Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cuban farmers fret over pace of reform

Cuban farmers fret over pace of reform
By Stabroek staff

HAVANA, (Reuters) – Despite steps to expand private farming, Cuba is
contracting food supplies for 2011 much as it has for decades, showing
the limits of reforms and dimming prospects for big increases in
output, farmers said this week.

While President Raul Castro's government is paying more for food and
allowing farmers to sell non-contracted items directly to Cubans, the
state still has a monopoly over the purchase and sale of about 70
percent of the farmers' output, they said.

Communist authorities have decided what crops to grow and livestock to
raise and been the sole provider of supplies to private farmers since
most land was nationalized in the 1960s.

They purchase and distribute most of the country's food through
contracts obliging farmers to sell to the state.

Castro's reforms have allowed more local decision-making about which
contracted foods can be grown in given areas and more freedom to sell
some fruits and vegetables. But, said one farmer, "We still are not free
from the regulations that hold us back."

"I think they are worried there will be chaos in production and
distribution if they let farmers do as they please," he said, like
others asking that his name not be used.

Farmers had hoped the reforms would allow them to freely sell more of
their produce, which would encourage more output, but they said they
had only a little more flexibility.

"The state is contracting for 21 products in 2011, which is a little
better than this year when they contracted for everything but leafy
vegetables," another farmer said in a telephone interview from the

The contracted items include most of the staples of the Cuban diet,
ranging from rice, beans, corn, root vegetables, onions and garlic to
some types of bananas, citrus fruit, tomatoes, beef, pork and dairy

"The government is obliged to buy up … what it contracts, and then it
can purchase more if both parties agree, or we are free to sell what is
left to whomever, but only in our local municipality," the farmer said
of the 2011 plans.

Castro has made rescuing agriculture from a decades-old crisis a
priority since taking over for his brother Fidel in 2008, but has yet
to significantly loosen the state's monopoly in favor of market forces.

Cuba's food production fell 7.5 percent in the first half of the year
despite the reforms, and even as the cash-strapped country cut food
"The contracting system should be reduced to the indispensable so that
most production can be sold on the basis of supply and demand," local
agriculture expert Armando Nova wrote in Temas Magazine, the most
outspoken government sponsored publication, earlier this year.

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