Imagine what Kim Jong Il could accomplish

Want to promote organic farming? Then take over a country, destroy its economy, and starve its people — and then make them grateful for allowing them to plant their own gardens. Sound unlikely? Well, it’s happening, in Cuba. As CBS News reports:

The island nation’s move to organic and sustainable farming did not arise from its environmental consciousness, although there was an element of that also. The main reason was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba’s only source of petroleum and main trading partner at that time…

Finding food for the dinner table became a day-long drudge. Cubans visibly lost weight. The communist youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, ran articles on edible weeds. Daily caloric intake dropped to about 1600 calories.

Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture.

He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement.

“State-encouraged grassroots”? Never mind the oxymoron, this more a case of people taking advantage of one of the few openings allowed to them. Such individual enterprise is admirable. To give a government credit for allowing this one thing while it continues ban virtually every other type of private economic activity is like giving kudos to a mugger for taking the night off — which is what makes part of  this story’s tone so grating.

At the beginning of the story, CBS correspondent Portia Siegelbaum notes that, “in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food.” Of course, when she says “Cuba,” she really means the government, not the people who actually make up the country and have to endure living under it. And yes, that government has reduced the use of fossil fuels — and of just about everything else, too.