Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cuban farmers press for reform

Cuban farmers press for reform
Web posted at: 3/20/2010 3:4:12
Source ::: Reuters

HAVANA: Cuban farmers are pressing for greater autonomy to produce and
sell their crops, blaming government inefficiency for Cuba's falling
food output despite agricultural reforms introduced by President Raul

In meetings around the country, they have complained that the communist
government is not providing the inputs they need and has failed in its
basic role of getting their produce to market, according to meeting
participants and media reports.

Their pleas, which are being aired at meetings of the National
Association of Small Farmers, are significant because they seek to move
away from government control of agriculture, which has been one of the
pillars of Cuban communism.

At issue are regulations guaranteeing the state's near monopoly of the
distribution system through its long-standing practice of contracting
for 75 percent of what farmers produce in exchange for supplying fuel,
pesticides, fertilizer and other supplies otherwise not available.

The farmers say the state often fails to deliver inputs when they need
them and undercuts production by not picking up and distributing crops
in a timely fashion, which leaves their produce rotting in fields and

The latter has become such a problem that Cuba's state-run press
recently reported that farmers basically want the state to get out of
the way.

"Participants raised the need to do away with the system of distribution
- and allow co-operatives to bring their products directly to market,"
the National Information Agency wrote about a meeting of Havana province
farmers attended by Cuba's First Vice President Jose Machado Ventura.

Castro has made food security his signature issue since taking over from
his older brother Fidel Castro two years ago.

Cuba is in the throes of a financial crisis in part because its
inefficient agricultural production forces it to spend heavily to import
two-thirds of its food.

Castro has raised prices the state pays for produce, leased state lands
to farmers, decentralized decision making and allowed some farmers to
sell a small part of their produce directly to consumers at fixed prices.

The reforms last year spurred production of bumper crops of tomatoes,
garlic and other items, but the state could not deal with the abundance
and failed to get all the produce to market, resulting in the loss of
tons of fruits and vegetables.

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