Cuba to lease larger plots to private farmers hoping to increase food production
Cuba will greatly expand the amount of land granted to private farmers, an agriculture official said on Wednesday, as the country struggles to boost food production.
Under new regulations productive farmers will be eligible for temporary land grants covering as much as 67 hectares, up from the current maximum of 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% of the arable land on the island, of which some 50% lies fallow and the remainder produces less than the private sector. A local agricultural expert said private farmers produce 57% of the food on only 24% 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 results.
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 labourers were positive steps.
Earlier in the week the Cuban government described and promoted as “a very important complement” to the island’s development, foreign investment.
“The assimilation of foreign investment guarantees the access to markets for Cuban goods and services”, said Foreign Trade and Investment minister Rodrigo Malmierca.
Tourism and expanding hotel infrastructure including golf courses and closed in clubs and residential areas are top priorities for Cuba said Malmierca.
Cuba expects 2.7 million tourists and 2 billion dollars in 2011 with an immediate target of 3 million tourists. Spain, Italy and Canada have invested heavily in the Cuban tourism industry but now Brazil and Venezuela are the main promoters of the current expansion.