In the complex context of global food and agricultural systems, research in agriculture must respond to multidisciplinary questions of economic development, ecological sustainability and food justice. With the objective of responding to several of the most important questions facing agriculture today, this article describes recent research in three Cuban cropping systems: state farms, cooperatives, and small family farmers. Soil management is considered here as a crux of human intervention in agroecosystems, capable of determining the impacts of productive activities upon agricultural and ecosystem functions. Management practices commonly used in each farm system are evaluated using two systems of indicators, one for technological quality and one for agricultural intensification. Soil physical quality is characterized through laboratory analysis of samples taken in the same type of soil under long-term production in state, cooperative, and family farmer cropping systems. Soil structure management in the small farmer system is especially worthy of study, because this agricultural system has developed an intensive agroecological productive model on the basis of low external input use, polycultures and internal nutrient cycling. Favorable policies and farmer organizations are discussed as indispensible elements of sustainable agricultural development. The relationships between soil management, local knowledge, and food access are explored in the Cuban context and as directions for food system studies
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