Today, Cuba is recognized as a unique centre for organic, farmer-led agriculture. Since the early 1990s, the country has undergone a remarkable shift away from monoculture and accompanying carbon based pesticides and fertilizers. With the withdrawal of the Soviet Union at that time, Cuba was forced to explore a different approach to food production. So they began returning to the organic agricultural practices of an earlier generation.

This agroecological farming movement has supported farming cooperatives, land reforms and innovative practices like crop rotation and experimentation with indigenous seed varieties. Farmers began to build back what had once been lost – an agrobiodiverse and ecological food system resilient to climatic variability and environmental disasters. Small farmers went from being virtually ignored to becoming highly valued for their knowledge and practices.


These small farmers have been key to revitalizing the island’s agriculture but they need more support to continue feeding the country.

The land reforms for new farmers have been steps in the right direction. Private farmer cooperatives and agroecological production now dominate the food production model but require continued support. Farmers need access to credit, services, seeds and tools.

USC Canada in Cuba

USC Canada partners with the Cuban National Institute for Agricultural Sciences (INCA) on an innovative farmer-scientist research program that puts farmers in the driver's seat: the Program for Local Agricultural Innovation (PIAL).

The program is based on an ecological approach to agriculture, respect for farmer knowledge and increasing agrobiodiversity. It seeks to increase agricultural and food production by strengthening local innovation systems.

Since 2007 we have worked with our Cuban colleagues at to support thousands of small farmers to organize, increase the availability of indigenous crop varieties and save and share seeds in communities across the island. The program estimates that it has spread seed diversity and security to over 50,000 rural farmers in Cuba.

USC Canada helped INCA execute the successful second phase of the program from 2007-2012, with support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now Global Affairs Canada). PIAL is now in a third phase of the program and USC Canada continues collaborating with Cuba as a strategic partner, with ongoing funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

USC Canada is currently working on a seed diversity management project to strengthen seed supply systems in three Cuban municipalities. The project includes action-learning on seed security issues and global farmer-to-farmer exchanges.

In 2010, PIAL founder and then coordinator, Dr. Humberto Rios, received the renowned American Goldman Environmental Award for the program's pioneering work in introducing and expanding seed and crop diversity, participatory plant breeding and sustainable agricultural systems in Cuba.

Core work

  • Sustainable agricultural systems and agroecology
  • Participatory seed diffusion and plant breeding
  • On farm conservation of farmer seed varieties and seed banking
  • Secure seed supply through seed reproduction and diversity
  • Farmer-scientist collaboration
  • Climate change adaptation and mitigation
  • Gender equality
  • Agricultural biodiversity
Read 12594 times Last modified on Monday, 30 October 2017 19:21
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LottaHitschmanova tbnWhat's in a Name?

We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.



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