Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Cuban agriculture reform faces challenges

Cuba faces deep challenges as it turns fallow land over to farmers

Cuba's President Raul Castro delivers a speech during a congress of the
national association of small farmers, ANAP, in Havana, Sunday May 16,
2010. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Prensa Latina)

Cuba's President Raul Castro delivers a speech during a congress of the
national association of small farmers, ANAP, in Havana, Sunday May 16,
2010. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Prensa Latina)
Paul Haven, Associated Press Writer, On Monday May 17, 2010, 1:18 pm EDT

HAVANA (AP) — The Cuban government has turned over nearly 1 million
hectares of previously state-owned land to individual farmers, but half
of it still lies fallow or is underutilized, highlighting the tremendous
challenges facing an agricultural reform program that President Raul
Castro has trumpeted as key to the island's future.

Economy Minister Marino Murillo disclosed the figures in a speech
closing out a gathering of small-scale farmers in Havana on Sunday. The
session was closed to foreign media, but his words were reprinted in the
Communist Party newspaper Granma on Monday.

Murillo said some 920,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) had been turned
over to private farmers since Raul Castro announced the program in 2008,
shortly after formally taking over Cuba's leadership from his ailing
brother, Fidel.

At the time, Raul Castro said that turning over fallow land to farmers
was a matter of "maximum national security," and was necessary to
breathe new life into an agricultural sector hobbled by decades of
government mismanagement.

But the land reform has failed so far to bring the game-changing surge
in production that Castro had hoped for. While national statistics have
not been released, a trickle of recent data has shown an inability to
meet agricultural targets, sometimes by eye-popping margins.

In the region of Havana, for instance, production during the first two
months of 2010 was 40 percent below the government's goal. Granma cited
government ineptitude as a main cause of the shortfall.

The 2010 sugar harvest was the worst in more than a century, prompting
the firing of the minister in charge. And the government warned last
week against hoarding rice, a key staple of the Cuban diet. Cuba
produces only about 40 percent of its rice needs, importing the rest at
great cost.

Murillo said that "about half" of the land assigned under the
agricultural reform "remains fallow or insufficiently utilized," and he
cautioned that farmers who have received government fields will lose
them unless they find a way to increase productivity.

"This situation needs to be changed as soon as possible," Murillo said.
"And if any producers are not able to do it, we will have to transfer
these lands to others who can."

A red-letter headline on the front page of Monday's Granma made the
challenge clear: "The Number One Mission of Our Farmers," it said.
"Produce for The People."

Murillo did not say why so much of the land is yet unused, but many
farmers complain that they have been hamstrung by a lack of equipment,
seeds and fertilizer, and victimized by incompetent local officials.

The 920,000 hectares — roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park in
the United States — is about one-seventh of Cuba's arable land, and
nearly a third of the fallow state-owned land targeted for private
distribution, according to 2008 National Statistics Office figures.

Even so, the program has had successes. Cuban state-run media have
highlighted individual farmers who have turned once-barren land into
productive fields. And Murillo said private farmers now produce 70
percent of the island's food, despite only controlling 41 percent of the
arable land.

Murillio is also vice president of Cuba's Council of Ministers, the
country's Cabinet.

He also said the government plans a new tax system for agriculture, but
gave no details, and he outlined the basics of a plan to import less
food, let farmers buy supplies without going through the government and
increase dependence on organic fertilizer by 2015.

Cuba's state-dominated economy has always been weak, but it has been
beset in recent years by a laundry list of hardships that would be
difficult for any country to shake off. Three major hurricanes did more
than $10 billion in damage in 2008, the global economic crisis dampened
tourism profits and a drop in commodities prices hurt nickel sales for
much of 2009.

Increasing domestic production is key as the government tightens its
belt, importing far less from top trading partners like the United
States, Venezuela, China and Spain.

Food is exempted from America's 48-year trade embargo on Cuba, and the
United States remains this island's top food exporter.

But economic woes have left Cuba unable to pay. Imports of American food
were down 26 percent in 2009, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba
Economic Trade Council, which provides nonpartisan commercial and
economic information about the island and claims to have no position on

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