The Cuban government has awarded in usufruct over a million hectares to small farmers one of the main reforms promoted by President Raúl Castro to help the country’s economy recover from its deep recession and cut the huge imported food bill that conditions Cuban international reserves.
In September 2008 the Cuban government approved a bill to hand idle land for its exploitation under an usufruct regime, after admitting that over half of the islands’ farm land remained untilled and non productive.
All the land in Cuba is in government hands but only 60% is currently in production. Government run farms and cooperatives only manage to supply 30% of the country’s food demand. Sugar production which was closely linked to Cuban farming when the Castro brothers and the revolution took over half a century ago stood then at more than seven million tons.
The latest harvests are in the range of a million tons making the economy basically dependent on tourism and nickel.
President Raul Castro since taking over from his ailing brother and leader Fidel has gradually opened the economy to small private enterprises and one of the clue instruments has been food production, described as a matter of “national security” to help reduce imports and the drain on foreign exchange reserves.
“This is an effort to revitalize an agriculture sector hampered by decades of government mismanagement” said Raul Castro.
“Of the land awarded so far over half has been for livestock; 26.8% for vegetables and beans and 7.7% for rice”, said Pedro Olivera head of the National Centre for the Control of Land.
Speaking with Juventud Rebelde one of the government’s newspaper that is more intrepid in pushing for the reforms, Olivera said that “only 46% of the land delivered so far is now in production”.
The bottle neck has been that “the government is the only source of seed and fertilizer and the Cuban bureaucracy had been unable to deliver”.
But small farmers said the Cuban government has begun for the first time to open supply shops where they can buy and bargain for input, tools and other agriculture provisions under a free system, “another of the steps implemented by the government to boost farming which still remains highly centralized”.
Nevertheless small farms more than double the production of government managed land.
As part of the sweeping economic reforms Raul Castro recently announced that one fifth of the government workers will have to find jobs in the private sector. In other words a million jobs would be slashed from the state’s payroll.
He added that the government has agreed to expand the range of self-employment jobs, and their use as another alternative for workers who lose their jobs”.
This is not the first Cuban experience of opening to the private sector. Some years ago thriving self employed little service businesses, especially restaurants, were extremely successful.
But it also aroused resentment among the population and the government of Fidel Castro sensitive to the political outcome, burdened the budding private sector with taxes and regulations, making licences harder to obtain until the self employed sector was largely paralyzed.