Sustainable Technological Alternatives in Havana

Regina Cano

FRANCISCO BONILLA HERNÁNDEZ

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

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…” (*)

ENRICO TURRINI

Solar Alternatives

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 corporations…”

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…”

Citizen’s Participation

In Buenos Aires (Argentina), “Los Cartoneros” (the “Cardboarders”) are selling recyclable waste. They now have cooperatives, explained Anja Mocker (Germany).

ANJA MOCKER

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.”

Science-fiction environmentalists?

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.
—–

Notes:

(*) 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?”

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Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

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