Empowering women farmers in Cuba


Odalis Gonzalez is part of the new face of Cuban agriculture: a woman farming what was once idle state land, a beneficiary of Cuba’s new effort to expand agricultural production and reduce imports.

She’s also one of 33 female farmers being trained by a Joint UN programme designed to strengthen women’s economic autonomy and promote local development in five municipalities on the Caribbean island.

"Learning new techniques allows me to increase my independence as a peasant,” says Gonzalez proudly after attending a workshop on food security. “It is very beneficial to have our own money, earned with our own hands." 

The workshops, conducted over six days by the Institute of Animal Science of Cuba (ICA) with support from the MDG Achievement Fund (MDG-F), cover topics such as land management, cooperative management, and the participation and leadership of women.

Boosting women’s independence

In addition to imparting technical knowledge and giving the women a forum to exchange experiences, the course’s goal is to empower women by strengthening their economic and physical independence and their role in decision-making.

"I want to learn new experiences to share with my fellow farmers from the cooperative, so that I can achieve higher yields and production to feed my own family and my town," says Blanca Rivero, another workshop participant from the municipality of Yaguajay, in the central province of Sancti Spíritus.

The main objective of the joint programme, a collaboration between the Cuban government, civil society organizations and the UNDP, FAO and UNESCO, is to strengthen the private sector’s productive and management capacities and thus their participation in local development. The five targeted municipalities are Yaguajay, Cauto Rio, La Palma, Pinar del Rio, Martí in Matanzas, and El Salvador, in Guantanamo.

“Support for new decentralization initiatives and production stimulation in Cuba” is one of two joint programmes financed by the MDG-F to help Cuba achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and improving livelihoods, with a particular focus on women and other marginalized populations.

The Cuban government stated in 2007 that increasing food production was a matter of "national security" and a year later adopted a law allowing individuals to farm idle state lands as a way to boost production and reduce imports.

Women, whose participation in agriculture has been rising steadily, were the main beneficiaries of the new law. The MDG-F-financed programme seeks to build on this momentum to increase women’s involvement and to address gaps and inequalities based on gender.

"This is an opportunity to be an echo of what we learn. We will leave with more knowledge to show that we can fulfill ourselves and achieve good results,” says Yaquelin Dominguez, a rice producer from Rio Cauto who also attended the workshops.

Trainings will continue at the local level, combined with work to build women’s access to inputs, equipment and technologies. "We’re going to be more and more active in our lives and in the life of our communities, and our judgment and strength will prevail," says Odalis Gonzalez.

Supporting farmers

Among other initiatives, the joint programme supports 12 cooperatives that are focused on priority crops, has improved access to credit for producers developing business plans, and has taught courses to over 1,000 producers and 600 cooperative leaders on techniques to improve production and management.

It has also developed an action plan to promote gender equality.

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