Sustainable Technological Alternatives in Havana
March 19, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba is an ideal environment for exchanges between people
committed to the earth, said Madeleine Porr, the executive director of
the German NGO "In Good Hands."
Her group sponsored a recent symposium in Havana titled, "Making the
Future with Local Strengths," which dealt with recycling, renewable
energy and healthy food. This forum was conducted in late February at
the Cuban Association of United Nations by the "El Pan Alegre" project.
The activist proposed "comparing visions and ideas [and] their
usefulness in everyday life in different cultures."
Amaranth is a versatile and resistant American ancestral plant that's a
valuable source of protein and other nutrients, which is its first key
characteristic. The colonialists of Latin America prohibited its
cultivation for religious use. However, according Madeleine Porr, "its
seeds are so small that it was impossible to prohibit it… the plant is
still a source of fear on the part of those in the industrial biotech
empire… It's a rebel plant…"
It also has a history in Cuba. Eduardo Ortega (from the plant physiology
laboratory of the University of Havana) reported that they worked with
amaranth plants in 1989 but economic changes in Cuba meant putting those
efforts on the back burner.
They came up with modest results, learning more about amaranth and
hoping it could be grown in tropical Cuba.
Madeleine Porr — the facilitator of the discussion between the forum's
participants — commented that even under those conditions, four
generations of amaranth plants have been grown in Cuba.
She added, "Cultural changes required time for it to become established
in the local economy." Currently it is being cultivated by some of the
Cuban community projects that were represented at the symposium, groups
like "Arbol de Vida", "Haciendo Almas", "Ando Reforestando", "Alas de
Mariposas", "Jesus del Monte" and others associated with the "Mapa
Verde" and "Bahia de La Habana" networks.
The plant is used in various delicacies and recipes, such as horchatas,
pudding, candy, chutneys and wine. These were shared by Francisco
Bonilla Hernandez (Mexico) from his community experience. He explained
what happens at "Rancho Alegre" with the planting, cultivation and
marketing of amaranth.
From the "Mexican Women's Network" and "Rural Women," Nuria Costa
Leonardo told how a commonly marketed brand called "Na – Sueños hechos a
manos" (Na – Dreams Made by Hand), would be coming onto the market.
Their credo is: "Linking women with Mother Earth… struggling for the
visibility of rural women… pulling triple and quadruple work days in the
community, which isn't recognized… achieving a better quality of life…
Today, poverty has a female face [but]… the path is diverted when we
come together for them to give us… [money]."
The key is "working for an awareness of the mission. Self-financing
[with] solidary savings groups…"
"The levels of malnutrition resulting from poverty [reflect] a problem
of political conception on the part of the government… therefore we're
the ones who we're suffering from them… These are opportunities for
transforming consciousness and introducing ourselves with our strengths,
with successful projects…" (*)
The project "Camino del Sol" led by Enrico Turrini (Italy/Cuba), with 20
years of experience with the Camilo Cienfuegos School City (Cuba), is
proposing an alternative energy source: "It's not only about achieving
clean energy… but finding sources in which all people can participate…
where energy doesn't remain in the hands of a few transnational
He asserts that solar panels become cheaper "when there's participation
from everyone…" He emphasized "the use of small generators or biogas,
ocean currents… with everything connected."
Conrado Moreno Figueredo (from Cuba's Center for Renewable Energy) noted
that "other countries have policies that are defined for each of these
sources… they must be approved by the government, they need laws."
"We're working to have an exact policy [in Cuba] approved by the Council
of Ministers this year…"
In Buenos Aires (Argentina), "Los Cartoneros" (the "Cardboarders") are
selling recyclable waste. They now have cooperatives, explained Anja
Mocker found community groups there working for environmental hygiene,
which through protracted neighborhood-government dialogues solved
collective needs. "Public participation promotes cultural change… a
transformation of the system is not achieved from operating at a very
small scale," she insisted.
Cesar Añorve has spent 30 years (in Mexico) seeking sustainable
solutions after being moved by people's misuse of water. His own
practices include the treatment of soapy water, bicycle pumps, dry
toilets (**) and houses made from adobe.
"Challenges in the Cuban context have the most concrete expressions on
the local scale and are an important part of the solution, stressed
Berriz Ricardo Valle (Cubasolar).
Cubans community projects shared practices for planting amaranth
(including the preparation of nougats mixed with sesame seeds) and other
crops (vertical or rooftop grown), solar cookers, the recovery and
reprocessing of materials in disuse.
In addition, there was a sharing of the experiences of Cuban women (in
their 50s) who were devoted to studying, disassociating themselves from
family traditions — with bad habits, like eating junk food, that are
transmitted to children — as they need solutions for providing food and
for the problems of "our aging population."
Each day the actor Yoset Posada would read an excerpt from the book The
Tahiti Project, by Dirk C. Fleck (Hamburg, 1943). Gertrudis Ortiz (from
Arte y Literatura publishers) presented the Cuban edition of this work,
which was awarded the 2009 German Science-Fiction Prize. She stated,
"The most important thing is that all concepts and technologies
presented in this book… now exist… are accessible… [and are] ready for
application even if only in the form of studies or prototypes…"
People also attended from the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Agrícolas,
the Instituto Pedagogico "Enrique Jose Varona", the Grupo de Desarrollo
Integral de la Capital, CubaEnergia and the ministries of Public Health
and Science, Technology and Environment. The latter agreed to promote
the planting of amaranth among people who own plots of land.
The sponsorship of the event was shared by the German NGO, the CubaSolar
NGO and the Cuban Book Institute.
There was no saying goodbye – we agreed to meet again the following
Sunday to make "snacks" with amaranth.
(*) Another exponent of amaranth was Roland Hoffmann-Bahnsen (Germany):
He discussed its cultivation and its benefits for humans and animals.
(**) Some of us women asked ourselves if the designers of "dry
bathrooms" had taken into consideration that females possess organs that
are developing and that are in different locations relative to men. They
asked…"how can we keep our excretions dry?"