A screening of the unfinished documentary The Green Revolution in Cuba drew a standing-room only crowd to the Wilson Center on March 17. Co-sponsored by the Environmental Change and Security Program and Canada Institute as part of the 2005 D.C. Environmental Film Festival, the screening was followed by a discussion with David Suzuki, whose Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series, "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki," will air the final version later this year. Kathryn Fuller, former head of the World Wildlife Fund and a current Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar, welcomed the audience and introduced Suzuki, who, in addition to being a television host, is a world-renowned geneticist and author of 32 books.

Introducing the film, Suzuki said Cuba's movement toward organic farming and medicine is grounded in the collapse of the Soviet Union, which cut Cuba's oil imports by 95 percent and left it without a market for sugar—its "cash crop." Cubans call this era "the special period," when large-scale agriculture using fertilizer, pesticides, machinery, and transportation infrastructure was replaced by local, organic food production methods. Out of necessity, Cuban farmers and scientists turned away from monoculture techniques and bet the future of their food supplies on small-scale, inter-cropped organopónicos (organic gardens) that rely on compost and humus for fertilizer, and natural predators and bacteria for pest control.

The screening spurred the audience to ask hypothetical questions, including, "What would happen to the Cuban agricultural system if the U.S. embargo were lifted?" and "Will Cuban President Fidel Castro's increasingly friendly relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez lead to a new oil source for Cuba and the abandonment of these organic techniques?" Suzuki's responses largely focused on science instead of policy, specifically calling attention to the inefficiency of the international food trading system. According to him, transporting food all over the world results in a net energy loss. For example, he said it takes far more energy—or calories—to put a Chilean strawberry on a U.S. plate than the number of calories that strawberry can provide for nourishment; thus it is more energy efficient to consume food grown locally. He also noted that fast food and the increasing obesity problem present great future challenges for the United States.

In conclusion, Suzuki shared a timely anecdote about a group of Canadian agricultural scientists who went to Cuba to teach farmers how to improve their methods and techniques. Instead, the scientists returned to Canada raving that they learned more about agriculture from the Cubans. In the 1960s and 1970s, the world embraced a "green revolution"--using improved seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and better irrigation to produce greater crop yields. But according to Suzuki, the techniques Cubans were forced to develop after the collapse of the Soviet Union constitute the true green revolution.

Drafted by Todd Walters