HAVANA – Cuban small farmers and agricultural cooperatives increased their sales of products such as milk, rice and pork to the government in 2009 after President Raul Castro introduced measures to boost domestic food production, the official media reported.
The president of the government-supported National Association of Small Farmers, Orlando Lugo Fonte, was quoted as saying the overall results achieved were “positive” but that 2009 also showed “how far the sector still needs to go in terms of organization, efficiency and discipline.”
Lugo Fonte, a member of the Council of State, the communist-ruled island’s supreme governing body, said there were “advances with a minimum amount of resources” in rice, milk, intensive bull raising and pork that prove Cuba can increase domestic food production – as Castro as urged, calling it a matter of national security.
Gen. Castro, who took the reins in July 2006 after older brother Fidel was stricken with a severe illness, has repeatedly complained about Cuba’s poor agricultural productivity, noting that half the island’s arable land is sitting unused.
Raul said last year that the “maximum priority” is increasing domestic farm production, given rising international prices and Cuba’s reliance on imports for more than 80 percent of the food consumed by the island’s 11.2 million residents.
According to Lugo Fonte, 2010 will be an even better year if “the transformations, in terms of both application and process, eliminate the bureaucratic decisions that hinder utilization and development of human and technical potential.”
Sales of milk to the government by cooperatives rose 22 percent last year compared to 2008, while more than 40,000 people who have applied for permission from the government to use abandoned lands under usufruct contracts are devoting their efforts to cattle raising.
That increase is the result of a pilot program carried out in more than half of the country’s municipalities to promote efforts to supply fresh milk to grocery stores as a substitute for powdered milk imports, which have steadily decreased.
The peasant cooperative sector also accounted for 70 percent of pork sales to the island’s government by domestic producers, while small farmers have started experimenting with bull raising and are looking at sugarcane production, also to substitute imports.
“I don’t want to create false expectations, but in terms of beef output we’re on a good path,” Lugo Fonte said.
“Given the positive results in 2009, it’s clear that the will of (small) producers is exceeding the initial expectations,” the official added.
Cuba is suffering one of its worst economic crises since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in January 1959.
The world economic slump has squeezed Cuba’s two main sources of hard currency: nickel exports and tourism, while Cuban families have experienced a decline in remittances from relatives in the United States.
The Cuban economy grew just 1.4 percent in 2009, far from an initial forecast of 6 percent.