New Agricultural Formula in Cuba Benefits Farmers and Brings Food to the Cities

By Gerardo Arreola (A CubaNews translation by Mary Todd, edited by Walter Lippmann)

A pilot plan for planting belts of land around cities began in Camagüey, in eastern Cuba, a year ago. Now, 17 municipalities in Cuba grow food in their outskirts as part of a plan that may be described as a guerrilla agricultural effort: small family plots plowed by teams of oxen to economize on fuel, with natural rather than chemical fertilizers, whose produce is sold nearby.

“We’re trying to bring food close to the cities, where 76 percent of all Cubans live, on the basis of diversified agriculture,” said Adolfo Rodríguez Nodals, head of the National Urban and Suburban Agriculture Group, which is in charge of this new movement.

The suburban agriculture network consists of around 600,000 hectares of land around the cities, a modest portion for the size of the Cuban agricultural problem. Officially, 1,230,000 arable hectares of land are lying idle, but other estimates go as high as 3 million hectares.

The new formula includes unlimited payment for what is raised. “We aren’t interested in how much a farmer may earn, as long as he earns it through work,” Rodríguez said. “We have to give producers incentives.”

“We can see a change already,” noted Juan Reyes, a 51-year-old farmer who left Las Tunas, in eastern Cuba, for Havana in 2004 seeking better pay. Here, he works as an agricultural laborer in a rural enterprise, and now, with his wife and son, works a three-hectare farm of government-owned land for the enterprise in Cotorro Municipality (population: nearly 79,000), southeast of the capital.

Now, six months after he began work on his plot, his monthly earnings have soared from 250 pesos (the equivalent of 10 dollars) as a laborer to 7000 pesos (the equivalent of 280 dollars). “There are benefits both for the people, who get more food, and for the producers, who earn more the more we produce.”

In a challenge that President Raúl Castro said affected national security, Cuba has had to import more than two billion dollars’ worth of food a year, while a large part of its arable land lies idle.

In 2009, the Government began allocating idle land in usufruct, and a million hectares went into production, but the daily, Granma, reported that half of the available land was still to be allocated-suggesting that it estimates that a total of two million hectares of land weren’t being cultivated.

The suburban agriculture plan is the continuation of another plan that was launched in the past decade promoting the cultivation of small plots of land and family yards in the cities to grow food. Rodríguez Nodals said that land around 153 of the 169 municipalities in the country would be planted this year.

Suburban agriculture takes place in a belt of up to a little over six miles (ten kilometers) from where urban agriculture leaves off in the provincial capitals. The belt is narrower for the smaller cities, and its width is always approximate, depending on the terrain.

The program is based on farms of between three and 20 hectares, which are given to farmers in usufruct. Sales outlets, where the producers take their produce, should be less than two miles (four kilometers) away.

The farmer must be a member of a cooperative. Like those groups, he can hire workers and can sell part of what he grows in markets where prices are set by supply and demand. Under this program, the municipal governments define which crops are basic (with price controls); prices for other crops are flexible.

LaJornada, May 12, 2010