Friday, July 11, 2014

Cuban Agriculture between Farmers and Pencil-Pushers

Cuban Agriculture between Farmers and Pencil-Pushers
July 10, 2014
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government has finally decided to throw
agriculture a life line, eliminating part of the bureaucratic apparatus
that is stifling it. Some 6,400 administrative positions have
disappeared with the State entity responsible for distributing the
fruits of farm production.

The bureaucratic entity in question is known as acopio ("storing") and
it has always stood out for its inefficiency. It is responsible for the
loss of many harvests and the poor condition in which nearly all
products have reached consumers.

It seems they are now attacking the root of the problem, realizing that
there are far too many bosses in agriculture. One cannot reap the fruits
of the earth sitting behind a desk and writing up absurd restrictions,
like the one that forbade farmers to build a home next to their farms.

The history of nonsensical measures is long and includes such episodes
as a retired general who was not allowed to bring into the country a
tractor given him as a gift and the order to save on wood by making
posts for natural fences shorter (something that would consist in
destroying them, as the cattle would then be able to eat the sprouts).

There is probably no ministry in Cuba larger than the Ministry of
Agriculture and very few come close to it in terms of its results. Its
headquarters are an enormous building located in Havana, very close to
the seat of power but very far from the countryside and farmers.

That may explain why they took years to finally decide to listen to
farmers who demanded that the price of tools and supplies be lowered, or
when they explained to officials that, in order to work the land, they
had to live and sleep on their farms.

Only a bureaucrat with a State-assigned automobile could think that a
farmer can live in a town or city and travel to their plot of land every
morning to work. Everyone knows that such farmers would lose all of
their animals the first night they were away.

Managing Agriculture

Over these past six years of reforms, the Cuban government had tried to
have this gigantic apparatus transform itself from within and pull
agriculture from the crisis that had bogged it down following decades of
inefficiency, bureaucratic control, centralization and an excess of
State control.

Things in agriculture, however, aren't improving, and the government
appears to want to go to the root of the problem to keep harvests from
rotting out in the fields, farmers from going without payment and milk
from disappearing while thousands of cows die of hunger.

A few days ago, the Secretary General of Cuba's Workers' Federation
referred to the US $ 2 billion the country spends a year importing food
products. The Minister of Agriculture next to him merely said that rice
production had increased.

Vice-President Marino Murillo informed parliament, however, that nearly
one third of the land in the hands of State companies is currently idle,
while 90% of the farms in the private and cooperative sector are productive.

Minister of Agriculture Rodriguez Rollero later commented that the
ministry would issue more flexible regulations for cooperatives, which
account for two-thirds of the workers on farms and the greater part of
Cuba's agricultural and forest production.

This way, they seek to eliminate the obstacles that are holding back
agricultural development. This is something positive because, if the
ministry wishes to continue deciding on every issue through decrees, it
will find it very difficult to map out the country's major policies and
to meet the needs of producers.

To do this, Cuba does not need hundreds of thousands of public
officials, only a handful of capable experts. The rest can be offered
the possibility of joining a cooperative or leasing out a plot of land,
places where they will surely be able to keep an eye on all those
details they like deciding on.

Source: Cuban Agriculture between Farmers and Pencil-Pushers - Havana -

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