Giraldo Jesús Martín Martín PhD, director of the center, highlights the staff’s commitment to contributing to sustainable local development through the use of ecological agricultural methods. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

Current challenges at a national and international level are leading the Indio Hatuey Experimental Pasture and Forage Station to constantly develop innovative institutional strategies toward achieving sustainable local development through the use of productive agro-ecological models.

Located in the municipality of Perico, Matanzas province, and affiliated with the Camilo Cienfuegos University, the scientific center was founded on March 8, 1962, by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, in response to work being undertaken in the agricultural and livestock sectors, regarding animal nutrition.

The facility is named after the Indigenous cacique (chief) Hatuey, also considered to be Cuba’s first hero, after he was burned at the stake on February 2, 1512, for resisting Spanish colonization and inciting others to rebel.

Since the triumph of the Revolution on January 1, 1959, the institution has undertaken important work, such as research into developing agricultural and livestock systems able to meet the population’s food needs, and in accordance with the island’s social and economic strategies.

In this sense, Cuba’s agricultural model from 1976 through 1990 was characterized by the use of new technologies, influenced by the ideas of the so called Green Revolution promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the sharing of experiences with countries which formed part of the then socialist camp, and reliable suppliers, established through agreements with the former Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA).

The fall of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1990s and the tightening of the criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on the island, forced the country to think of solutions to resolve problems within the institution, the nation, the agricultural and livestock sector, and those linked to climate change and environmental damage.

The Indio Hatuey Experimental Pasture and Forage Station conducts research into agro-ecological techniques toward ensuring human wellbeing and improving ecosystems. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

For this reason, the Experimental Station’s research agenda has moved from studies into different varieties of grass and herbaceous plants, to important woody species to feed livestock. As such a silvopastoral system was developed, based on planting these species in the same area, in order to meet animals’ nutritional needs.

The way these scientific processes were managed evolved from a geocentric model, where pasture and forage varieties were the principle focus of studies; to a system-centric one, with the production system representing the fundamental aspect of scientific strategy.

Therefore, research areas are now focused on forage genetic resources such as nutrition, reproduction and animal health; diversified agricultural production; agro-energy; and sustainable local and rural development; combined with thorough professional training.

The Station’s 340 employees are currently working on four research programs, and undertaking 22 nationally financed projects, as well as another three benefiting from international collaboration (while six more are in the preliminary stages of development). As such the facility has 22 PhD and 40 Masters graduates, while 31% of technical staff hold a university degree across a wide range of disciplines.

This, according to the center’s Director, Giraldo Jesús Martín Martín PhD, speaking with Granma International; who praised the commitment and efforts of staff working to support the country’s agricultural development; interaction between the facility, community and local government; the promotion and adoption of technologies; as well as the management of technologies and innovation initiatives by state enterprises and the agricultural cooperative sector.

Important to this work, noted the Director, are the links the center maintains with the FAO, UN Development Program, World Food Program, Environmental Fund and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE), which direct and implement collaborative projects and finance different stages of research.

“Over 30 results and technologies are being applied in the productive sector, across more than 530 areas nationwide,” stated Martín Martín, also a deputy to the Cuban Parliament, noting that agro-energy and bio-fuels are priority areas for research undertaken at the Indio Hatuey Experimental Station.

Proof of this is the study - ongoing for over 50 years - into more than 2,000 pasture and forage species, above all different varieties of grass (1,921) and legumes (881), and herbaceous and tree species (285), in order to develop a new kind of pastoral system known as silvopasture.

Extensive investigations are being carried out into three species (Morera, Moringa and Tithonia) which contain proteins and other important nutrients for animals, while local food production plants are being renovated, where by-products of industrial production, conventional forages and protein rich species are used.

A tangible result of research efforts has been the creation of biodiesel from non-edible oilseed plants. Experiments revealed the existence of a group of shrubs whose seeds or fruits produce useful oil, which can be used as an alternative to liquid bio-fuels made from crops like soya, corn or sugar cane.

The center is also working on building biodigesters on farms dedicated to cattle or pig rearing, used to produce gas and clean energy from animal excrement. The fuel obtained is used to power local homes, while rural families were provided with equipment designed especially for methane gas as part of an international collaboration initiative.

The center is also promoting sericulture (the rearing of silkworms) through the development of technologies to aid white mulberry tree cultivation. The worms live off the leaves of these trees, and spin a cocoon of silk threads which are then collected and processed to make silk cloth, used by artisans to create decorative items and homewares.

The director of the entity added that “We are also conducting research into the grassy areas of hotel and sporting facilities. We also take care of embellishing different types of gardens.”

As such the Station offers scientific-technical services to national and international entities related to the use, conservation and production of pasture grass and forage seeds; the promotion and utilization of silvopasture systems; turfed areas; bio-products made with native microorganisms; the rearing and exploitation of silkworms; agricultural production using agro-ecological methods; designing diversified agroenergy farms; developing strategic plans with rural entities and municipalities; and the installation of different types and sizes of biodigestors.

For Fernando Funes Aguilar PhD, who has been working at the Station since 1966, the institution will provide coherent responses as the process toward finding a balance between intensive or basic science, and science linked to production, the economy and society, advances.

According to Aguilar, to date efforts have been based on making investments to obtain knowledge, which, with a more innovative approach, involves “investing in knowledge for economic gain;” a proposal in which the Indio Hatuey Experimental Pasture and Forage Station is currently immersed, 55 years after its founding.