Cuban agriculture at a glance

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Cuban farm
A farm outside of Havana, Cuba.

Bottom line of agriculture in Cuba? Direct control of Cuba’s key agricultural resources remains a governmental priority to ensure a “rational, planned economy.” Land is still mostly in state hands or is state-controlled, and “independent” farmers must work within a state monopoly on purchasing and distribution.

Note: Editor Susan Crowell was selected to travel to Cuba in September with a group of 20 agricultural communicators. The trip was coordinated by the American Agricultural Editors Association, and she received a partial travel stipend from the association’s Professional Improvement Foundation to participate. Read more:

The paradox of Cuba
Trade with Cuba: It’s complicated
The Cuban ag reality

Approximately 61% of Cuba’s land area is considered farmland, according to a 2011 measurement by the World Bank. An older source puts the total farmland number at 10 million hectares (24.8 million acres).

There are roughly 5 million farmers or farm workers in Cuba, a figure that has held steady since 2008. (Most of that number, however, is farm labor, not independent farm owners.)

Cuba’s population is comparable to Ohio, at 11.2 million.

Cooperatives are everywhere. But they might not be co-ops as we think of co-ops. The early co-ops after the 1959 Revolution varied — in some, members have a collective voice in cooperative affairs; in others, members were only advisers; and in many, the administrator had absolute authority. Basically, they served as employers of farm workers (laborers), and were run as state farms by the central government. Today, co-ops still depend on subsidies, and depend on the government for seeds, fertility inputs, credit and machinery.

Local organizations/unions are a big deal: National Association of Small Scale Farmers (ANAP, Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños), for example, is a local, grassroots organization, or union, of individual farmers or “peasants,” who are also typically members of production cooperatives. These small-scale farmers, according to one source, control only 25 percent of Cuba’s farmland, yet produce more than 65 percent of the country’s food.

Land reform

Here’s where it gets confusing, so this is only my take on it (but I think I’m close):

outdoor market in Cuba
Outdoor food market in Cuba

After Castro took control of the government in 1959, a great deal of attention went into economic development, specifically agricultural expansion. There was an Agrarian Reform Act in 1959 and a second in 1961 that expropriated (took) land from at least 2,000 to 3,000 private landowners. About 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres), or 60 percent of the total, were confiscated, expropriated or purchased from mid-1959 to late 1963. Much of that land included holdings by U.S. cattle or sugar cane operations. One million hectares were transformed into the state sugar cane farms; 2.8 million hectares of grazing land and old rice, tobacco and other properties were given to People’s Farms, or state farms. Another 400,000 hectares were given to Cuba’s smallest farmers, and 475,000 hectares to medium farmers. Another 1.4 million hectares were turned over to tenant farmers. In the end, though, the Cuban government controlled the best farmland.

Fast forward to 1991, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of the Soviet trade relations. Another set of land reforms by the Cuban government encouraged individual farms in addition to the collective, or centralized farms.

Most recently, in 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture dismantled “inefficient state companies” and redistributed some of this land as well as “unused” state lands. The Cuban officials told us they were “giving” farmers the land, but, in fact, it is simply the right to use the land. Individuals could receive up to an initial 13.2 hectares (33 acres) for up to a renewable 10-year term, and if they were able to show success, they could get additional land, up to 67 hectares (165 acres).

According to Dr. Jorge Mario Sanchez, professor of economics at the University of Havana, who spoke to us Sept. 20, many people who received 13.2 hectares, however, have given that back to the state because they can’t make a go of it. Of the initial 200,000 private producers who received a land grant, he estimates 156,000 people are still participating in that land program. The right to use this land and buildings will transfer to descendants.

Dr. Armando Nova Gonzalez, economics professor at the University of Havana, told us Sept. 20 that each individual who received a land transfer brings 3 to 4 family members to that unit, which means there have been 800,000 “new assignments” in farm work.

Guatemalen worker
Lisette is in Cuba from Guatemala, studying organic agriculture on this farm cooperative near Havana for three months. She is planting stevia, used as a sweetener.

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  • Today, agriculture’s contribution to Cuban GDP is only 4%
  • Cuba imports more than $2 billion in food.
  • Sugar accounts for the majority of Cuba’s agricultural exports to the world. According to the USDA, from 2012-14, Cuba’s sugar exports averaged $470 million/year, accounting for 89 percent of the country’s total ag exports. Natural honey, with exports of $19 million/year, was the second leading exported product.
  • There are more than 400 state-owned companies in the ag sector, and 5,000 co-ops.

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1 COMMENT

  1. There are not 5 million farm workers in Cuba. There are only just over 11 million people in the entire nation! The number of workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing only totals about 939,000, according to Cuban national statistics, while about 610,000 are farmers.

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