A Conversation Between Liliet and a Permaculturalist (Havana, Cuba)
The Permaculturallist: Liliet, what do you know about the marabou plant?
Liliet: Why, everyone knows that the useless marabou weed is basically one of the greatest threats to our island!
The Permaculturalist: What else do you know about it?
Liliet: It is impossible to get rid of the damned thickets!
This makes it hard to clear out more land to grow more food crops domestically.
The Permaculturalist: Well, actually, this is all wrong.
If you do away with the marabou, what happens?
Well, you expose the soil to direct sunlight, stripping it of moisture and nutrients essential for supporting plant and animal life.
The Marabou, with its deep roots, helps to reintroduce nitrogen and prevent soil erosion.
And this is just the beginning.
The plant is also food for many animals. Dead marabou fertilizes the soil, not to mention that the wood is a valuable source of fuel for cooking and heating.
The marabou is a central element of the ecosystem in which you happen to find it growing.
It is integrated into this natural system that relies precisely upon the interconnectedness and interdependence between the elements: the specific combination and variety of vegetation, animal life, soil, water, and climate conditions.
If you remove the marabou, well, you completely disturb this natural balance and disrupt the biological cycle.
Liliet: ah, interesting. So why do we all hate the marabou?
The Permaculturalist: Well, once large-scale agroindustrial sugarcane production declined some two decades ago in Cuba, the land that had been used to grow the sugarcane was abandoned.
Sugarcane farming left behind unproductive land that was then invaded with the marabou.
The dominant view is that the marabou prevents people from using these idle lands and making them cultivable. Ironically enough, the “weed” has actually helped to rejuvenate the land and biodiversity.
Liliet: I see… but the marabou is really hard to get rid of when you want to start farming again!
The Permaculturalist: Well, the marabou is there precisely because you are not farming.
The challenge is to realize that everything in nature has a role, even when it seems ‘bad’.
The challenge is to grow food sustainably in a way that will maintain and reinforce this natural ecosystem.
The philosophy in permaculture is to start by observing all the elements in a specific place (the climate, soil composition, water vegetation, animal life, etc.).
Then you try to design a system accounting for and reinforcing the interconnection between all of these elements involved in that particular ecosystem.
So what I am saying is that we need to be creative- and make the most of the marabou
The above conversation is based on an interview that we had with Silvio. Silvio and his family have designed an urban family farm (Finca Mambí) based on the principles of permaculture.