Cuba to invest $450 mn to boost rice production

Havana, May 12 (IANS/EFE) Cuba said it plans to invest up to $450 million over the next few years in a programme to increase domestic rice production, which remains insufficient to meet the demand on the island, state television reported.

The investment, which for this year will amount to $108 million, will focus on installing state-of-the-art technology to boost farm machinery, drying sheds and crops, an agriculture ministry spokesman said Thursday.

The televised report said that rice production is “still insufficient” despite the strategy designed and put in place by the ministry.

But it said that investment in new projects up to the year 2016 are calculated to slash cereal imports by boosting national production.

Rice growing is currently being promoted in 152 municipalities on the island, with farmers benefiting from advice provided by Cuban, Chinese and Vietnamese experts.

According to the spokesman, 80 percent of rice production on the island, considered a “high priority”, is in the hands of agricultural cooperatives and independent farmers.

Cuba imports more than 400,000 tonnes of rice per year, or 60 percent of the total consumed by its 11.2 million inhabitants, who regard the cereal as essential to their daily diet.

Since 2008 the president of Cuba, Gen. Raul Castro, has launched agricultural reforms aimed at increasing food production to substitute imports, a policy he considers one of national security because the country was spending more than $1.5 million per year on importing 80 percent of the food it consumed.

One of the first reforms was a plan to close more than 100 “inefficient” state-run agricultural enterprises and transfer upwards of 40,000 workers to other jobs.

Since then the Cuban government had shifted usership of over 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres) of land for agricultural purposes.

The amount of idle land in Cuba in 2008 was estimated at more than 1,800,000 hectares, but now official sources say that opening the land for agriculture and the use it has been put to since then “has contributed to reverse the poor state of a large part of that terrain”.

Another recent reform allows Cuban farmers to sell agricultural products directly to hotels.

As of last Dec 23, a total of 71 contracts had been signed between agricultural producers and hotels located in the country’s important tourist spots, including the Varadero seaside resort, Havana and the eastern provinces of Camaguey and Granma.

–IANS/EFE

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IANS