Cuban scientist wins green Nobel

 A folk-singing
agricultural scientist is the first Cuban to win the Goldman Environmental
Prize, also known as the “green Nobel.”

Humberto Rios
Labrada has been working with nearly 50,000 Cuban farmers to give them more
autonomy. His campaign involves choosing the crops and seed varieties best for
their lands and educating farmers on how to grow strong healthy crops with less
dependence on farm chemicals.

“I want
the seed to adapt to the people, not the people to adapt to the seed,”
said Rios. He has been lecturing across Cuba on how to mix seed combinations to
improve yields and quality — techniques that have helped produce bigger beans,
tastier squash, heartier rice and better varieties of other crops across the
country.

“The idea
is to give farmers more of an active role,” said Rios. “More participation
in the process so we can increase production, but more importantly increase the
happiness of the people of the fields.”

The government
bristled at his ideas initially. Officials have long been telling producers
what to grow, even if it wasn’t right for the soil.

Like seed banks
in other countries, Cuba’s government has stockpiled tens of thousands of
different kinds of seeds, including more than 500 varieties of rice alone.

But getting
farmers to plant the right seeds was only half the battle. Rios also had to
convince them to change the way they worked. So he not only sings in the
fields, but also produced a CD full of catchy guitar and patriotic lyrics promoting
the virtues of organic farming.

Goldman
recipients are chosen annually from six regions worldwide. Rios received his
$150,000 prize at a ceremony in San Francisco Monday night.

Prize director
Lorie Rominger said Rios’s selection emphasizes the importance of sustainable
agriculture, and he was especially deserving given the governmental constraints
of Cuba.

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