HAVANA TIMES, May 6 — Agriculture bureaucrats responsible for allowing much of Cuba’s farmland to be invaded by the marabu bush weed are losing ground in the countryside, while campesino families are beginning to take control over their own properties. Land in Cuba is changing hands and the effect is immediate: food production is increasing.
There are no more tools than those that existed previously, fencing remains scarce and fertilizers have to be bought on the black market, just like pesticides. Yet despite everything, farmers are assuring me that production is increasing.
In a cooperative in Punta Bravo they tell me that in the first year, crop yields have doubled. The secrets were the turning over of fallow land to start-up farmers, paying better prices and giving more freedom to producers to decide what to plant and where.
In El Cotorro I went to a “state farm” that reversed its low productivity thanks to these efforts at redistributing land. The “giant with feet of clay” was divided into smaller farms, transforming its agricultural workers into small farmers who multiplied the output of crops and revenues.
Juan Reyes told me: “The land doesn’t cease being state-owned, but now we feel like it’s ours. Previously we earned US$250 a month, but in six months since I was assigned the property, I’ve already paid back the loan they gave me and I’ve cleared $7,000 USD.”
His profit depends on how he uses the earth and in this sense he’s strict. “The tractor is rented to us by the company, but we use it the least amount possible in order to economize.” Juan has three different crops planted on the plot of land. “Where there’s room for a plant it must be planted,” he told me.
He lacks fertilizers but he breeds worms to produce humus that he uses to improve the quality of his land. His whole family works the field as a team, and while they’re planting they’re also building their house. The decisions are made by those who do the work and the results are visible.
“I’m not saying that these local agricultural authorities are bad, it’s just that they don’t know anything,” commented a friend of mine who works with another cooperative. Recently in a meeting, officials directed the farmers to economize by using smaller saplings for fence posts. The campesinos looked at each other and smiled without saying word. “You have to be a little familiar with the country to know that bigger saplings are planted because otherwise the cows will eat the buds and the posts will rot,” a farmer explained to me.
It will take more than just land
Land reform in Cuba is transferring property tenure from the hands of the state to those of the campesinos, which— while a positive action— will not be enough. They also need to untie the hands of those who work the earth and stop issuing them absurd orders.
Local leaders would be much more useful if, instead of occupying themselves with reducing the length of fence posts by 8 inches (20 cm), they would dedicate themselves to looking for seeds, fertilizers, insecticides, tools and wire; and especially if they would guarantee a good system of marketing and distribution.
Because what’s certain is that the growth of agricultural production evidences the inefficiency of the current marketing and distribution mechanisms, which result in crops rotting on the side of the road or the loss of food after carrying out eleven transfers between the farmer and the consumer.
Speaking with an agricultural official, I asked him about crops that are lost due to the lack of transportation. His response was, “We’re informing the farmers and assuring them that they’ll get paid in any case.”
Those are the solutions of bureaucrats, but not the ones needed by the country. The public needs farmers to produce more; they need all of the crops to be harvested and that these are marketed quickly, shortening the distance between the producer and the consumer.
The authorities have taken a first step toward transforming land tenure, but they also need to change the distribution and commercialization system. Otherwise, all the efforts of farmers in the field will never be reflected on Cuban tables.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.