Cuban leader looks to boost food production
From Bureau Chief Morgan Neill
HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) — President Raúl Castro has moved quickly since
taking the reins of power from his ailing brother, Fidel, last year to
boost food production by putting more land into the hands of
Government officials hope that, with more land into production, the
nation would need to import less food.
Just east of the capital, Jose Luis Silva grows cabbage, corn and
plantains on a small plot, one that he would like to see expanded.
"I'd work it, and I'd work it well," he said. "It would solve their
problem, and it would solve mine."
When he says "their problem," he is referring to Cuba's disastrous
state-run agriculture industry. Cuba imports about 80 percent of the
food it rations to the public. Additionally, state-run television
reports that half of the country's state-owned land is either unused or
A thorny bush called marabu fills many of the unused fields and has
become a symbol for the failure of agriculture. Last year, Raúl Castro
himself bitterly joked about how much of it he could see along the highway.
Now, changes are under way.
Farmers can buy tools like machetes, hoes and metal sharpeners rather
than requesting them through a long, bureaucratic process.
The president of Cuba's Small Farmers' Association says a more important
change is occurring: The Communist government has begun to allow
for-profit farmers to work large amounts of land. VideoWatch changes in
the way Cuba runs farms »
Phil Peters, a public policy analyst for the Lexington Institute, a
nonpartisan public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia, says
that change represents an admission that past policies have failed.
"When Raúl Castro gave his first major speech to the Cuban people last
July, he ridiculed the bureaucracy that shackles the agriculture
sector," he said. "And he ridiculed the lack of productivity, and he
didn't mince many words. So, yeah, they are admitting that large parts
of the agriculture sector aren't working and they've got to shake it up."
Farmers like Silva just hope these changes will mean a chance to earn a
better living. But the government's recognition that those working for
profit are the most productive could mean other reforms are on the way.