Integral procedure to contribute to the transition from agricultural to sustainable agroenergetic farms in Cuba




D. Blanco1, J. Suárez1, F.R. Funes-Monzote1, S. Boillat2, G.J. Martín1 and Leydi Fonte1

1Estación Experimental de Pastos y Forrajes Indio Hatuey, Universidad de Matanzas Camilo Cienfuegos, Ministerio de Educación Superior Central España Republicana, CP 44280, Matanzas, Cuba
2Swiss Cooperation and Development Agency (SCD), Cuba





Great efforts are made in Cuba to achieve a sustainable development that guarantees food security and energetic self-sufficiency, compatible with environmental protection. This purpose receives the contribution of the international project BIOMAS-CUBA, which has among its main objectives the promotion and implementation of sustainable agroenergetic farms, and within whose framework this study was conducted. An integral procedure was developed to contribute to the transition from agricultural to sustainable agroenergetic farms, which was structured into three stages: 1) initial diagnosis, 2) model of intervention, and 3) model implementation and evaluation of the change. For its validation, the procedure was implemented in two previously diagnosed farms, which had the most unfavorable energy balances among all the ones related to the Project. In both farms the richness of species (45 %), the productive diversity (25 %), agriculture-livestock production integration, productive volumes (45 %), capacity of the systems to contribute to the food security of people in the municipality (78 % of protein and 64 % of energy), as well as the energy balance (137 %) and the economic results (37 %), increased. In addition, the energy cost of the protein (an average of 141 %) decreased, with regards to the basis year.

Key words: Agricultural development, diagnosis, energy balance, food security.




The depletion of fossil energy sources, the instability of the oil prices in the international markets and the negative effects accumulated on the environment due to the burning of hydrocarbons are sufficient elements that indicate the urgency to define conscious and decisive strategies for the sustained use of renewable energy sources, at local and global scale (Funes-Monzote, 2009).

Modern agriculture undeniably increased the absolute yields per surface unit, which caused the global food productions to increase. However, it is also true that such increases have been based on the intensive use of energy from fossil fuels, causing negative environmental impacts. This implies that highly specialized agricultural systems increasingly depend on external energy and, thus, have a low energetic efficiency (Pimentel and Pimentel, 2008).

In Cuba great efforts are made to achieve a sustainable development that can integrate the expectations of quality of life of the population, with an efficient utilization of renewable energy sources. This purpose receives the contribution of the international project BIOMAS-CUBA, led by the Pasture and Forage Research Station Indio Hatuey (EEPF-IH) and funded by the Swiss Cooperation and Development Agency (SDC). One of the main goals of the project is the promotion and implementation of sustainable agroenergetic farms in Cuba, which has been achieved in some scenarios, in spite of lacking a methodological instrumentation for their development.

The objective of this study was to implement an integral procedure to contribute to the transition from agricultural to sustainable agroenergetic farms in Cuba, as well as to validate its implementation in two farms of Matanzas province.



For the transition from agricultural to sustainable agroenergetic farms in Cuba an integral procedure was developed (fig. 1), which is structured in three stages:

1. Initial diagnosis (stage 1)

2. Model of intervention (stage 2)

3. Model implementation and evaluation of the change (stage 3)

The conception of the procedure has its genesis in the concept of agroenergetic farm proposed by Suárez et al. (2011), who sustain that “it is the productive exploitation where technologies and innovations are developed, improved and evaluated to produce, in an integrated way, food (from animal and plant origin) and energy, which is used as input to produce more food in the farm itself, in order to upgrade the quality of rural life and protect the environment”. This definition shows the huge potential of the integrated food and energy production.

On these bases, the proposed procedure is supported by the following premises:

To contribute to the transition from agricultural to agroenergetic farms, on agroecological bases, the farm to be evaluated should not be based on monocropping, that is, it should have a certain diversification and its farmers should be willing to innovate and show interest in the implementation of an upgrading program.


Stage I. Initial diagnosis

To gather the information the participatory rural diagnosis, proposed by Boyorquez (2005) and Narayanasamy (2009), was used; it is considered a continuation of the fast rural diagnosis, in which farmers go from being studied to innovate and study their own problematic situation. This diagnosis was performed in two representative farms of Matanzas province, which constitute scenarios of the international project BIOMAS-CUBA: La Quinta (farm 1) and El Estabulado (farm 2).

It is important to state that in farm 1 the actions of other projects developed by the EEPF-IH converged. In this sense, it is valid to emphasize the work done by the project PIAL (Program of agricultural local innovation) with regards to species introduction and management of the livestock production system (Miranda et al., 2011; Sánchez et al., 2011).

The evaluated indicators in the framework of the diagnosis, according to the methodology proposed by Funes-Monzote (2009), were the following:

1. Species richness (Margalef Index)

2. Production diversity, associated to the agriculture -livestock production integration (Shannon Index)

3. Quantity of persons fed by the system in energy

4. Quantity of persons fed by the system in protein

5. Energy balance

6. Energy cost of the protein production.

To obtain the information about such indicators a questionnaire elaborated from the criteria expressed by Funes-Monzote (2008), as well as interviews to farmers and participant observation, was applied. For processing the data and calculating the indicators the software Energía 3.01® was used.


Stage II. Model of intervention

The execution of the intervention model was conceived based on two key activities:


Transference and evaluation of technologies and innovations

In this activity the results of the diagnosis of the baseline, the selection of the most adequate animal and plant species for the studied farm, as well as the existing biomass were considered; and a program of technology and innovation transference was elaborated, including their evaluation in the farms.
The technologies selected between the researcher and the farmer, as part of the upgrading program were: a) installation of biogas digesters to treat residuals generated in the systems, and b) setting up of plants for the production of IHplus®, as a bioproduct that can satisfy the demand of some agricultural inputs.


Technological training

With regards to the technologies and innovations that were proposed, a technological training program was designed to accompany the adoption process.


Stage III. Model implementation and evaluation of the change

Taking into consideration the key activities associated to the intervention model (stage II), as well as the evaluation of the indicators used in the initial diagnosis (stage I) –which indicates the existing limitations in each farm‒, an upgrading program of the productive system was conceived and implemented, contributing to generate the transition from an agricultural to an agroenergetic farm.

The study lasted three years. The evaluations of effectiveness of the upgrading program were annually performed during the period 2009-2011, with the use of the same indicators of the initial diagnosis (stage I).


Economic analysis

In the economic analysis –as part of the implementation and the evaluation of change‒ the expenses of the different subsystems of the farm, in each of the evaluated periods (production cost), and the gross income (total production value), were considered. The variables benefit-cost ratio (Eq. 1) and net production value (Eq. 2) were calculated, in both systems.


BC: benefit/cost ratio

G: gross profit of the subsystems ($)

C: total production cost of the subsystems


Vn: net value of the production

G: gross profit of the subsystems ($)

C: total production cost of the subsystems



When analyzing the richness of cultivated species (Margalef Index), farm 2 had values higher than 5 since 2010, which places it, according to Magurran (1988), under conditions of very high cultivated biodiversity. This indicator remained over 5 in 2011, just like in farm 1. In the latter the increase of the richness of cultivated species was perceived in a more stressed way, because it passed from 2,79 –a low-diversity farm‒ to values higher than 5, for which it is considered as a system of high species richness (table 1).

Regarding production diversity (Shannon Index), during the three years of the study farm 2 passed from 1,93 to 2,16; while farm 1 behaved in the same way, although it did not reach more than 2 in such index. This is due to the fact that their main productive purpose is milk production. However, both systems varied increasingly in this indicator.

When comparing the results to those reported by Funes-Monzote (2009), who obtained values of Shannon Index between 1,7 and 2,0 in integrated farms, the implemented intervention model is perceived as having remarkably influenced this indicator, because it placed the two systems in the range of biodiverse and integrated farms. In farm 1 the increase was more marked, due to the interaction of the actions of two projects executed by the EEPF-IH (PIAL and BIOMAS-CUBA). Diversity is a significant component within the system, although, according to Funes-Monzote et al. (2012), a higher diversity does not necessarily have repercussions on a higher productivity and efficiency.

Regarding the animal-origin productions, farm 2 had an increase of 28,8 t in 2011, with regards to the initial evaluation (2009). This was due to the increase of livestock production, from the establishment of bull fattening, the enlargement of the pig-rearing facilities and, to a lesser extent, the introduction of semi-rustic laying hens (Rhode Island Red); those activities were benefitted with the higher capacity to treat residuals and the application of bioproducts that allow to maintain good sanitary and health conditions within the herd. On the other hand, plant production had a slight decrease throughout the study, because of the farm diversification and due to the fact that the areas dedicated to fruit crops were destined to forage production.

Farm 1 showed a more harmonic growth of its productive performance, because the productions of animal and plant origin increased similarly. These results were enhanced by the use of biopreparations and the production of a considerable part of the consumed energy, which provides the system with a higher independence from external inputs, as well as resilience to external changes.

The results are in correspondence with the ones obtained by Tilman et al. (2002) and Funes-Monzote (2009), who state that systems in general show a higher productivity per unit of arable area and total area of the system after a higher conversion time of the process, and that the increase of agrobiodiversity raises food self-sufficiency. In this sense, Funes-Monzote et al. (2011) reported that such results confirm the potential of integrated livestock production-agriculture systems to face the productive limitations of tropical regions, and those that hinder sustainable agricultural development (Tilman et al., 2002).

In both systems the increase of the availability of utilizable energy, which is represented in the amount of persons that can be fed, was evident. In farm 2 the increase was due to the stored energy in the production of foodstuffs, such as: vegetables, fruits, eggs and meat – the contribution of the last foodstuff was given by the increase of the livestock‒. Likewise, in farm 1 there was higher diversification regarding the energy contribution of its productions, based on the quantity of energy produced by a higher variety of foodstuffs: vegetables, grains, fruits, milk products, eggs and meat. These results, although showing a remarkable upgrading in the performance of the farms, were slightly lower than those reported in Cuba by Funes-Monzote (2009), Abreu (2011) and Funes-Monzote et al. (2012), in the processes of agroecological conversion.

Another analyzed indicator was the capacity of the system to cover the nutritional requirements from the protein perspective, in which both systems evolved favorably. At first, farm 2 fed 3,44 people and supplied up to 6,88. In farm 1, in spite of having a more discreet increase, it was from 1,04 to 2,55 persons.

These results coincide with the ones obtained by Funes-Monzote et al. (2011), who proved, in Matanzas province, the capacity of other agroecological production systems to feed between 3,8 and 16,1 persons per hectare per year. Likewise, they are in agreement with those reported by Márquez et al. (2011), who stated that ecological farms are significantly different from the conventional ones, as well as that ecological ones are able to supply the protein needs of 7,2 persons per hectare throughout the year; while in the conventional farms this value is 3,3.

To design any production system it is essential to know the indicators of energetic efficiency. The establishment of the energy balance, based on agroecology, is the basis to study part of the problems of agricultural systems (Altieri, 1997). Table 2 shows that the two farms had a similar performance with regards to the trend in the decrease of the imported energy and the increase of energy production. It is important to emphasize that the variable with the highest bearing on the result was the input energy, which decreased markedly in both systems and this allowed to improve the energy balance. The import of productive inputs, mainly oil and electrical power used for production, was lower.

In general, the trend of both farms was towards the decrease of the energy cost of protein. These results are similar to the ones obtained by Abreu (2011), who achieved that the cost decreased to 63,52 MJ/kg; nevertheless, if they are compared to those obtained by Pimentel (1997), the final values of the evaluated systems (85,53 MJ/kg in farm 1 and 87,05 MJ/kg in farm 2) were higher than the ones reached by this author, who refers that 40 energy units (MJ) are needed to produce one kilogram of protein.

Regarding the economic analysis in farm 2, although the total value of the production per hectare did not increase significantly, a marked increase was observed in the net value of this production per area unit, as a consequence of the decrease of the costs of such productions, which was closely related to the decrease of input import to the farms. Likewise, the benefit/cost ratio also showed a remarkable decrease, from 1,86 (2009) to 2,71 (2011), which supposes an increase of 31,36 %.

In farm 1, contrary to what was observed in farm 2, there was a slight decrease of the total value of production per hectare. However, as a system it showed a favorable trend, by decreasing the total costs of production from 0,87 to 0,62 thousands of CUP/ha/year. This allowed to improve the benefit/cost ratio from 1,86 (2009) to 2,37 (2011).

When comparing the two systems, farm 2 –with a slightly larger area‒ was found to have a slightly higher benefit/cost ratio (2,71) than that of farm 1 (2,37), due to the effect of scale economies; nevertheless, in productivity per hectare it showed a better performance, because it could reach up to 10,49 thousands of CUP/ha/year in 2012. Farm 1, in spite of its upgrading, could not exceed 0,85 thousands of CUP/ha/year in the same period. This is due to the fact that this farm, in spite of having experienced a marked diversification in recent years, is still predominantly milk producer. Under Cuban conditions, this activity shows lower profitability margins and higher risks when it is compared to agriculture and pig and cattle meat production.

Altieri et al. (2011), when analyzing agroecological projects led by farmers and NGOs, stated that agroecological systems are not limited to the elaboration of low-productivity products –as some critics have stated‒; but in them increases in production from 50 to 100 % are very common, in most of the alternative production methods used.

The results obtained in both systems are examples of a successful management of agricultural systems, in which production diversification and the substitution of inputs by technologies that the farmer can manage propitiate an improvement in the profit margins of farmers.

The increase experienced in the profitability margins of these systems, from the introduction of agroecological technologies, is extremely important for their development, as well as for the transition to agroenergetic farm proposed by Suárez et al. (2011); in addition, it serves as basis for their extension in the country.



The implemented integral procedure contributed to the transition from agricultural to sustainable agroenergetic farms in Cuba, from three stages: diagnosis, intervention model, and model implementation and evaluation of the change. Likewise, the procedure as well as the indicators used to diagnose and improve the performance of the farms proved their pertinence, for which they constitute an adequate guide to evaluate the management of such transition.



For conducting this study the collaboration of Dr. Marcos Esperance Matamoros and the agricultural knowledge of farmers José Almuiña and José Escobar were essential.




Received: August 3, 2013
Accepted: May 23, 2014