Cuba announces shift of farm management to local level

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A tobacco farm in Cuba.
Image: Henryk Kotowski.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

In an effort to boost its troubled agricultural sector, Cuba announced a major shift in the management of the country's farms, which are to be placed under the control of over 150 local delegations rather than the national government. The move was announced in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.

On Thursday, Granma reported that the management of the farms has moved from the national government's Agriculture Ministry to the municipal level. The decision-making will now be handled by 169 new local delegations. The reform also involves the elimination of 104 departments which have been deemed unnecessary.

"The municipal agriculture delegations — an organizational process that has just concluded — will assume the responsibility for the functioning, development and control ... of agricultural production," Granma said. The move is intended to "stimulate agricultural production, perfect its sale and increase the availability of food and, in this way, substitute imports."

Cquote1.svg It is fundamental to concentrate efforts on increasing production and productivity, above all of food. Cquote2.svg

—Salvador Valdés Mesa

President Raúl Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel in February, has made agriculture one of the top priorities for Cuba. At a meeting with Communist Party leaders earlier this week, Raúl called food production "a matter of maximum national security." In past weeks, Raúl has said he wants to promote the decentralizing of food production, which he believes will decrease the country's dependency on foreign imports.

Officials estimate that government mismanagement has resulted in 51 percent of Cuba's arable land becoming underused or uncultivated. Also, Cuba imported $1.7 billion worth of food in 2007, a number that is expected to reach over $2 billion this year.

The announcement came as hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Havana for the annual May Day parade. Raúl Castro attended the parade, but did not speak, instead choosing to smile and wave from a podium as marchers streamed past. The event lasted only 2 hours, a large departure from previous years. Before Raúl's presidency, Fidel Castro's speeches themselves sometimes lasted close to 2 hours, and the parades often featured singing or skits.

Although Raúl did not speak at the parade, Salvador Valdés Mesa, head of the Cuban Workers Confederation, used his speech as an opportunity to promote economic efficiency and productivity. "It is fundamental to concentrate efforts on increasing production and productivity, above all of food," he said.