CUBA TO INVEST $450 MILLION IN RICE PROGRAM
Cuba said it plans to invest up to $450 million over the next few years in a program to boost domestic rice production, which remains insufficient to meet local demand, state TV reported May 11.
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, noting that rice production is “still insufficient” despite the strategy designed by the ministry.
Investment in new projects up to 2016 is calculated to slash cereal imports by boosting national production.
Rice growing is currently being promoted in 152 municipios throughout Cuba, with farmers benefiting from advice provided by Cuban, Chinese and Vietnamese experts.
According to the spokesman, 80% 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 tons of rice per year, or 60% of the total consumed by its 11.2 million inhabitants, who regard the cereal as essential to their daily diet.
Since 2008, Cuban President Raúl 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% 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 of land for agricultural purposes, 79% of which is being used for crops that are mostly tilled by individual farmers.
The amount of idle land in Cuba in 2008 was estimated at more than 1.8 million 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.”
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