Cuba carries out new land reform

August 16, 2008

Over the past few months, the Cuban government under President Raul Castro has announced a series of reforms to the island nation's agriculture and food production policies.

In a move to boost food production, the Cuban government will redistribute unused state-owned land to individual farmers and cooperatives. The land allotments offered will vary between 33 to 99 acres according to a July 18 Granma article.

Farmers taking advantage of the reform will have title to the land and will be able to sell their produce to the state or direct to the public. But the allocated land itself will not be able to be sold to others to prevent land speculation.

The changes come in the context of record high oil prices and the ongoing global food crisis, which resulted in food riots in over 30 countries in early 2008. These two factors will cost Cuba an additional US$1 billion in food imports this year.

Large swathes of state-owned land in Cuba are either poorly used or lie fallow today. This is in part an enduring consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's former main trading partner, in 1991.

Faced with the loss of 80% of its imports, a 35% decline in its GDP and dramatic decline in the world price of its major export crop of sugar, Cuba agriculture was further hit by a tightening of the US economic blockade.

During the "Special Period" of the 1990s, Cuba placed a priority in ensuring the main social gains of the revolution remained intact despite the harsh economic conditions. High quality, free health care remained available to all Cubans during this time.

Not a single school or university was closed and the unemployed were maintained by the state on 60% of full-time wages.

Yet at the same time, imports of oil and machinery declined sharply. Cuba's agriculture, which had relied heavily on large scale production using farm machinery and petroleum-based fertilisers, went into decline.

In response, Cuba moved to encourage more sustainable farming methods and urban-based permaculture. As a result, Havana currently produces 60% of the fruit and vegetables it consumes within the city limits.

But overall Cuba is still reliant today on imports for 80% of its total food consumption, and thus extremely vulnerable to world food price fluctuations.

In his July 26 speech in Santiago de Cuba, Castro motivated the land reforms as an important component of the Cuban Revolution's bid for food sovereignty.

But he also warned that although the Cuban economy is growing the country will not be immune to the consequences of a predicted world economic downturn.

"I repeat that the revolution has done and will continue to do anything within its power to continue to advance and to reduce to the minimum the unavoidable consequences of the present international crisis for our people. Yet, we should explain to our people the difficulties so that we can be better prepared to face them. We must get used to receiving not only good news", he said.

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