This grassroots initiative is a part of the Cuban National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), a member of the La Via Campesina movement. It focuses on Cuban farmer autonomy through agroecological practices, participatory plant breeding, and farmer-to-farmer approaches. Through this initiative, the small farm sector in the country is achieving higher production at lower costs (compared to conventional, chemical-sensitive monoculture farming systems). The sector is increasing national food production and is more resistant to adverse effects of climate change as well as economic or political shocks.
The farmer-to-farmer approach is a methodology used to further disseminate agroecological practices. After the food crisis in Cuba, it was the only definitive answer. It is a dynamic process that is successful because farmers trust other farmers. The Farmer-to-Farmer Agroecology Movement (MACAC) initiative has more to do with social processes than specific technologies. Implementation is based on local resources to lessen the dependency on external actors or resources to ensure sustainability. MACAC was assisted by the Ministry of Higher Education (not Agriculture) and worked to change researchers’ ideas about agriculture and agroecology. Their future goal is to connect small farmers directly to the markets and to increase consumer demand.
The MACAC knowledge paradigm is supported by institutional actors and programs who learn from the expert farmers in a more equal exchange. Some examples of this work include a bus trip of employees from various organizations that visit farms; a quarterly journey to visit farmers in all provinces of the country; cooperatives; and literature such as brochures, books, and magazines. This farmer-to-farmer initiative has worked to increase the number of agroecological farmers in Cuba from 200 in 1999 to 110,000 in 2009, which is about one-third of the small-scale farmers.
Humberto Rios, an agronomist, researcher, and ANAP member, shared that when he was in university in the 1990s, he learned to produce food only with agrochemicals. To find the necessary solutions for Cuba at the time, he knew he had to learn from smallholder farmers. They taught him about seed diversity and organic plant production and maintenance. For example, at the university, they maintained 4 to 5 varieties of beans, whereas the farmers maintained over 200 different varieties.