A cooperative that demostrates sustainability

Cooperativa Cañera en Cuba The visit to a sugar cane cooperative in Cuba was a lesson in the art of survival with creativity and wisdom. Just next to the great fleet of tractors and harvesting machines, and a huge mechanical workshop is also a small workshop which produces nails out of recycled wire.

In the eastern part of the province of Holguin sugar cane plantations are a mainstay. A big part of the sugar cane is cultivated and harvested by cooperatives which afterwards sell their product to a big sugar mill. Far away from the city and with little transportation facilities those cooperatives have to make use of creativity, technology and knowledge to create independent centers. A cooperative with a hundred families needs more than the sugar cane incomes; they have to produce everything possible in the same place. 

La visita a una cooperativa cañera en el oriente de Cuba constituyó una lección en el arte de la supervivencia con creatividad y sabiduría. A la par de una flota de tractores y combinadas para cosechar caña y su gran taller mecánico, también existe un sencillo puesto de trabajo dónde se fabrican clavos con alambre de desecho Some years ago they built their houses with fired clay bricks and micro concrete tiles that where produced at the cooperative, the wood used was processed at their own little sawmill. Confronting the lack of coarse aggregates they have invented a small mill to produce the gravel needed for concrete, and now they are thinking of burning lime. Even the nails are produced on a small workbench, a hammer functions at a velocity and quality of the nails is amazing. They have produced tons of nails during the past years, all with waste from the industry and even using the wire that is in the tractor and truck tires.

Various biomass wastes are used to burn clay bricks, especially the sawdust is compacted into solid fuel blocks, which help to save firing wood. 

banco, dándole con un martillo, a una velocidad y calidad asombrosas. Han producido varias toneladas de clavos Needless to say that agricultural production is a strength of the cooperative: plantains, yucca, rice, vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk and pork meet. Now they are starting with a plan to cultivate bamboo to provide raw material for furniture and carpentry.

A paradise in the tropics? Not that much...the work is hard, as a tractor mechanic or as a "machetero" in the fields, live is not easy in this place where hundred years of human development seem to be converging into one. Live is isolated and the connection to the larger centers is more than anything by television, something present in all households. But within the simplicity of rural live, they are well off, they have the basic services like teachers, doctors and the salaries of the cooperative members are considerably higher than the Cuban average. The cooperative has good profits and they will share it among all members, this would almost duplicate their salary.

Can this cooperative be an example for other communities? In the island this is not an exception, but outside of Cuba it is going to be difficult that a cooperative achieves a development of this type. Beginning with the property of the land, the guaranteed market for the principal product (sugar cane), soft credits and access to machinery, cheap electricity, medical attention and education, this are all conditions that are difficult to find in rural communities in southern countries.

After all, using creativity and looking for ways how to produce off their own conditions and raw materials, one can obtain similar results like this cooperative. Even in times of globalization it should be possible to survive in a dignified manner in a rural community!


You are here: Home Past editions Edition 24 - February 2007 A cooperative that demostrates sustainability


Víctor Martínez
Civil Engineer
MCR tiles, instruction, quality control, project management.


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