Cuba Offers Unused Land to Small Farmers

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As part of a drive to increase food production and reduce imports, the Cuban government announced a new plan for distribution of idle land to small farmers and cooperatives throughout the island. The focus will be on land near urban areas, so that city-dwellers will not have to travel long distances to reach their farms, and to reduce the cost of moving food to consumers.

Decree-Law Number 259, published July 18 in the newspaper Granma, provides for granting landless people up to 13.42 hectares in usufruct for an initial period of 10 years. People who already own or who previously leased some land will be able to increase their holdings to just over 40 hectares.

From Wikipedia: Usufruct is the legal right to use and derive profit or benefit from property that belongs to another person, as long as the property is not damaged…. The holder of an usufruct, known as the usufructuary, has the right to use and enjoy the property, as well as the right to receive profits from the fruits of the property.

Under the new Cuban plan, the usufruct is not transferable, and may not be sold to a third party – but if the holder is unable to work the land for reasons of age or illness, he or she may propose a successor from among the people who have worked on the farm.

Usufructs granted under the new law can terminated if the land is abandoned or not worked for six months.

Last week, in a speech to the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Cuba’s Parliament, president Raul Castro provided background information for the decision to expand the number of small farms. The following are excerpts from his speech.

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In July 2007, the cost of importing one ton of rice had gone up to $435; today, we have to pay $1,110 per ton, previously $435. The same quantity of wheat, one ton, cost $297 last year, when we spoke in Camagüey; now it costs more than $409. And as I said on July 26 in Camagüey, one ton of powdered milk at that time had the astronomical price of $5,200, while four years ago it cost $2,100, less than half the current price.

Everything is going up! And to top it off, the prices that have gone up the most include those for fertilizers, essential for higher yields. One of the most important, the complete formula for variegated crops, has gone up in price from $303 per ton in July 2007, to $688 now. Another fertilizer that is used a lot, urea, cost $400 per ton one year ago; now we have to pay almost $700. Seems like the devil’s work!

Fidel’s prediction in his “Reflection” of March 28, 2007 is becoming true in an overwhelming way: “More than three billion people in the world condemned to premature death from hunger and thirst,” was how he titled it. And there are no solutions on the horizon for such a terrible reality, at least not with the urgency required.

And the situation could even get worse, although some people are trying to close their eyes to that. We will continue doing whatever is in our reach so that these adversities affect our people as little as possible, but it is inevitable that we will suffer a certain impact on given goods and services, because, moreover, the enemy is doing even the impossible to create more difficulties for us, with the absurd aspiration of bringing us to our knees.

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We have to definitively reverse the trend of the declining area of cultivated land which, between 1998 and 2007, in just nine years, has been reduced by 33% – one third of all cultivated land – and considerably influenced the limitations imposed by the Special Period. To put it in a few words: we have to go back to the land! We have to make it start producing!

We are working without improvisation or haste. There is already a clear strategy and a plan of action from a national level to the productive base. These are ideas about how agriculture and cattle-raising in Cuba should be at this time, when around 75% of the population live in urban areas, which is not to say that the remaining 25% work in the countryside.

For that reason, every suitable hectare should be planted, primarily in the immediate periphery of every town and city. It is much more economical to make optimum use of this nearby land than to carry the enormous expense of driving workers or students long distances, sometimes just to work for half a day. In this way, we will avoid financial losses and low productivity.

And we have the magnificent results of the urban agriculture programs which, without resorting to mobilizations or heavy expenditure, are producing a significant quantity of vegetables and have contributed to improving our habit of consuming this important foodstuff, as well as providing employment for more than 300,000 people, including some 67,000 women and around 40,000 retirees.

These are realistic proposals for a country whose resources cannot permit the use of modern technologies, very productive but expensive and which also consume fuel. We will use them when it can be economically justified, as we have been doing with agricultural machinery and tools, chemical products, irrigation systems and protected crops, with encouraging, albeit incipient, results.

But there have also been the noteworthy experiences of producers who are achieving good results by combining science with oxen, organic fertilizer, other traditional methods and, above all, a lot of hard and efficient work.

I admire the great socialist state enterprises, including those related to agriculture, and we will never renounce them. I know several that have very efficient production. The former does not deny the role of cooperatives in their diverse modes and of small producers, of which I could also give some outstanding examples.

They are all forms of ownership and production that can coexist harmoniously, given that not of them are antagonistic to socialism. During the process of reflections on last year’s 26th of July speech in Camagüey, a process carried out throughout the whole country, more than 141,000 contributions referred to the production or price of food. It was one of the subjects that came up the most.

In the 12 months that have gone by, we have been working to implement what I affirmed on that occasion: that land, resources and all the necessary support will be increasingly available to those who produce efficiently, independent of whether we are talking of a large enterprise, a cooperative, or an individual campesino.