Cuba’s most important rice-producing province should more than double output this year as new private farms and service co-operatives, improved organization and higher local prices kick in, a senior provincial official told Reuters March 1.
President Raul Castro’s cash-strapped government has embarked on a program to cut food imports, and rice, which is a Cuban staple – and therefore a political matter – is a top priority.
The country’s 11 million people consume a minimum of 700,000 tonnes of rice a year, one of the highest rates per capita in the world.
Cuba imported 511,642 tonnes of rice in 2009 at a cost of $238.5 million, most of it from Vietnam.
“Three years ago we produced approximately 17,000 tonnes of consumable rice, in 2010 we reached 27,000 tonnes and in 2011 we should be at 62,000 tonnes,” said Raul Lopez Rodriguez, the province’s vice-president for economic affairs.
The eastern province was the site of a huge, state-owned rice project under former president Fidel Castro, one of nine in the country, but output rapidly declined with the demise of the Soviet Union, once Cuba’s top benefactor.
Castro’s brother is revitalizing the projects, but under agricultural reforms begun soon after he took over the presidency in 2008.
The government has leased fallow state lands, raised prices paid for rice and other produce, and decentralized decision-making, among other measures.
“Rice is now grown mainly by the non-state sector,” Lopez said.
“The state supplies resources, technological packets (seed, fertilizer, etc.) under contract,” he said, then buys 90 per cent of what the farmers produce.
Agricultural services, such as mechanical harvesting, which just a few years ago were monopolized by the state, are increasingly being carried out by private agriculture service co-operatives, he said. That is another Castro reform.
Lopez said higher prices paid for the rice allowed the most efficient farmers to clear between 80,000 pesos and 100,000 pesos per year, the equivalent of up to $4,000, or 15 to 20 times Cubans’ average annual income of 5,300 pesos ($238) per year.
Arnaldo, who leased 33 acres of fallow land three years ago in Yara, said he made around 40,000 pesos on each of the two harvests in 2010, and expected similar results this year, using mainly contracted services and labour.
“I bought the packet from the state and hired some workers to help plant,” he said. “They have offered me another 16 acres and I think I’ll take it.”
Cuba’s total rice production was 281,800 tonnes in 2009, up 50 per cent over 2008.
But efforts to increase Cuba’s rice production faltered last year as output fell 12.2 per cent to 247,000 tonnes.
Lopez attributed the decline to the growing pains of Castro’s reforms and a shortage of resources and water.
He said new equipment had arrived and the resources needed this year were secured, though drying and shelling capacity remained limited and the province was working on temporary alternatives.
“We have an advantage over last year. Currently our water resources are at 82 per cent capacity and at this time last year they were at 45 per cent,” he said.
RAUL LOPEZ RODRIGUEZ
V-P ECONOMIC AFFAIRS