A campaign to reduce the country's dependence on imported food is
encouraging Cubans to grow their own.
By CAROL J. WILLIAMS, Los Angeles Times
Speckled chickens in Geraldo Pinera's garden will be on his family's
dinner table soon, stewed with herbs and tomatoes and garnished with
creamy slices of the avocados now ripening on a pair of spindly trees.
Pinera, a member of a 25-family farming cooperative in this village
outside Havana, tends a private half-acre plot tucked between the
state-owned mango orchards where he works a day job. He raises guava,
passion fruit, sweet potatoes and poultry to augment a $20 monthly
income and the government ration of starches.
Like other Cuban families, the Pineras are eating more fruits and
vegetables as a result of a national campaign to boost food output and
curb costly imports. Their efforts represent a small but significant
step toward the government's goal to vastly reduce its dependence on
more efficient foreign producers, especially for favorite foods such as
rice, meat and dairy.
President Raul Castro spurred the planting of idle lands around cities
with a series of reforms in recent months aimed at improving
self-sufficiency. The moves included making land available free to those
willing to till it and easing a strangling national bureaucracy that
once controlled a farmer's every step, from seed procurement to sales price.
Castro has unleashed an ambitious effort to lift output of high-ticket
items, raising prices paid to meat and milk producers and freeing
growers from obligations to sell their food to the state.
He has made seeds, tools and fertilizers available through a new network
of country stores and challenged a population that is 80 percent urban
to grow what it eats.