Knowledge for Development

Improving Productivity of ACP Farming Systems through Science & Technology

Author: M. Gonzalez Perez, D. Ponvert, M.E. Ruiz, M.H. Prats

Date: 29/06/2006


The Cuban farming system is very diverse. However, despite the trade barriers and stringent economic conditions, the productivity of Cuban farms has increased through the combined efforts of scientists and farmers in developing and applying technological solutions. The reliance on biological products made from indigenous resources began in the eighties and this provided the technical foundation which expanded in the nineties when the country had limited access to high quality imported inputs. The low cost natural biological techniques which were developed as substitutes contributed to the maintenance of the ecological integrity of Cuba’s natural resource base and led to environmentally friendly sustainable agricultural production systems. These biological techniques are still being applied today.


Some of the many strategies that were employed include:

  1. The creation of centres for reproducing entomopathogens and entomophages in the main agricultural areas in the cities and elsewhere.
  2. The creation of protein banks with different legume species and bovine herds.
  3. The establishment of modular urban and peri-urban agricultural demonstration units for: vegetables grown in organic substrates; intensive vegetable garden production systems; feed lots comprising substrate made from local resources and; breeding units for chickens, fish and other species reared on local inputs.
  4. The use of electrically operated irrigation units during the night (around midnight) when electricity consumption is low.
  5. The production of humus at selected locations using vermicompost from different waste materials for use at different locations.

Scientists continue to be challenged to demonstrate the impact of their work on increasing the productivity at the farm level. Two approaches have been adopted; one within the research centres and universities aimed at stimulating the scientific community to work together with farmers and the other which is aimed at improving the interface between the decision makers, farmers and scientists to improve the policy environment to support technology transfer such that the scientific results can have greater impact on agricultural practices.

Measuring the Impact

It is recognized that the indicators used for measuring the impact of science and technology, should not be static given the multidimensional character of science. Indicators should reflect the impact on the entire system, since science and technology contribute to socio-economic development and this aspect has not been properly evaluated up to now (Sancho, 2002). The preference for using particular indicators mainly numbers of publications in referenced journals and the quantitative and qualitative measurement of available human resources though important, is not adequate as these are not the only important measurements of the success of scientific endeavour.

This priority in using certain indicators is controversial since it has been demonstrated that a reasonable volume of scientific articles and patents can be an insufficient resource for determining the progress made in a sector or society. López Cerezo and Luján, 2002, explained that it is an unbalanced measurement of the outputs of research if the products are not adjusted to the demand of the productive sector, that is to say, scientists must work in such a way that the outputs of each research project should have an applied impact. The advance of knowledge does not necessarily imply the creation of wealth and the latter is necessary if the success of technological innovation is to be evaluated (López Cerezo and Luján, 2002). Beginning in 1992, the indicators of technological innovation have been examined in many directions (OECD, 1992). The growing attention to scienciometrics has resulted in the incorporation of these elements as a measure of technological development (Plaza and Albert, 2002).

The indicators used in the evaluation of the success of science and technological innovation in Cuban universities and research centres are based on five concepts (González et al., 2002). These are: (1) relevance: record of prizes and recognitions obtained by the scientific activity at different levels; (2) science: bibliographic index; (3) technology: number of patents and registrations of equipment, products and software; (4) profitability: the amount of financial resources obtained as a result of the commercialization of technologies and software, projects, and consultancies for scientific and technical services; (5) Impact: the transformation achieved by the scientific results in the environment .

It should be noted that impact is seen as the change, or group of durable changes, that occur in the economy, the society, the science, the technology and the environment, which result in improved performance. It is the combination of Research, Development and Technological Innovation (R+D+TI) that introduces value added to the products, processes, services and technologies. It is evaluated by some as the improvements in the quality of life, and others as development of the sector or economy. Whatever the point of view that is taken, it is without doubt the perception of the society that gives weight to the acceptance of the results in question, and therefore their interpretation is multifactorial and multidimensional, as has been described by Mainieri (2002).

The evaluation of the impact of the scientific results, must therefore take into consideration the contribution to the branches of economy and its economic and social repercussions, but in practice, this is not very precise. The methodology used for evaluation is difficult and so too the interpretation of the results to be analyzed. The appraiser should be suitably qualified. In the management of science, it is very important to understand the nature of agriculture and the current practices to be able to appreciate the impact of the work of the universities and research centres with respect to the introduction of products, services, processes or technologies. At the same time, it is very important to integrate organizations and to establish alliances with all the actors (Mato et al., 2001).

The impact of scientific pursuit and technology transfer at the university must be guided towards activities, which can lead to the transformation of the agricultural environment. Similar results were found by De Souza et al., 2003. In Cuba, discussions on the production problems in the agricultural sector take place at meetings or poles involving all the actors. In the province of Havana, for example there are five poles:

  • Animal Pole
  • Agronomic Pole
  • Small animals Pole
  • Economic Pole, and
  • Social or development of rural communities Pole

The meetings are held every month and the topics for discussion are identified by the decision makers involved in agriculture, the science delegation in the province, the leaders of the farmers’ organizations and each has a voice in the deliberations. Making use of this frame, the research centres have been able to adapt their projects to achieve results which impact on production.

Examples of results of scientific endeavour in Cuba which impact on the sector include the introduction of new and improved products and technologies, scientific and technical services and production of new graduates, post graduates (at the level of masters and PhD degrees) and specialists. Specific examples include:

Precision Agriculture - In the south of Havana, potato yield maps were developed for three consecutive years to evaluate variability. This has provided data for defining proper fertilizer application.

Improving Soil Salinity Management - Sugar cane areas were characterized with respect to soil hydraulic behaviour, soil salinity and soil organic matter using geoinfomatics. This allowed for recommendations to be made to the sugar industry to support more targeted planting. In addition, a methodology using remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), geostatic and electro conductivity probes was introduced for the construction of salinity maps.

Integrated Management of Water - Spatial and temporal variability of hydrological parameters in a region south of Havana was evaluated using modelling, geostatic techniques and GIS. A map of groundwater level was developed which showed the regions where water was being over-exploited. Recommendations were also made on the best locations for future water wells.

Management of Natural Resources - All the information to support the management of the enterprises (topographic map, soil amp, cadastral map and yields, types of crops, fertilizers etc.) was digitalized and linked to a management information system.

Organic fertilizer - Biostan which contains humic substances, phytohormones and minerals was developed and applied in tomato, garlic, black bean, soya, corn, onion, cucumber, tobacco and banana fields. Yield increases ranging from 10-50% were achieved.

Agriculture engineering - Electronic scales for weighing animals, container carrier trays and seed pelletizers were among some of the equipment developed and being used in industry.

New technologies - (a) Procedures were developed using a combination of biological enemies and a minimum of chemical pesticides for the integrated management of plagues. (b) In vitro propagation of banana and the multiplication of clones in the biofactory in Havana have facilitated the introduction of new clones in the rural sector. (c) Integrated systems for the sustainable production of milk were developed and are being used in dairies in dairy production zones.

These are a few examples of the impact that differentiated S&T strategies have had on the Cuban agricultural farming systems.
July 2006


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