31 January 2017 - Natural solutions to sustainability challenges in Cuba: The Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago lies at the heart of the broader Sabana-Camagüey Ecosystem (SCE).
Over the years, the region's ecosystems have come under varying degrees of pressure as a result of unsustainable practices in sectors such as agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and tourism – all of which play an important role in the local and national economy. Conflicts between competing land uses emerged, and with the closure of sugar factories in the 1990s many people were left without their traditional livelihoods.
Against this backdrop, the Government of Cuba and its partners, with support from UNDP and funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), began to turn challenges into opportunities, using nature-based solutions. In 1993, the first of a series of three projects was initiated in the Sabana-Camagüey Ecosystem to conserve valuable ecosystems, prioritise biodiversity in development planning, and build sustainable communities.
Working at pilot sites (including two Ramsar wetlands), a wealth of biodiversity-compatible livelihoods was introduced, including: nature-based tourism, agro-forestry, bee-keeping, sustainable livestock management, and the sustainable cultivation of mangrove oysters and natural sponges. In previously degraded wetlands, farmers now adopt sustainable approaches to raising water buffaloes for meat and milk, whilst restoring wetland health.
In areas previously under sugarcane, farmers now cultivate a wide variety of crops, nurturing them with organic compost from worm farms, and using biogas for their energy needs. The net effect of these changes has been to restore ecosystem health, with additional benefits for food security and economic prosperity. Best practices developed in the SCE have now been scaled-up and replicated at other sites.