Feet on the Ground

In her article, Our Grain for Every Day, on Sunday August 17th in Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) María Elena Martin González reveals the productive and technical challenges peasants and governmental companies dedicated to the cultivation of the rice are facing. The harvesters, investigators and officials interviewed by her layed out the problems and the plans for a sector that in the 2008 will produce 223,000 tons of rice, even though more than the 80% of the national consumption is imported, but they predict near 485,000 tons for the 2013, in order to reduce the 50% of the acquisitions of the cereals, whose cost has risen to 1,100 dollars a ton.

The obstacles that the country has to overcome in rice production have a lot in common with other crops under cultivation. The procurement of foodstuffs pass through a range of areas under cultivation, irrigation systems, updating machines and farming equipment, acquiring the seeds, fertilizers and insecticides; as well as the bringing back the vitality of the soil, the technological discipline and the adoption of new structural organizations that stimulate the return of campesinos to their small plots of land, farms and cooperatives.
In this sense, the Decree/Law 259 became law, when it was issued by President Raúl Castro Ruz in July, who three years ago ordered an ‘uprising’ for the land in each of Cuba’s municipalities. Of all of the measures decreed by the ruler, perhaps this the one that was most profound, because it involved the turning over up to 13.42 hectares of land in usufruct to people willing to dedicate themselves to agriculture [but currently have none]; while those who possess land will be able to extend their holdings up to 40.26 hectares. State farms and cooperatives will have same right and longer leasing periods.

Even though the actual leaseholders’ contracts are non-transferable, require the payment of taxes and adjustments to comply with price regulations, the turning over of idle lands is an important step in the freeing of the country’s productive forces that have been handcuffed by the control, bureaucracy and corruption of the state.

We still do not know the details of how this decree will be implemented, but is logical to suppose that the official agencies could be decreeing measures that are meant to be living documents.

“It seems to me that it is already the time to confront the problems of the farming economy with our feet on the ground, but the future of this reform depends upon who puts up the capital, since it is trying to take wastelands that require clearing and will be giving them to people without resources,” stated the architect Esteban de Armas, who was leading the ‘uprising’ for land in a municipality to the southeast of the capital, where numerous small farmers were dedicating their energies to the cultivation of food stuff, seasonal fruits and domesticated animals.

The small farmers interviewed consider the delivery of land essential, but are suspicious about the concessions to the state businesses, “in that they lead in un-productivity because of the apathy of their workers, the abandonment of their crops for lack of transportation, the detour and thievery.”

To almost everyone it seems a good deal – one caballería [1 caballeria = 13.42 hectares] for someone that will start things off and is willing to work hard. “Half a caballeria can support a family of 5 to 6 people; so that 13.42 is enough land for the personal consumption of the parents, their married children, and their grandchildren. Someone who possesses 40 hectares will be able to sell part of his products commercially and sow sugarcane for cattle feed. The immediate problem will be putting the lands into workable conditions since almost all of them are covered with marabú weed.

This scenario was affirmed by a farmer from El Cotorro, Dámaso Pérez Quincoces, who is challenging the corruption in the ‘pigsties’ of Havana province. He said that there is still a need to acquire farm implements at affordable prices, eliminate the bureaucratic obstacles and point out that centralization affects distribution, collection, transport and transfer of cattle. How can we fence in our land if a roll of barbed wire that they produce in Nuevitas and export to the Caribbean costs more than 500 pesos?”

Rolando Cespedes, a small farmer from the same capital municipality, says that “during el Cordón de La Habana [when Castro called for coffee trees to be planted around the city in an effort to make Cuba a major coffee exporter], from 1968 to 1973, we almost ended stock breeding and fruit trees. Now it is difficult to attract the children of those peasants back to the land, almost all of whom became technicians and urban workers. The love of farming has already been lost. What is left is a huge crime and astronomical prices.”

Everything coincides in that theft can endanger any agrarian reform, when “it has become universal throughout the country and turns farmers into victims of the bandits in the countryside and the speculators from the cities, who bribe the police, reroute the trucks and resell their merchandise to whoever they want.”

“The guajiro [Cuban peasant] has to live on his farm, obtain credits to build a home, to fence it all in, to build the corrals, dig a well and take care of the other necessities for a degree of certainty,” affirms the elderly Migdalia Barrueta, the wife of a small parcel farmer who died recently from Madruga and has no grandchildren that continue working in the fields.

An official from Boyeros municipality spoke about people that have already requested lands in Santiago de las Vegas, The Guajay and other rural zones of Havana, Pinar del Rio, etc. He thinks that the granting of land can stop the exodus of young people from abandoning the countryside. “If things go well for them in their agricultural work they won’t feel the need to leave for the capital. Perhaps even some of them will return.”

When talking about the “new land reform” expectations flow out freely. For many it is cathartic. Some compare it to the Agrarian Reforms from 1959 and 1963. Others show their skepticism and then there are those who are beginning to dream of having their own estate and food at reasonable prices in the disappeared rural farmers’ markets.

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