A Cuban agricultural scientist who uses a guitar and a song to spread the benefits of organic farming has won the prestigious Goldman Prize, a $150,000 award presented each year to grass-roots "environmental heroes."
Humberto Rios Labrada, a PhD with Cuba's National Institute of Agricultural Science, runs a program for local farming innovation. It's his job to convince farmers to plant diverse crops without chemicals in a centralized economy that tightly controls what can be planted and when.
Ríos is credited with creating a program that spread to 55,000 farmers, which increased access to seeds and helped growers find more environmentally friendly ways to plant their harvest.
His award comes as Cuba's agriculture industry struggles to slide out of a crisis that forces the government to import 60 percent of the nation's food. Under increasing pressure to raise their output, farmers are desperate to wrestle out from government control and prove they can do alone what state farms could not: Feed the country.
"Farmers in our program increased their production two- or three-fold," Ríos said in a telephone interview from San Francisco, where he was presented with the award Monday. "It was a revolution within the revolution. I am not saying it is the solution to Cuba's agricultural crisis, but it will certainly help."
He believes food production statistics are underreported, making the food crisis seem worse than it is.
"If we go by the statistics, well then Cuba is undergoing a famine," he said. "And everywhere you look, there are fat people eating and drinking rum."
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