Cuba endeavors to raise farm output amid economic downturn

News from Cuba | Sunday, 30 August 2009

From China View

Pressured by a global economic crisis and a stern U.S. economic blockade that has lasted nearly half a century, Cuba is actively seeking ways to boost its agricultural production.

The measures include turning over land close to cities to residents to plow, replacing fuel-burning tractors with oxen, redistributing fallow land and raising the prices of state-regulated farm products.

Without rich natural resources, Cuba has to spend at least 1.6 billion U.S. dollars a year importing food. Food production, therefore, is a matter of national survival. Cuban President Raul Castro had repeatedly urged people to boost the production of local food crops.

To raise food production and cut fuel use, the Cuban government has been running a suburban agriculture program since January, which covers every provincial capital.

Eastern province Camaguey pioneered the program, which boosted production by making land within walking distance of cities available to city residents for cultivation. Oxen, rather than tractors, are made to do the plowing and sowing.

At the start of the program in January, Castro said "we are going to forget about both tractors and fuel."

In June, Cuba's Agriculture Ministry further recommended the use of oxen. It also advised some factories to halt production, and government buildings and workplaces to use air conditioning sparingly to reduce fuel consumption.

It said that at present 265,000 oxen are used in agricultural production across the country and that they could match, or even outperform oil-burning machines.

The government has said it is seeking the most rational use of fuel and broader application of animal power in many areas. Oxen, for instance, have long been used in Cuba's agriculture.

Under the suburban agriculture program, redistribution of fallow land started a year ago, and prices for state-regulated food products were raised.

A total of 82,000 people have benefited from the program, and 688,000 hectares of lands, or about 40 percent of Cuba's fallow land, were redistributed.

Milk production has also seen noticeable increase since the government raised the prices of dairy products.

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