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At the peak of Cuba's "Special Period," the time after the Soviet Union's collapse brought the import-reliant island's economy to a halt, President Fidel Castro realized that domestic ingenuity was the only hope for a timely turnaround. As food producers struggled to feed an increasingly famished and angry nation, Castro made a phone call to Humberto Ríos Labrada, a young researcher who was searching for more efficient crop seeds.
Ríos, then a Ph.D. student studying pumpkins, was told, "We need to improve the vitamin A content to feed people." He answered Castro's call by collecting experiences from rural farmers who for several years had already been forced to raise nutritious crops without expensive, fossil fuel-dependent farm inputs. "I did it, but not through the scientific way," he said during an interview hours before accepting a 2010 Goldman Environment Prize in Washington, D.C. last month. "It was through the farmers."