Livestock Research for Rural Development 13 (1) 2001

Citation of this paper


Integrated agroecological systems as a way forward 
for Cuban agriculture


Fernando Funes-Monzote and Marta Monzote


Pastures and Forage Research Institute (IIPF)
PO Box 4029, CP 10400 Havana, Cuba




A three-year experiment was carried out to study different agro-ecological livestock:crop systems under different soils and climates, without irrigation and using on-farm resources for animal and plant nutrition. Five farms, four in the process of conversion and the fifth with twelve years of establishment were studied. Eight sustainability indicators (reforestation, total species, food products, labour intensity, production of organic fertilisers, yields, energy efficiency and milk production) were defined, which relate to the main productive and environmental problems faced by the livestock sector due to the specialised agricultural model that has prevailed in Cuba over the last few years. These indicators were weighted, represented on a radial graph and evaluated through an analytical description and multivariate analysis.


Biodiversity increased after the establishment of integrated systems. Starting from specialised milk production systems, diversification allowed for between 30 and 40 more products. The integrated systems increased the energy efficiency from 3 to 10 joules produced per joule of input. Labour intensity decreased yearly after a greater initial labour demand required for establishing the system. Production of high quality organic fertiliser (2 to 4 tonnes/ha) was a major resource to cover the crop nutrient requirements. Productivity increased by up to 9.7 tonnes/ha including both animal and crop production. There was some fluctuation between animal and crop production, but the final result was higher system productivity.


The results of the study show that integrated ecological livestock:crop systems can provide sufficient capacity and potential  to sustain intensive production based on available natural resource management alternatives.


Key words: Ecological farming, integrated systems, biodiversity, sustainability indicators, organic fertilizers





Specialised cattle rearing systems were the chosen models for the development of Cuban livestock production since the 1960’s. Milk production systems became a priority considering their higher efficiency to convert pastures into high quality protein compared with the previously more widespread beef cattle production systems.


Large numbers of Holstein-Friesian cattle were imported to increase the milk production potential of the national herd, and artificial insemination was applied almost exclusively. Fuel, machinery and spare parts and large amounts of concentrate feeds were imported, and a great infrastructure was established. Improved pastures, fertilization and irrigation prevailed. As a consequence of this high investment, which was possible because of favourable trade agreements with the Socialist bloc of Eastern Europe, milk production increased but at a high energy cost (Funes-Monzote 1998). The industrialised specialised livestock production systems also created dependency and provoked deforestation, erosion of soil and loss of biodiversity, with poor use of local resources and exodus of the rural population to the cities.


It is postulated that integrated agro-ecological systems, provide a more appropriate solution to the problem of how to achieve better production efficiency and cost-benefit ratios based on the sustainable use of the available natural resources. However, these potential advantages have not been sufficiently assessed, the systems have not been sufficiently studied and there is a lack of appropriate methodologies.


This paper is focussed on the evaluation of the process of conversion from specialised milk production systems to integrated agro-ecological systems as a way forward for Cuban agriculture. To achieve this objective, sustainability indicators were chosen that could be measured and quantified and practical methodologies were used to  reveal the degree to which these indicators were improved.


Material and methods


From a group of eleven representative farms, five were selected to assess the process of conversion from specialised milk production systems to integrated agro-ecological systems. Eight sustainability indicators (reforestation, total species, number of feed products, labour intensity, production of organic fertiliser, yield, energy efficiency and milk production) related to the main problems presently faced by the livestock sector, were monitored during three years of establishment of an integrated farm management concept.


At the beginning of the trial, four of the farm systems were specialised in milk production based on pastures. The fifth (Humberto’s Farm, Sancti Spíritus) had been managed for twelve years as a diversified farm (58 and 42% of area allocated to livestock and crops, respectively). The inclusion of crop areas in the proportions of 25, 40 and 50% (Havana) and 24% (Las Tunas) was the basis of the integration program for the other four farms.  The design of the sub-systems design was similar for all farms (Table 1). 

Table 1. Sub-systems design scheme of the farms

Crop sub-systems

Crop rotation

Permanent crop


Livestock sub-systems

Silvopastoral areas

Grazing areas (grass/legume association)

Forage areas

Protein bank

Small livestock areas

Medicinal plants, fruit trees and living fences were also planted in the different areas



The farms under study were representative of the three main socio-economic and climatic conditions found in Cuban livestock regions, at different scales of operation and activities, with varying degrees of integration of the livestock and crop areas (Table 2). 


Table 2. Major features of the farms


Area, ha



Integration proportion, %

Stocking rate, (*) AU/ha
























1 00

Humberto,             S. Spíritus


Diversified farm





Las Tunas







(*) Including crop areas (global stocking rate over the system) AU = animals of 450 kg live weight


Livestock areas were managed according to a rotational grazing system on pastures of mixed grasses (Panicum maximum, Brachiaria brizantha, Cynodon nlenfuensis) and legumes (Leucaena leucocephala, Neonotonia wightii, Pueraria phaseoloides). The cattle were also given harvested forages (Saccharum officinarum, Pennisetum purpureum) and crop residues from the agricultural areas (Manihot sculenta, Musa spp., Ipomoea batatas, etc.) (Table 3). 


Table 3. Major features of the management systems

Crop areas

Livestock areas


Rotational grazing, 2 –12 paddocks

Minimum tillage

Protein bank

Crop rotation

Grass-legume mixtures


Biomass bank (eg: sugar cane)

Organic fertiliser production

Silvopastoral system

Use of legumes

Crop residues for animal feeding


Restricted suckling of calves up to 4 months

No irrigation

Livestock – crop rotation

No agrochemicals

Living fences for dry season animal feeding

Animal traction, generally

Conventional veterinary treatments


The analytical and descriptive methods reported by Hetch (1997) were used to record data on farm production, resources and processes as well as daily activities and incidents. Sustainability indicators were selected according to the main problems faced by the livestock sector, and as these related to productivity and environment conservation. They were:


The assessment of the selected indicators was made according to a weighted scale of five levels as proposed by Taylor et al (1993). These indicators were expressed as percentages (levels) of satisfaction (Table 4). 


Table 4. Classification and weighting of sustainability indicators

Level of satisfaction (%) (Classification)







Reforestation (trees per hectare)

< 20 VL

20 – 100 L

100 – 200 M

200 – 400 H

> 400 VH

Total species (units)

< 15 VL

15 – 30 L

30 – 50 M

50 – 100 H

>100 VH

Food products (units)

< 5 VL

5 – 8 L

8 – 15 M

15 – 30 H

> 30 VH

Labour intensity (hours/day/ha)

> 10 VH

6 – 10 H

4 – 6 M

3 – 4 L

< 3 VL

Production of organic fertiliser (tonnes/ha)

< 1 VL

1 – 2 L

2 – 4 M

4 – 6 H

> 6 VH

Yield per hectare (tonnes/ha)

< 2 VL

2 – 4 L

4 – 8 M

8 – 15 H

> 15 VH

Energy efficiency (output/input in joules)

< 1 VL

1 – 2 L

2 – 6 M

6 – 15 H

> 15 VH

Milk production (litres./ha)

< 0.5 VL

0.5 – 1 L

1 – 2 M

2 – 4 H

> 4 VH

Note: VL-Very Low, L- Low, M-Medium, H-High, VH-Very High.



The levels of satisfaction were recorded on a radial graph, in which each axis represents an indicator. The further the location of each indicator from the centre of the graph the greater is the degree of satisfaction. Multivariate analyses (cluster and main components analysis) were used as a quantitative method for the statistical analysis of this type of integrated system (Williams 1976; Manly  1994).


Results and discussion


A general diagnosis of the present livestock situation in Cuba, the result of many years of applying a conventional industrialised model, indicates that the model is unsustainable.  The critical points are: loss of biodiversity, high energy inputs, poor utilisation of manure, shortage of labour, decrease of milk production. The indicators considered in this study were selected in relation to these specific problems.


Masera et al (1999) point out that indicators are specific to the process, depending on the problems and characteristics of the situation under study. Integrated agro-ecological livestock:crop integrated systems, analysed through a simultaneous evaluation of indicators, demonstrate the possibilities of transforming the specialised systems in a short period.


Research on integrated systems with an agro-ecological bases has two main objectives (Wolfert et al 1998): one is to demonstrate how, through synergy effects, more productive results can be achieved; the other is to ensure that these systems are not only integrated but also managed with an ecological concept. The monitoring of different livestock:crop designs over a three year period was the key to learning the tendencies of behaviour and ranges of efficiency and productivity that were obtained during the conversion process, from the specialised production system to the integrated agro-ecological systems (Table 5). 


Table 5. Range of production levels and efficiencies observed in integrated livestock:crop farms



Area (ha)

1 to 13

Total Production (t/ha)

4 to 9 

Crop production

3 to 6

Livestock production

1 to 3

Energy production (MJ/ha)

12540 to 41800

Protein (kg/ha)

100 to 300

Energy Inputs  (MJ/ha)


Human labour

3090 to 4180

Animal labour

84 to 251

Fuel expenses

0 to 1254

Energy balance (MJ) (output /input)

2 to 10


Milk production (2 to 3 tonnes/ha) was calculated considering the total farm area, including the part devoted to crops. When calculated strictly on the grazing area the production was as high as 6 tonnes/ha. These levels are very high for tropical conditions. However, the first analysis criterion is more useful since the farm is considered as a whole. Table 6 shows the changes in total production and energy efficiency of an integrated livestock:crop farm with 75% of the area devoted to livestock and 25% to crops.


Energy efficiency is often considered to be related to scale of activity, and many theories suggest a reduction of this indicator as the area is increased. However, the effects of scale economies are more related to the technology and concepts of land, capital and work intensity than to land exploitation size (McNeeting 1993). In one study, Binswanger et al (1993) showed that efficiency and productivity diminished as size of farm increased.

Estimations made by Funes-Monzote (1998) of the energy efficiency of livestock production during the highest milk production peak in Cuba showed  that 5.7 MJ of energy were used to produce one MJ of milk. The energy balance of the farms assessed in this current study were positive from the first year and increased year by year, thus confirming that efficient use of energy is possible through the use of natural resources.

Taking into account the low biological energy efficiency of animal production systems for converting tropical forages into energy and protein for human consumption, it has been argued that the need is for crops with a high biomass production and livestock species that are adapted to using such feed resources (Preston 1995). Alternative production systems were described (Preston 1995) that confront the belief that the intensification of livestock production depends exclusively on the use of cereal grain and protein-rich meals. These alternatives are based on the utilisation of perennial crops, especially trees and tall-growing plants, which generate large amounts of biomass, a high proportion of which is naturally recycled to the soil.

The systems developed in the present study aim to make a better use of all feeding resources generated by short-term crops in the agricultural sub-system, and a better utilisation of space in order to design better and more appropriate diversified combinations between animal and crop production. In addition, the utilisation of perennial crops such as legumes trees (Leucaena leucocephala, Gliricidia sepium), fruit trees (Mangifera indica, Persea americana, Citrus spp., Psidium guajaba), grass forage species (Saccharum officinarum, Pennisetum purpureum), long-term crop species (Manihot sculenta, Musa spp.) and crop residues commonly utilised for animal feeding (Ipomoea batatas, Phaseolus spp., Vigna spp.) are combined to attain the best possible utilisation of biomass, contributing a high energy and protein content into the system that can be used for animal feeding.



Table 6. Assessment of productivity and energy efficiency of an integrated farm with livestock:crop areas of 75:25

Productive factors

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Total production (tonnes/ha)




Crop production




Livestock production




Energy (MJ/ha)




Protein (kg/ha)




Energy inputs  (MJ/ha)




Human labour




Animal traction




Fuel expenses




Energy balance (output/input)







Harwood (1986) has claimed that small scale production systems can increase productivity through labour intensification, the organisation and rational use of the cultivated area as well as the greater control of the productive process. The present study has demonstrated the possibility of obtaining good energy balances and high yields per hectare through the integration of livestock and crops at small and medium scales when this is combined with ecological management.


A comparison between agro-ecological and conventional technologies showed the advantages gained from input substitution, as well as the N-use efficiency in integrated systems designed with agro-ecological criteria (Lantinga 1998). These advantages include: a reduction of pests, diseases and weeds, less dependency on external inputs, lower capital investments and high efficiency of land use associated with polycrops and multi-functional benefits of small scale systems (Rosset 1997, 1999).


The cluster analysis method is a way of comparing groups of similar farms each with different designs  in accordance with the annual improvement of indicators (Table 7). In the first group were located the farms that showed the best performance and stability. A group of unselected farms (group 4) showed good results in certain indicators, but not in others.



Table 7. Cluster analysis (group means)








Costs of production





Livestock proportion





Org. fert. prod.





Cost/ benefit





Labour intensity





Food products





No. of species





Group 1: 75:25 Havana, 50:50 Havana, 60:40 Havana, 76:24 Las Tunas, 58:42 (All years);

Group 2: 25:75 Havana (First year);

Group 3: 25:75 Havana (Second and Third year);

Group 4: 50:50 Unselected farms (First and Second year)



A comparative analysis between years and indicators makes possible a quantitative representation of performance (Brink et al 1991). The radial graphic was very useful for this purpose. This methodological analysis is very well accepted and currently employed by different authors (Lightfoot et al 1995, Venegas 1996; Dalsgaard 1997; Funes-Monzote 1998; Masera et al 1999; Chinnakonda and Latinga 2000). Different mathematical models were developed to estimate the percent of satisfaction of each indicator, taking into account that the weighted table (table 4) gives only ranges and not specific values. Thus, each indicator value was carefully calculated and situated as a co-ordinate on the axis with its own percentage of satisfaction value (Figures 1 to 5).  Generally, the analysis showed a tendency for the majority of the indicators to be superior in the third year.

Figure 1. Sustainability indicator evaluation of the selected ecological farms (50:50, Havana) (1-Reforestation 2-Total species 3-Number of feed products 4-Labour intensity 5-Organic fertiliser production 6-Yield 7-Energy efficiency 8-Milk production)


Figure 2. Sustainability indicator evaluation of the selected ecological farms (58:42 Sancti Spíritus) (1-Reforestation 2-Total species 3-Number of feed products 4-Labour intensity 5-Organic fertiliser production 6-Yield 7-Energy efficiency 8-Milk production)


 Figure 3. Sustainability indicator evaluation of the selected ecological farms (60:40 Havana) (1-Reforestation 2-Total species 3-Number of feed products 4-Labour intensity 5-Organic fertiliser production 6-Yield 7-Energy efficiency 8-Milk production)


Figure 4. Sustainability indicator evaluation of the selected ecological farms (75:25 Havana) (1-Reforestation 2-Total species 3-Number of feed products 4-Labour intensity 5-Organic fertiliser production 6-Yield 7-Energy efficiency 8-Milk production)

Figure 5. Sustainability indicator evaluation of the selected ecological farms (74:26 Las Tunas) (1-Reforestation 2-Total species 3-Number of feed products 4-Labour intensity 5-Organic fertiliser production 6-Yield 7-Energy efficiency 8-Milk production)



Converting specialised livestock systems to integrated agro-ecological systems resulted in a more efficient and sustainable use of natural resources for food production.




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Received 3 July  2000


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