Reimagining Farmland and Food Access
Time: Saturday, 11:15 am to 12:45 pm
Julie Kurtz, MS/MPH Candidate, Agriculture/Food/Environment, Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy; School of Public Health
Key Words: Sustainable land use, circular economy, beginning and disadvantaged farmers, food sovereignty
Since the 1990’s, Cuba has served as an exemplar of sustainable farming movements. However, less is known about the state and economic policies that have supported these movements. As part of our research, we traveled to Cuba in January 2017 to engage farmers, university professors and agricultural specialists on aspects of sustainable farming. In our field interviews and literature review we examined the structure of Cuban land management within its food system. Agricultural land can be privately, cooperatively, or state owned. As a unique hybrid of private-state land, Cuba’s usufruct system ensures land tenure to farmers who continue to work the land and fulfill a reasonable production quota. This quota system not only powerfully meets food needs for some of the most vulnerable populations, it has been the key method of land access for farmers who otherwise would not have the means to acquire land. With 70% of US agricultural land estimated to transition ownership in the next two decades, and land access cited as a primary challenge for American beginning farmers and ranchers, an usufruct system could be instructive for US agriculture. In Cuba, the usufruct system has promoted some of the most impressive farms in terms of ecological conservation and climate resilience, while enhancing the diets of local populations. Considering the potential for usufruct systems to confront challenges of farmer land access, ecological conservation, diversified diets, and improved rural economies, the model of Cuban policies merit a closer examination. We propose that this private-public partnership deserves support in the US, with dedicated research funds to evaluate the program’s efficacy. We seek collaborators and local entities willing to implement trial policies in their state or region. Usufruct stewardship of public land may enable farmer success and shed light on their true merit as conservation and public health heroes.