Cuba has given private farmers nearly 2.5M acres
Official: Cuba land reform has redistributed 2.47M acres, 56 pct of all land to be given out.
HAVANA (AP) -- Cuba has distributed nearly 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of unused state land to private farmers and others trying their hand at farming, more than half the territory it hopes to give out in an effort to revitalize an agriculture sector.
Pedro Olivera, director of the National Office for Land Control, told The Associated Press on Friday that the land has been distributed to 110,000 farmers as well as 1,715 cooperatives and agricultural organizations.
The figure represents 56 percent of the 4.36 million acres (1.76 million hectares) of fallow state land authorities want to turn over to private interests.
"The process is advancing," Olivera said in an interview following a tour of a small fruit, vegetable and livestock cooperative on the outskirts of Havana.
According a National Office of Statistics report from 2008, the most recent figures available, the state controlled 16.3 million acres (6.6 million hectares) devoted to "agricultural exploitation," of which about 9 million (3.6 million hectares) was fallow or underused.
Under reforms begun in September 2008, the state retains title to the land but leases it to approved individual farmers, cooperatives and others who can prove they will put it to good use.
Landless Cubans can apply for about 33 acres (13 hectares), while established farmers can increase current holdings to 100 acres (40 hectares). Private citizens qualify for leases of up to 10 years, renewable for 10 more, while cooperatives and companies can seek 25-year renewable terms.
Those receiving land must sell nearly everything they produce to the state at prices set by the government.
Olivera said Friday that under the terms of the reform, those receiving land must begin production quickly enough to sell crops to the state within two years -- but that officials will decide how well the land is being used on a case-by-case basis.
"Evaluating the program's results is a bit premature. ... There are 110,000 people with land, and we should see their productive impact in two years," he said.
Those conciliatory comments contrast with statements last month from Economy Minister Marino Murillo, who said private interests that get state land but fail to produce may lose their plots. In many cases, however, farmers say authorities have failed to distribute seeds and other basic materials unavailable from other sources.
Olivera acknowledged that authorities need to do more to help farmers.
"Those people who have gotten land, the great majority of them don't have experience," he said.
Thousands of small farmers kept their holdings after Fidel Castro took power on New Year's Day in 1959 and remain the source of much of Cuba's food. But at large farms taken over by state planners decades ago, output has dwindled.
Prior to the reform, just 29 percent of state land was fully exploited by government-run farms.
The reform is Cuba's biggest in decades and was designed by the government of Raul Castro, who succeeded his older brother Fidel -- first temporarily, then permanently -- in February 2008.
The island has been hit hard by the global economic crisis, and officials are scrambling to reduce spending on food imports.
By: Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press Writer