Cuba reports food output up 8.7 per cent in 2011

Cuba’s non-sugar agricultural production increased 8.7 per cent in 2011, the government said this week, an indication reforms aimed at reversing a farm crisis and cutting food imports may be kicking in.

Produce output was up 11.5 per cent and livestock and related products six per cent, according to the report issued by the National Statistics Office on its web page (http://www.one.cu).

The upturn followed a 2.5 per cent decline in 2010.

The cash-strapped country is still producing less food than in 2005 and importing 60 per cent to 70 per cent of what it consumes at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion to $2 billion annually.

Food prices increased 20 per cent in 2011 as limited market reforms, higher prices paid by the state for agricultural products and a slight reduction in imports countered the increase in domestic output.

President Raul Castro, looking to cut imports and supply a growing food-service sector, has made increasing food production a priority since he took over for his ailing brother in 2006.

Castro has decentralized decision making, opened more space for farmers to sell directly to consumers, leased small plots of fallow state lands to 150,000 would-be tillers and raised prices the state pays for produce, but to date has stopped short of allowing market forces to take hold.

While the government still assigns farmers crops, monopolizes food distribution and the supply of critical farm inputs, the report indicated a higher percentage of produce was being sold by farmers directly to consumers.

Huge state farms and co-operatives continue to sit on fallow land and despite controlling some 60 per cent of the arable land produce just 30 per cent of the food.

Most Cuban farmers praise Castro’s measures and promises to allow market forces to play a bigger role in the future, but complain bureaucracy and vested interests are holding back progress.

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