the potential for rational organization of a national program for biological pest control by production of organisms that attack insect pests of crops.5 State-sponsored research that develops natural pesticides and bio-fertilizers is crucial to creating an alternative to conventional agriculture; however, it is not the fulcrum upon which metabolic restoration pivots. In order to understand the healing of the metabolic rift in relation to ecological processes, one must understand the spatial reorganization of nutrient cycling.

The ecological understanding of metabolic rift is premised on the spatial relations of physical processes regulating nutrient cycling. The separation of people from the land (rural to urban migration) creates a rift in the metabolism of nature-society relations since nutrients are transported away from the productive crops and farms where they originated, and accumulate as waste products in distant population centers. To replenish the biostructure of the depleted soil, capitalist agriculturalists must obtain nutrients through appropriation (i.e., the historic guano trade) or artificial industrial production (i.e., contemporary synthetic nitrogen) to be continuously applied to farmland. This system of food production severs the natural process of nutrient cycling, and introduces new ecological contradictions associated with the energy requirements for long distance trade in fertilizers while at the same time nutrients accumulate in the sewage of the cities. In a similar manner, the separation of agricultural animals from the cropland that produces their feeds creates a metabolic rift by interrupting the material exchange between grain feeds/livestock and livestock manure/grain feeds. As Foster and Magdoff note, “This breakdown of the physical connection between the animals and the land producing their feeds has worsened the depletion of nutrients and organic matter from soils producing crops.”6 The resulting consequence is the intensification of fertilizer application required to grow grains to meet an increasing demand for concentrated livestock production. The separation of humans, livestock, and crops breaks the return flow of nutrients to the land.

Cuban agriculture over the past thirteen years has worked to reestablish the spatial relationships between nutrient cycles and material exchanges. A key principle of Cuba’s agroecology is the “optimization of local resources and promotion of within-farm synergisms through plant-animal combinations.”7 The improved spatial integration of plants, animals, and humans can reduce the need for long-distance trade and replenish the fertility of the soil through nearby nutrient sources. Local socioeconomic circumstance and biophysical constraints dictate the type of spatial arrangement of nutrient cycles that are possible. During my visits to Cuban farms I witnessed how farming practices can sustainably cycle nutrients from either local sources or from on-site synergisms. Local resources are used to promote nutrient cycling, with methods for on-site integrations. Each of these methods attempts to fundamentally alter the spatial relations of nutrient cycling and waste assimilation in food production.

Worms, Cows, and Sugarcane

The essential factor required by all farmers for successful food production is nutrient-rich soil. Before the Special Period, Cuba relied on imported, synthetic fertilizers to achieve agricultural productivity. Today, organized systems that unite human labor, animal and crop by-products, and natural decomposition provide the essential nutrients for sustainable food production. The pathway that leads to replenished fertility and health of the soil does not require long distance trade or intensive energy inputs, rather it relies on the functions of biodiversity and ecological efficiency.

During a visit to a cooperatively run farm in East Havana, a farmer knelt down beside one of many long, rectangular concrete rows that served as high-density housing for the California red worm. He scooped his palm beneath the dark rich top layer of soil to reveal a small sample of the 10,000–50,000 worms that inhabited that particular square meter of biomass. In commercial-scale production, the worms can produce 2,500 to 3,500 cubic meters of humus from 9,000 cubic meters of organic material (a cubic meter is approximately the same volume as a cubic yard).8 Vermiculture, the method of using worm casings for soil fertilizer, is carried out on the farm so that workers can monitor daily the temperature and moisture of the worm habitat, and apply the nutrient-rich supplement to the crops at the correct time. Vermiculture in itself is not a revolutionary technique, however in Cuba it represents the final stage in an integrated process that reorganizes the use of local products to grow food.

The farmer explained how the worms can produce humus faster by using animal waste rather than vegetable waste, so he routinely obtains cow manure from a nearby farm. The cow manure is itself a product of local nutrient recycling, considering the feed inputs used to nourish the cows are the by-products of local crops. Although Cuban research centers realized decades ago that cattle could be well nourished by forage grasses, legumes, and crop residues, the prevalence and accessibility of cheap, imported cattle grain from Soviet nations left the benefits unexamined before the Special Period. A change in the material conditions of feed availability, however, allowed for closer inspection of the most sustainable uses of local resources. Cuban researchers learned that by-products from the sugarcane fields provided biological enrichment to cattle diets, and began using these “waste products” as the primary supplements for cattle feed.9 By-products from the sugarcane harvests include bagasse, molasses, and cachaza, as well as fresh cane residues such as the tops of cane stalks. Sugarcane as cattle fodder offers alternative solutions for both metabolizable energy and for protein supply. As two researchers into Cuban agroecology state: “The experiences of various countries over the last 15 years have demonstrated an economic advantage to using sugarcane as the main energy source for cattle feeding in beef and milk production. These systems are of special relevance for tropical countries during the dry season, the optimum season for the sugarcane harvest, and in turn, the most critical one for pasture and forage availability.”10

As the farmer conveyed this cascading path of nutrients from sugarcane fields to cattle troughs, from cow manure to worm bins, from worm casings to organic agriculture plots, I began to see how the nutrients within this one province of Cuba were connected through the metabolic actions of the plants and animals. This particular flow of nutrients (sugarcane, cow, worm, crop) delivered to local organic farms is not standard across all of Cuba because other regions have different resources available that can be substituted. For example, in Matanzas—the primary citrus producing province in central Cuba—orange rinds are fermented into silage to serve as cattle feed.11 Substituting local resources based on availability minimizes transportation energy expenditures and makes ecologically efficient use of nearby nutrients, thereby altering the spatial relationships of conventional agriculture’s fertilizer and waste disposal systems.

Another Pasture is Possible

As we drove down the lane to the “Indio Hatuey” Experiment Station I noticed a fenced and forested landscape on both sides of the road. My naïve assumption that this was some kind of a wood fiber plantation reflects the narrow range of delineated possibilities I’ve been trained to identify as either forest or pasture. Specialized production that produces a particular landscape is the standard model for intensive agriculture, and it represents one in which metabolic interactions between species are intentionally and intensively denied. The artistic sign at the entrance of the Pasture and Forage Experimental Station depicting cattle grazing in trees and tall grasses, surrounded by a symbolic beaker of science, was my first introduction to the sustainable silvopastoral systems.

“Welcome on behalf of the workers,” said Mildrey Soca Perez, the director of research at the station. The presentation began with a description of the holistic and interdisciplinary objectives of this experimental station, followed by a discussion of the ecological efficiency associated with livestock-crop integration. Before the Special Period, Cuba relied on an intensive production model for cattle grazing to secure milk and protein for the population. The Special Period triggered a search for alternative means of livestock production using local resources. Knowledge was reconstructed from small farmers who had preserved traditional mixed systems of land use. The spatial reorganization of crop growth and livestock production yielded mutual benefits of nutrient fertilization and waste assimilation. In hindsight, Cuban researchers from the Pasture and Forage Institute recognize that “the separation of crop and livestock production that took place was wasteful of energy and nutrients.”12 As the cows emerged from the forest trees and the researcher described the energy transfers between cows, tree leaves, and grasses, I began to see the ways in which this integration was another concrete example of restoring the rift that had occurred between constituent elements of our food production systems.

The Indio Hatuey farm raises cattle in fields planted with the tree Leucaena leucocephala.Cows eat the leaves and branches of this short and heavily forked tree, and workers regularly prune the trees so that the branches are accessible to the cattle. The cows also graze on the grasses in the trees’ understory. Leucaena trees fix nitrogen, thereby replenishing the soil that nourishes the grasses.

In addition, the cow manure helps boost the soil fertility for the trees and grasses. The utilization of organic compost on specialized monoculture systems and/or on large-scale production units has high transport and application costs, and specific labor and equipment requirements. Cuban researchers have found, however, that “when the scale of the system is kept smaller, and the degree of integration high, using these techniques is much easier, and in fact becomes a functional necessity of the system, while guaranteeing nutrient recycling.”13

The leucaena trees provide shade for the cows, thereby reducing heat stress and increasing productivity. To ensure ample photosynthesis for the grasses, the trees are planted in rows extending East-West to maximize the sunlight reaching the ground. The leucaena tree roots prevent erosion by maintaining the integrity of the soil structure, and special attention is given to the cow-tree ratio to ensure that soil compaction does not result. The researchers at Indio Hatuey station found that this system of grazing resulted in 3,000–5,000 liters milk/hectare/year with increased quality in terms of fat and protein content. In addition, the silvopastoral methods reduced the fluctuations of milk production between the rainy and dry seasons and increased the reproduction rates of the cows.

Silvopastoral methods do not only apply to cattle grazing and milk production, as these types of integrated systems are being researched for sheep, goats, pigs, and rabbits. The Indio Hatuey station also conducts research on grazing horses in orange orchards. The horses clear weeds from the orchard floor, reducing the need for herbicides, and provide manure fertilizer to maintain soil fertility. From an economic viewpoint, the orange/horse integrated system yielded a profit that was 388 Cuban pesos/hectare/year higher than the orange monoculture without animals.14 In each of these cases, the spatial relations of food production are researched and managed to maximize nutrient cycling and adapt the production system to biogeochemical features of the landscape.

On-farm experience in integrated livestock production is demonstrating the potential and viability of widespread conversion to crop/livestock systems. This transformation has implications that go beyond the technological-productive sphere. Rather, these changes directly or indirectly influence the economic, social, and cultural conditions of the small-farming families by reinforcing their ability to sustain themselves through local production. The Cuban farmers and researchers who explained the processes of local and on-site nutrient cycling helped me to see the many hands of workers that allowed this process to continue. New labor relationships, new decision-making structures, and new land and food distribution patterns not only allow for Cubans to subsist on healthier food in an ecologically sustainable manner. These structural changes have fundamentally altered society’s metabolism.

Reestablishing the Labor Relations of Food Production Systems
As noted, Marx used the concept of metabolic regulation in a wider, social meaning to “describe the complex, dynamic, interdependent set of needs and relations brought into being and constantly reproduced in alienated form under capitalism.”15 The needs and relations of social metabolism are regulated by the institutional norms governing the division of labor and distribution of wealth. The limitation of human freedom caused by the social metabolic rift provided Marx with a concrete way of expressing the notion of the alienation of nature. This second meaning of metabolism goes beyond the physical laws of nutrient exchanges and addresses the transformation in labor relations and property tenure that must accompany ecological changes if long-term sustainability is to result.

Cuba’s conventional agriculture, dependent on fossil fuels and mechanization, was carried out on large state-owned farms that controlled 63 percent of the arable land. By the end of the 1980s, state-owned sugar plantations covered three times more farmland than did food crops, making it necessary for Cuba to import 60 percent of its food, all from the Soviet bloc. The severe food crisis resulting from the Soviet collapse and the stringent U.S. economic blockade took a physical toll on the Cuban population, as the average Cuban lost twenty pounds and undernourishment jumped from less than 5 percent to over 20 percent during the 1990s.16 The agrarian reforms, which transformed land tenure and distribution outlets, were the key to recovering from the food crisis.

In September 1993, the Cuban government restructured the state farms as cooperatives owned and managed by the workers. The new programs transformed 41.2 percent of state farm land into 2,007 new cooperatives, with membership totaling 122,000 people.17 The cooperative owns the crops, and members are compensated based on productivity rather than a wage contract. In addition to being monetarily paid, the associated producers agree to provide meals to workers and personal gardening space for growing and harvesting family provisions. This change in land tenure has not only allowed for better application of organic farming methods, it has reconnected the worker to the land. This reconnection occurs both figuratively, as seen in the worker’s description of the farming job as “trabajo bonito,” but also geographically. The design of Cuba’s agricultural systems is taking into account the need to stabilize rural populations and reverse the rural-urban migration. Cuban agronomists at the Pasture and Forage Research Institute understand that this can only be achieved by rearranging productive structures and investing in developing rural areas, giving farming a more economical and social foundation.18

In addition to the cooperatively owned farms, the Cuban government has turned over approximately 170,000 hectares of land to private farmers. This reflects Marx’s view that “a rational agriculture needs either small farmers working for themselves or the control of the associated producers.”19 The government retains title to the land, however private farmers receive free rent indefinitely, as well as subsidized equipment. Many Cuban families are now viewing farming as an opportunity and have left the cities to become farmers. The National Association of Small Producers states that membership has expanded by 35,000 from 1997 to 2000. The new farmers tend to be adults with young families (many with college education), early retirees, or workers with a farming background.20

Expanding labor opportunities in rural agriculture only addresses one side of Cuba’s food production system. The emphasis placed on urban organic gardening transcends the town/country divide using a different strategy—introducing food production systems in abandoned city spaces. The organiponicos’ productive raised beds offer organic produce to surrounding neighborhoods from what were once garbage dumps, parking lots, and demolished buildings. Today, urban gardens produce 60 percent of the vegetables Cubans consume.

The urban agriculture movement began informally based on the need of urban dwellers to meet basic food requirements. The Cuban government recognized the potential for urban agriculture and created the Urban Agriculture Department to facilitate the movement. The state formalized the growers’ claims upon vacant lots and legalized the rights to sell their produce. All urban residents can claim up to one–third of an acre of vacant land, as long as they abide by the rules of all organic farming methods. By the beginning of 2000, more than 190,000 people had applied for and received these personal lots for use in organic farming. In total, 322,000 Cubans are involved in urban agriculture. The Urban Agriculture Department has acted to support and promote urban agriculture by opening neighborhood agricultural extension services where growers can bring their produce to receive technical assistance with pest and disease diagnosis, soil testing, etc.21

The transfer of technical agricultural knowledge from agronomists to food producers represents one side of the equation for successful sustainable agriculture. The Cuban model of agriculture recognizes that the artificial divide between mental and manual labor limits the range of opportunities for productive food systems. The goals of a participatory democracy for agricultural decision making have been incorporated into the new farming model, and this is made possible by the new ownership patterns. For example, the smaller cooperative farms are offered assistance by People’s Councils, located in all fifteen provinces of Cuba.22 The People’s Councils are comprised of local food producers and technicians that work together to advise the area’s farmers on best practices suited for that area. The trained agronomists work with the farmers in site-specific locations to determine the most appropriate techniques.

Farmers’ knowledge is also incorporated into agricultural conferences and academic proceedings. Fernando Macaya, the Director of the Cuban Association of Technicians for Agriculture and Forestry (ACTAF), spoke of a Provincial Meeting of Urban Agriculturists he attended in November 2006. Of 105 research papers delivered, 53 were presented by food producers, 34 from research technicians, and 12 from academic professors—61 of the presenters were women. The inclusion of experiential knowledge with experimental data leads to the application of rational science, equally accessible to all members of society. Younger generations are invited to participate in agricultural clubs in school, and teachers are encouraged to promote ecological classrooms. The most recent ACTAF-funded project brought puppet shows to elementary schools, addressing how to grow and use various medicinal herbs.23 Bridging the artificial divide between mental and manual labor is possible with new labor relationships.

The rift in the social metabolism can be overcome by melding the town/country boundaries (changing land tenure), as well as intersecting the roles of mental and manual labor (changing the division of labor). These two actions involve transformation of food production. But there is another relevant feature of the social metabolism of agriculture—the distribution of the harvest’s “wealth.” A key theme of Cuba’s sustainable agriculture is diversification of channels of food distribution. Rather than allowing one central authority to control all food distribution, flexibility is built into the distribution process to meet the populations’ varying needs. To help people cope with persistent food availability problems, a ration card is maintained which guarantees every Cuban a minimum amount of food. The diets of children, pregnant women, and the elderly are closely monitored, and intentionally low meal prices are offered at schools and workplaces, with free meals at hospitals.

Neighborhood markets sell produce from organiponicos at well below the cost of the larger community markets, providing fresh vegetables for those who cannot afford the higher prices. By the beginning of 2000, there were 505 vegetable stands in Cuban cities, with prices 50–70 percent lower than at farmers markets.24 The private farmers markets were opened in 1994 to allow outlets for increased production and greater diversity in produce. The private farmers markets provide producers with another means to distribute goods once basic necessities of the population have been met. Even though the private farmers markets operate on principles of supply and demand, governmental controls are in place to deter price gouging and collusion.
Attention is given to identifying low-income groups, and social assistance programs are created to address their food access. Marcos Nieto, of the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, describes how “planning takes into account geographic patterns of distribution of the population, especially with regards to areas of high population density, or limited access, or poor soils, etc.”25

Sovereign Agriculture in Latin America?

The rift in social metabolism of food production under capitalism is aggravated by private ownership of land, the strict division between mental and manual labor, and the unjust distribution of the fruits of labor. Cuba’s model of agriculture systematically transcends these alienating conditions, reconnecting farmers to the land through cooperative production, participatory decision making, and diversified distribution. Can this vision for ecological sustainability and social equality extend beyond the island of Cuba?

Cuban farmers are traveling to Latin American and Caribbean nations to assist farmers in setting up similar types of food production systems. Indeed, Cuba’s fastest growing export is currently ideas. Cuba hosts many visiting farmers and agricultural technicians from throughout the Americas and elsewhere. Cuban agronomists are currently teaching agroecological farming methods to Haitian farmers, as well as assisting Venezuela with their burgeoning urban agriculture movement.

It is not only Cuban farmers that are dispersing these ideas. Peasant movements throughout Latin America are returning to traditional agrarian practices and demanding land redistribution that allows for subsistence food production. The Latin America School of Agroecology was created in August 2005 in Parana, Brazil. Founded by a partnership between two peasant movements—the Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores sem Terra, MST) and Via Campesina—the school focuses on bringing the principles of agroecology to rural communities throughout Latin America. According to the coordinator of the MST, Robert Baggio, the school will construct a new matrix based on agroecology. This new matrix, he explained, will be geared to small-scale production and the domestic market, respecting the environment and contributing to the construction of sovereign agriculture (http://www.landaction.org).

In this spread of metabolic restoration, we get a glimpse of Marx’s vision of a future society of associated producers. In volume 3 of Capital, Marx wrote: “Freedom in this sphere can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their own collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”26

The psychological barriers that often prevent this vision from seeming possible are based on a myopic view—that of agribusiness as usual: where cows do not graze in forests and crops do not grow from worms; where farmers do not do science and workers do not eat their harvests; and where the metabolic rift in ecological and social systems becomes intensified with the ever-increasing quest for profit accumulation. Cuba’s agriculture shows that the potential for metabolic restoration is real, and it can happen now. The advance of these ideas through the rest of Latin America provides hope for future transformations.

Notes
1.   Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1976), 637–38.
2.   Richard Levins, “The Unique Pathway of Cuban Development,” in Fernando Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance (Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2002), 280.
3.   Karl Marx. Grundrisse (New York: Vintage, 1973), 527.
4.   See Peter Rosset, “Cuba: A Successful Case Study of Sustainable Agriculture,” in Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick Buttel, eds., Hungry for Profit (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); and Sinan Koont, “Food Security in Cuba,” Monthly Review 55, no. 8 (January 2004): 11–20.
5.   Funes, et. al, eds., Sustainable Agriculture.
6.   John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, “Liebig, Marx, and the Depletion of Soil Fertility,” in Magdoff, Foster, and Buttel, eds., Hungry for Profit, 53.
7.   Miguel Altieri, “The Principles and Strategies of Agroecology in Cuba,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, xiii.
8.   Eolia Treto, et. al., “Advances in Organic Soil Management,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, 164–89.
9.   Marta Monzote, Eulogia Munoz, and Fernance Funez-Monzote, “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, 190–211.
10. Rafael Suarez Rivacoba and Rafael B. Morin, “Sugarcane and Sustainability in Cuba,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture, 255.
11. Mildrey Soca Perez, personal communication, December 1, 2006.
12. Monzote, et. al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 190.
13. Monzote, et. al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 205.
14. Monzote, et. al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 200.
15. John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 158.
16. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank, and World Resources Institute, World Resources 2000–2001—People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life (UNDP, 2000).
17. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels (Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers, 2006), 59.
18. Monzote, et al., “The Integration of Crop and Livestock,” 207.
19. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (New York: Vintage, 1981), 216.
20. Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 60.
21. Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 61.
22. Juan Leon, personal communication, November 27, 2006.
23. Fernando Macaya, personal communication, November 27, 2006.
24. Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 61.
25. Marcos Nieto and Ricardo Delgada, “Cuban Agriculture and Food Security,” in Funes, et al., eds., Sustainable Agriculture.
26. Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 959.