Farmers’ Markets and Patio Gardens in Cuba

Rev. Raul Suárez is the director of the Martin Luther King Centre in Havana, and a member of the Cuban Popular National Assembly

The Rev.  Raul Suárez, founder and director of the Martin Luther King (MLK) Centre in Cuba, is a man who speaks passionately about community, spirituality, economics, and ecumenism.  Suárez recently visited the offices of the Anglican Church of Canada, where he talked about the current situation in Cuba, and about the work of the MLK Centre, which is one of PWRDF’s partners in that country.

The Martin Luther King Centre’s mission is focused on community development.  They train workers to go out to work with local people in finding creative solutions to whatever problems exist in their community.  PWRDF supports the MLK Centre’s work in bringing together ecumenical leaders to participate in popular education programs.  Through these programs, church leaders are empowered as community leaders, gaining a deeper understanding of the issues facing their people.

Suárez talked about economic changes in Cuba since Raúl Castro became president.  In the last year, over 400,000 hectares of land have been given to Cuban farmers as free loans for 10 years.  This has allowed farmers to increase their productivity and creativity by selling not just to the government for schools, hospitals, and other programs, but also in farmers’ markets in their own communities.  The MLK Centre is involved in providing training in agricultural systems and models for members of the communities, enabling them to find solutions together to problems affecting them.

Another innovative project that Suárez described is one he participates in directly.  This is the “Productive Back Patios” project.  Suárez is one of thousands of urban Cubans who use their back patios and yards to grow crops to provide food security for their families and communities.  Suárez himself grows vegetables year round on his patio.  With a neighbor, he also has started growing guava, which is made into desserts and marmalades.  The processes used in the Back Patios project are completely chemical free.  The program also promotes vegetarianism and provides employment for those, like Suárez’s neighbor, who sells the desserts and marmalades he creates.

The Productive Back Patios project has been embraced by churches in Cuba, and has spread through the country thanks to training provided by agencies including the MLK Centre.  PWRDF supports the MLK Centre’s training of ecumenical leaders in agriculture, human rights, and gender issues.  Among the leaders trained at the centre is the Right Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio, who will be installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Cuba on Sunday, November 28.

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