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Economy, Agriculture

Sugar cultivation, state farms, Cuban population, Cuban cigars, socialist government

More than three-quarters of the Cuban population live in cities, yet the economy remains largely agricultural. Sugar cultivation covers more than 50 percent of arable land. Since the beginning of the economic crisis, sugar production fell from 65 percent of foreign exchange earnings to 40 percent. The sugar harvest had been largely mechanized by 1985. However, after 1990, due to shortages of oil and machine parts, the cane was increasingly cut by paid temporary workers mobilized from other parts of the labor force.

Coffee is another important agricultural product. However, coffee production declined as the rural population increasingly moved to the cities. In response, the government had modest success in a program that offered incentives for people to move from cities to the Sierra Maestras mountains to harvest coffee. Most coffee is exported, leaving little for domestic consumption. Cuban cigars are in demand worldwide, and tobacco production has increased, but almost all cigars are exported as well.

Three types of farms emerged following the revolution. Farms seized from large landholders became state farms. State farms were huge estates completely owned and operated by the government and worked by state employees. Smaller farms were organized into collectives that allowed farmers who owned parcels of land making up the collective to have access to seed, fertilizers, and equipment. They had to give a designated percentage of their crops to the government. Small farms, never entirely eliminated by the socialist government, remained under private ownership. They received no state aid and sold their produce directly to the government.

Between 1975 and 1985, Cuba experimented with limited free market reforms in order to boost food production. During this time the government allowed farmers to keep a small percentage of their crops to sell in markets. However, Castro ended the experiment in 1985 after deciding that allowing some farmers to grow wealthier than their neighbors created social inequities.

Domestic agricultural production has dropped precipitously in recent years. In 1992 state farms and cooperatives produced 69 percent less pork, 89 percent less powdered milk, and 82 percent fewer chickens than in 1989. To increase production, the government again allowed farmers to sell excess produce for a profit in farmers’ markets and began to divide state farms into collectives, which had proven to be far more productive. Thus, in 1995 the government controlled only about 30 percent of Cuba’s farmland, down from over 75 percent at the beginning of the 1990s.

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