The break up of the Soviet Bloc in 1989 plunged Cuba into the worst economic crisis of its history. Cuba lost 85 percent of its trade, including both food and agricultural inputs. The conventional system of agriculture was highly dependent on imported pesticides, fertilizers, and farming equipment, and without these inputs, domestic production fell. This decline in food production, coupled with a drastic reduction in food imports, led to a 50 percent reduction in caloric intake in the early 1990s. Cuba was faced with a dual challenge of doubling food production with half the previous inputs.
Cuba responded to the crisis with a national call to increase food production by restructuring agriculture. This transformation was based on a conversion from a conventional, large scale, high input, mono-crop agricultural system to a smaller scale, organic and semi-organic farming system. It focused on utilizing local low cost and environmentally safe inputs, and relocating production closer to consumers in order to cut down on transportation costs.
Urban agriculture has been a key part of this effort. By 1994 a spontaneous decentralized movement of urban residents joined a planned government strategy to create over 8,000 city farms in Havana alone. The success of these gardens has significantly contributed to the easing of Cuba’s food crisis. In 1998 an estimated 541,000 tons of food were produced in Havana for local consumption. Food quality has also improved as citizens now have access to a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Although the program still faces many challenges, urban gardens continue to grow, and some neighborhoods are producing as much as 30 percent of their own subsistence needs.