Cuba lending farmers state land
Cuba has begun lending unused state land to private farmers and
co-operatives as part of efforts to boost agricultural output.
Officials estimate about half of all arable land in Cuba is currently
underused or fallow.
The government has already started to pay farmers higher prices for some
products, such as potatoes.
The national farmers' association said the move was to encourage
production of cash crops such as tobacco and coffee.
This is the latest reform announced under new President Raul Castro.
In recent weeks, the state has lifted a ban on its citizens staying in
hotels previously reserved for foreigners and allowed Cubans
unrestricted access to mobile phones for the first time.
Everyone who wants to produce tobacco will be given land to produce it
and other crops, Orlando Lugo, president of the island's national
farmers association, told the Associated Press news agency.
Increasing production of cash crops like tobacco could boost foreign
exchange earnings while a rise in agricultural output could cut Cuba's
food import bill.
The island spends about $1.6bn (£806m) annually on food imports and Mr
Castro has launched a major effort to increase food production since he
became acting president in 2006.
He took office in February this year, when his brother, Fidel, stepped down.
Analysts welcomed the agricultural move, but said it was not yet fully
clear what it would mean.
If the latest move means "all land that is not being used, like for
private farmers, co-operatives and state farms, is available, that is
positive," Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a Cuba economics expert at the University
of Pittsburgh told the Associated Press.
"Assuming of course, they have the freedom to sow and sell whatever they
In the early days of the Communist revolution, farmers had to hand their
land over to the state or collective farms.
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