Raul Castro would like to see his island produce more food. Currently, Cuba imports the vast majority of its basic food products, at increasing expense, despite plenty of arable land. Private farmers and collective growers are hoping new reforms make it easier to produce food more efficiently, and that’s not just good news for Cuba. With rice rationing at Costco, that’s good news for the world.
The three biggest successes of the communist revolution are health, education and sport, goes the old joke, and the three biggest failures are breakfast, lunch and dinner. That could change. If Raúl Castro succeeds in boosting agriculture he will bolster the post-Fidel transition. Nobody starves but most Cubans struggle for decent nutrition. Farmers are strangled by red tape requiring permission to buy as much as a hoe. ‘The handcuffs are being taken off, though there is still a ball and chain around the ankles,’ said one foreign expert in the capital. Some 150,000 individual farms and co-operatives are estimated to produce two-thirds of Cuba’s food using just a third of the workable land. Anaemic state farms occupy the rest.
The government has experimented with reforms before, notably after the 1991 collapse of its Soviet benefactor, only to row back to Fidel Castro orthodoxy. Since stripping large landholdings in 1959, starting with his father’s estate, the maximum commandante was loath to relinquish state control.
Now Fidel is 81, ailing and eclipsed by the more pragmatic Raúl, the brother inaugurated as President last February. Raúl has studied China and Vietnam, where the regimes have retained political control while freeing the economy. He wants changes to boost output: ‘The land is there to be tilled ... We must offer producers adequate incentives.’