Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cuba to grant much larger plots to farmers

Cuba to grant much larger plots to farmers
Wed Oct 19, 2011 5:54pm GMT
By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will greatly expand the amount of land granted
to private farmers, an agriculture official said on Wednesday, as the
Communist-run country struggles to boost productivity in the sector.

Under new regulations expected to be approved this year, productive
farmers will be eligible for temporary land grants covering as much as
165 acres (67 hectares), up from the current maximum of 33 acres (13
hectares) mandated in a 2008 decree, said William Hernandez Morales, the
top agricultural official in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.

"Those persons or lease holders that have really shown they can produce
will be able to increase their land to five caballerias," he said on
state-run radio. A caballeria is an old land measure still used in Cuba
equivalent to 33 acres (13 hectares).

The state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the Caribbean
island, of which some 50 percent lies fallow and the remainder produces
less than the private sector.

A local agricultural expert said private farmers produce 57 percent of
the food on only 24 percent of the land.

President Raul Castro has made increasing food production a top priority
since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008, but with poor

In one of his key reforms, the government has turned over 4 million
acres (1.6 million hectares) of land to 143,000 farmers and would-be
farmers since October 2008, but farmers have complained that the small
size of the plots and other restrictions hampered production.

They said bigger plots and a recent measure that makes it easier to
employ laborers were positive steps.

"This is special. They should redistribute all the fallow land that's
been overrun with brush," Roberto Hernandez, a farmer who leased 33
acres in 2009, said in a telephone interview.

"Now the land produces nothing, when it should be producing root
vegetables, beans, rice or what have you," he added.

Central Camaguey farmer Jorge Echemendia agreed.

"This is what they have to do without waiting any longer. I don't know
how they do it, but when the state gives the land to the people they
manage to clean it up, even if with their fingernails, and put it into

Castro has also decentralized decision-making, increased prices paid for
produce, opened stores where secondary farm supplies such as clothing
and tools are sold and promised farmers more freedom to grow and sell
their crops.

Agriculture output increased 6.1 percent through June, compared with the
same period in 2010, a year that saw a 2.5 percent decline despite the

Food production remains below 2005 levels and food prices at farmers
markets have increased 7.8 percent this year, according to the
government. (Editing by Jeff Franks and Mohammad Zargham)

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