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Cuba land leases to private farmers on the rise

Cuba land leases to private farmers on the rise
Tue Jul 7, 2009 12:49am IST
By Marc Frank

, July 6 (Reuters) – The ranks of Cuba's family farmers have grown
by more than 30,000 this year as the government conducted the biggest
land-lease distribution since the country's 1959 revolution in an effort
to solve an agricultural crisis, a newspaper reported on Monday.

Communist authorities began leasing 4 million acres of fallow state
lands in October, mainly small parcels, to private family farmers and
interested individuals as part of an effort by to
reform the state-dominated sector and increase production.

The official trade union weekly Trabajadores newspaper said a total of
78,113 land leases have been granted since the program began, up from
45,000 in January when figures were last released.

"A study of fallow state lands found there were 1.69 million hectares (4
million acres), of which 689,697 hectares (1.7 million acres) have been
leased, or 41 percent," Trabajadores said.

Cuba has not handed out land on such a large scale since shortly after
the 1959 revolution when large land holdings were nationalized and some
of the acreage given to small farmers.

Cuba had around 250,000 family farms and 1,100 private cooperatives
before the land-lease program began, which together produce around 70
percent of the country's produce on less than one-third of the land.


Farmers said the program had borne visible results, though they added it
took months to actually gain the land once granted.

"I am thrilled to see how wasted state lands are turning into food
providers, but there are cases where the land is leased but has not been
put to use due to organizational questions," Alfredo Estevez, a farmer
in central Camaguey province, said in a telephone interview.

Trabajadores said 56,000 of the leases were in production.

Castro took over for his ailing brother Fidel in February 2008 facing an
agricultural crisis that left the country importing 60 percent to 70
percent of the food it consumes, according to local experts, and
residents angry over high prices at state-run produce markets.

The government, which controls more than 90 percent of economic
activity, provides Cubans with a subsidized food ration which must be
supplemented at the markets where a pound of costs more than an
average day's pay and a head of lettuce, a few tomatoes and a mango
close to the same.

Cubans receive various social benefits, but the average salary is only
about $20 a month.

Raul Castro as part of his reform program has decentralized
decision-making in and increased prices paid to farmers for

Foreign and local experts said it was too early to judge the success of
the reform measures, but they questioned the state's continued monopoly
over agricultural supplies and distribution of what is produced.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)

Cuba land leases to private farmers on the rise | Markets | Reuters (7
July 2009)

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