Thesis subject

Cuban Lighthouse: how outliers emerge in a context of resource scarcity

These MSc theses will study how in the Cuban context of resource scarcity agroecological farms emerge, particularly, outstanding innovative and entrepreneurial farms—let’s call them “lighthouses.” These lighthouse farmers are outliers in their own context who have found successful models of food production and commercialization. What can we learn from these lighthouses in terms of how they emerge and may grow?

Background

This internship/MSc thesis is part of a project connected to the Global Network of Lighthouse Farms. This is the context: Cuba’s agricultural model is characterized by strong centralized planning and control, leading to limited (inter)national cooperation and restricted access to the international market. This limits farmer’s autonomy in decision-making and access to inputs and sales markets, but also constrains sharing and exchanging knowledge and experiences through (intern)national networks and cooperation, which are key to the development of sustainable farming systems necessary to domestically produce enough healthy food for a growing population in a changing climate.

At the same time, the number of entrepreneurial farming initiatives with a vision to provide agro-ecologically produced food for the local population is growing. These initiatives are known for their high level of innovation and entrepreneurship both in terms of their operation models as well as the application of alternative farming technologies. These initiatives demonstrate that agro-ecological farms are economically viable production models that may contribute to food security in a sustainable way. However, without a clear mechanism for exchanging and spreading state-of-the-art innovations and practices to other farmers, the positive contributions of these initiatives towards food security will remain limited.

Learnings from the Global Networks of Lighthouse Farms indicate that one powerful mechanism to support the exchange and spread of state-of-the art innovations and farming practices is by bringing together in a network the exceptional farmers who are already developing and applying such innovations. Such a network provides a clear channel for (inter)national cooperation, and a clear pathway to amplify innovations to the wider farming community via network interactions.

This project will enable outstanding entrepreneurial initiatives in Cuba to further grow in their knowhow by connecting them with internationally renowned initiatives via the Global Network of Lighthouse. Furthermore, by supporting the creation of Cuba’s own network of Lighthouse Farms, the project will support the long-term exchange of knowledge between local outstanding entrepreneurial initiatives—or lighthouses—and other Cuban farmers.

Type of research activities

There are two opportunities for two master students in this project. There is flexibility for the candidate to make suggestions:

MSc student project #1
A master student will be identified to monitor progress in the formation and consolidation of the Cuban Network. Student will collect data on how many farmers formally join, interactions between lighthouse farmers, and between lighthouse farmers and the wider population of Cuban farmers, etc. Students will assess impact of the network by measuring changes in flow of information, knowledge, and attitudes due to network formation, intention to change practices (since time frame may not allow for observing actual changes in practices), etc. This way we will monitor changes in the social relations among actors (farmers and other stakeholders in the food system) and the repercussions on knowledge flow related to key innovations and estimate potential impact.

MSc student project #2
Master student will document innovations and entrepreneurial models in food production and organic/agro-ecological farming practices among the farmers in the Cuban Network of Lighthouse Farms. How did these innovative and entrepreneurial farms emerge (while others don’t)? What makes these farmers unique? How can we scale up what these innovative.entepreneurial farmers are doing? Both of these MSc projects will involve interviews both with farmers and other stakeholders/actors.

What kind of student are you looking for?

I am looking for two students—one for each other the two projects described above. The ideal candidate will have an interest in any of the following: agroecology, scaling/amplification, innovation, business models. The candidates need at least some basic conversation Spanish since activities will include interviews. Preference will be given to students who can conduct both their internship and MSc thesis within this project. Practical information