Humberto Rios Labrada, Cuba
OWA Finalist 2012

Humberto Rios Labrada has many talents and facets. In his role as a scientist he excelled as a successful plant breeder and pioneer of organic agriculture. However, his scientific life is also closely related to his talents for the arts. He has published poems and songs about biodiversity and the traditional knowledge of the farmers; currently he is writing a novel about the risks of genetic manipulation.

Humberto discovered that the “industrial” plant breeding model rapidly destroyed the biodiversity and the environment in Cuba and thus he developed a completely different strategy. Already in his pilot projects he not only involved the farmers in the research but also enabled them to become plant breeders.


Strategy of grassroots activities 

Humberto Rios Labrada im Austausch mit Bauern
Humberto Rios Labrada im Austausch mit Bauern
With his work he impressively managed to bridge the gap between traditional and scientific knowledge, an approach that challenged conventional science. As a consequence, Humberto Rios could continue his work only under the most difficult circumstances.

The economic crisis in the wake of the collapse of the Socialist Countries forced him to raise needed funds by giving concerts. His strategy of grassroots activities also became an important element for the rural democracy movement.

Today, his network includes more than 50,000 farming campesinos of which 2,000 are actively seed breeding and/or propagating. While industrial agriculture had reduced the available bean varieties to only 5 varieties, about 200 bean varieties can now be found in the 120 seed banks that Humberto founded. Today, 70 rice varieties are once again available in Cuba and while the corn varieties in Cuba had dwindled to one variety only, farmers now have access to 40 different corn varieties.

Auf den Feldern wachsen inzwischen wieder viele alte Sorten
Auf den Feldern wachsen inzwischen wieder viele alte Sorten
The success of PIAL, the organization that Humberto founded has stirred worldwide interest. After being successfully implemented in Chiapas/ Mexico, the expansion of the activities to other countries is currently underway. In Mexico individuals and people linked to the conventional seed industry attempted to impede by force his initiative that helps farmers become independent seed breeders and savers. This however did not stop Humberto Rios. The next project is already planned for Bolivia. Humberto Rios and the seed-network are an inspiration not only to the campesinos in Latin America but to all farmers around the world who can participate in the experience and traditional farming know-how.