Cuba's Farms: From State-Run to Private
GOOD NEWS: Faced with the smothering inefficiencies of a state-run economy and unable to feed his people without massive imports of food, Cuban leader Raúl Castro has put his faith in compatriots like Esther Fuentes and his little farm out in the sticks.
If Cuba is searching for its New New Man, then Fuentes might be him. The Cuban government, in its most dramatic reform since Castro took over for his ailing older brother Fidel three years ago, is offering private farmers such as Fuentes the use of fallow state lands to grow crops -- for a profit. Capitalism comes to the communist isle? Not quite, but close. Raúl Castro prefers to call it "a new socialist model." But Fuentes gets to pocket some extra cash.
"The harder you work, the better you do," said Fuentes, who immediately understood the concept. Castro's government says it has lent 1.7 million acres of unused state land in the past year to 82,000 Cubans in an effort to cut imports, which currently make up 60% of the country's food supply.
BAD NEWS: One of the challenges facing private farmers is the lack of credit and investment. They can work their new farms, but they often don't have enough fertilizer, seed or fuel. There's not enough electricity to run water pumps, Fuentes said, and no one has pesticides.
"This a big problem," said Alvarez, a University of Florida professor. "The government gives the farmers some land, which is good, but they don't give them any inputs. So they tell them, 'Take your old machete and go and fight the sun and weather and save us.' "
~Washington Post article today "Cuba Pins Hopes On New Farms Run for Profit"