Humberto Ríos Labrada

Humberto Ríos Labrada

Visionary Cuban agronomist who was recognized with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2010.

Humberto Ríos Labrada, a doctoral graduate of agricultural science at the University of Havana, gained notoriety when he directed a program to improve food security on the island of Cuba. It was during the years called the “special period” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which referred to a series of changes implemented after the loss of Cuba’s main trade partner with the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This caused a severe economic crisis that affected most aspects of Cuban society, with the most important problem being a scarcity of food caused by the agricultural crisis. The scarcity was caused largely by a dependence on agricultural monoculture that was highly mechanized and dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This inefficient agricultural practice has been used in most countries, industrialized or not, since the second half of the 20th century, but in the end it has proved unsustainable.

Ríos Labrada, along with other Cuban researchers and traditional farmers, took on the task of increasing agricultural diversity, extending the practices of sustainable agriculture, improving seed diversity and implementing ecological techniques of planting in general. One of the most important aspects of the concept of sustainable development is based on the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources as a basis for food production. This is especially important for the poorer regions where the high costs of machinery, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides are an obstacle to stimulating agriculture. The issue also takes on a political nature because these countries become dependent for food on the powerful countries that monopolize the construction of industrial agriculture products. Labrada’s initiative has served as an example for countries that are still dependent on imports of agricultural chemicals to support their industrial agriculture systems. The initiative also demonstrated viable alternatives for facing the environmental and food security problems of many of the poorest regions in the world.

The Cuban agronomist’s success, supported by the experiences of thousands of farmers on their land and in other countries in Latin America where similar strategies have been adopted, has been recognized not only in Cuba but also at the international level. One of these recognitions was the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in the Islands and Insular Nations category in 2010. Ríos Labrada is the first Cuban to win the prize. Currently, Dr. Ríos Labrada is the coordinator of the Local Agrarian Innovation Program at the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences in Cuba. He also dedicates much of his time to writing songs, a talent he developed while also promoting and expanding sustainable agriculture and agricultural diversity on the island of Cuba.

Author: Harrison Flores Ortiz
Published: May 25, 2012.

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