Professor Neil Hamilton, director of Drake University's Agricultural Law Center, accompanied 18 Drake law students on a trip to Cuba this January to study agricultural law reforms. The delegation was the first legal group from the United States to visit Cuba to study agricultural law.
Also with the delegation were Emiliano Lerda, a 2010 Drake law graduate and consultant to the Center on Latin American agricultural law, and Matt Russell, food policy coordinator in the Center.
During their visit, students met with officials from the Sociedad Cubana de Derecho Agrario (the Agricultural Law Society of Cuba) as well as legal scholars and government officials in sessions covering a variety of topics, from the Cuban constitution to legal education in Cuba, the history of agrarian reforms and current issues in agricultural law.
"Our trip was an invaluable opportunity for Drake students to visit a country with a unique political and legal system and to experience the friendship of Cubans," says Hamilton.
Currently, expanding food production on unutilized land is a main focus of agricultural law in Cuba. Since reforms to make state owned farmland available to individual farmers under ten-year leases began in 2008, 178,000 individuals have signed agreements involving more than 3.35 million acres.
Students worked with farmers in Havana who are currently growing produce on vacant urban land. Since 1991, thousands of "organiponicos," or urban gardens have sprung up in response to food shortages the country faced during the period of economic hardship following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Efforts to expand production and employ workers also include a new form of cooperative farming enterprise "“ the Unit of Basic Production Cooperative, or UBPC. Drake students toured the Alomar UPBC, which covers 25 acres and employs 120 cooperative members.
Today, each of Cuba's 168 municipalities has a program to expand urban farming.
The Drake delegation concluded their visit with a joint session on agricultural law with the Cuban Agricultural Law Society. During the session, Hamilton gave a lecture on U.S. agricultural law and the parallels with Cuba, the first talk on the topic by a professor from the United States.
Officials from the University of Havana Law School have invited him to teach an agricultural law course in January 2013, when Drake Law School plans to send a second delegation of students to Cuba.
"Someday soon the U.S. will have more normal relations with our neighbor to the South and these Drake Law students will be prepared to help build that new future," says Hamilton.