HAVANA – The Cuban government up to last September had awarded usership of over 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres) of land for agricultural purposes, of which 79 percent is being used for crops that are mostly being tilled by “individual” farmers.
The amount of idle land in Cuba in 2008 was estimated at more than 1,800,000 hectares (3,200,000 acres), for which the official daily Granma said Saturday that the opening of land for agriculture and the use it has been put to since then “has contributed to reverse the poor state of a large part of that terrain.”
The director of the National Land Control Center, Pedro Olivera, told the newspaper that a total of 1,313,396 hectares (3,242,943 acres) have been released for use since July 2008 when the government of President Raul Castro decreed the release of land in usufruct to revive the nation’s agriculture.
The measure forms part of the “reordering” of the agricultural sector included in the plan of reforms promoted by the government for the purpose of “modernizing” the socialist economic model of the island.
According to Granma, the fields handed over are basically being used by 146,816 individual users but not owners of the land, who represent 97 percent of the total applications received by the government.
It also said that of the new farmers, a fourth of them had no previous connection with farm labor, 13 percent were retired, a third are young people between 18 and 35 years old, and more than 13,000 are women.
The daily said that the new usership system on the island not only allows an increase in food production but also generates “great job opportunities.”
Last August the Cuban government lowered the prices on several agricultural articles to stimulate food production, in particular on plots of land for usership.
The month before, in July, official media said that the right to use land had been taken away from 9,000 people for “deficient use.”
When the usufruct decree was issued in 2008, 51 percent of the total arable land on the island was either idle or poorly used.
In Cuba, the revival of agriculture to increase food production is considered a matter of “national security” because the country spends more than $1.5 million per year on importing 80 percent of the food it consumes.