Cuban agriculture
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Cubans tend farms for selves, not state

July 17, 2008, 10:56PM

Cubans tend farms for selves, not state
Government that once controlled process pushes use of private plots
Los Angeles Times

ALTAHABANA, CUBA — Speckled chickens in Geraldo Pinera's garden will be
on his family's dinner table soon, stewed with herbs and tomatoes and
garnished with creamy slices of the avocados now ripening on a pair of
spindly trees.

Pinera, a member of a 25-family farming cooperative in this village
outside , tends a private half-acre plot tucked between the
state-owned mango orchards where he works a day job. He raises guava,
passion fruit, sweet potatoes and poultry to augment a $20 monthly
income and the government ration of starches.

Like other Cuban families, the Pineras are eating more fruits and
vegetables as a result of a national campaign to boost output and
curb costly imports. Their efforts represent a small but significant
step toward the government's goal to vastly reduce its dependence on
more efficient foreign producers, especially for favorite foods such as
rice, and dairy.

President spurred the planting of idle lands around cities
with a series of reforms in recent months aimed at improving
self-sufficiency. The moves included making land available free to those
willing to till it and easing a strangling national bureaucracy that
once controlled a farmer's every step, from seed procurement to sales price.

Castro has unleashed an ambitious effort to lift output of high-ticket
items, raising prices paid to meat and milk producers and freeing
growers from obligations to sell their food to the state.

He has made seeds, tools and fertilizers available through a new network
of country stores and challenged a population that is 80 percent urban
to grow what it eats.

But the prospects for swift expansion in meat and dairy production are
daunting, as few farming co-ops have money to pay for cattle even when
the prices for their products are increasingly enticing. Predictions of
quick results appear to echo the excess ambition of the failed drive in
1970 to harvest 10 million tons of sugar and the unfulfilled plans of
past decades to provide each family with its own milk cow.

Cutting imports
The government expects to cut food imports by at least 5 percent next
year, Deputy Minister Juan Perez Lama told journalists in
Havana in early June. He also predicted that rice imports could be
halved within five years — a Herculean task considering that Cuba last
year imported $170 million worth from , and the United States.

Cuban state enterprises grew about 10 percent of the 700,000 tons of
rice consumed last year. Private farmers produced about twice that.
Although 70 percent remains imported, scholars point to the rise in the
small-farm output begun a decade ago.

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