BY RAISA PAGES | Granma.cu

Over 445,00 hectares of land in usufruct were applied for by 34,661 individuals or legal entities throughout the country to exploit free of charge.

Pedro Olivera Gutiérrez, director of the State Center for Land Control, told Granma International that, of the 34,661 applications made in municipal offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, 26,800 came from individuals who have never owned land and who could receive up to 13.42 hectares (about 33 acres).

The State Center for Land Control oversees land not being used by the Ministries of Agriculture and the Sugar Industry. A survey by the Ministry of Agriculture’s municipal offices found a total of 2,005,249 hectares (about five million acres) of idle or under-utilized land nationwide as of last July, Olivera Gutierrez noted.

“These are figures that we shouldn’t see as static, because we have to update them periodically,” he said. “Further under-utilized areas may become part of this patrimony that is now being requested.”

Those who hold land that is fully producing can expand their farms to 40.26 hectares (about 99 acres), according to Decree-Law No. 259, “Regarding the Handover in Usufruct of Idle Land,” signed by President Raúl Castro on July 10 this year.

Forty-five percent of land applications are for cattle-raising, an industry being stimulated now with higher prices for milk and meat. Meanwhile, 41% of applicants wanted to cultivate diversified crops.

The decision to take applications for land at this time is an attempt to stimulate food production in the face of the hike in food prices on the international market and, at the same time, to reduce imports, but above all by the damage inflicted on the agricultural sector by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Asked whether the handover of idle land can provide a rapid solution to the food supply question, Olivera Gutierrez confirmed that it cannot be in the immediate term, because those who are starting out as farmers must still have their applications accepted, establish the agreements and prepare the land. However, with respect to legal entities, such as Credit and Service Cooperatives that are expanding their holdings, a productive response could come in the shorter term.

The new farmers, most of them inexperienced in this type of work, will receive help from the Credit and Service Cooperatives that they join, along with a certain amount of experience and training from the National Association of Agricultural Technicians and the National Association of Small Farmers, explained Alcides López Labrada, deputy minister of agriculture.

Those who apply for land heavily covered with marabú, a thorny, bushy weed that invades arable land, may receive tools, herbicides and other resources for its elimination if the nearest cooperative is affiliated to a Ministry of Finance and Prices program providing the financing.

MORE LAND REQUESTED

The province of Camagüey, overwhelmingly cattle-raising territory — and with a lot of marabú to be cleared — leads the list of provinces with the largest volume of land applied for in usufruct: 74,763 hectares (about 184,000 acres) in just a few days. The neighboring province of Granma is third on the list, with 46,742 hectares (about 115,000 acres) of idle land requested for farming.

Applicants must meet the requirements established in Decree Law No. 259 and Decree 282 to guarantee strict control of appropriate implementation.

Provinces in which more than 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) was applied for in that very short time period included Sancti Spíritus (38,151 hectares), Matanzas (37,712), Ciego de Avila (35,075) Habana (30,524), Villa Clara (30,495), Las Tunas (25,899) and Santiago de Cuba (22,664).

Each applicant must present a reference from the Credit and Services Cooperative nearest to the land being applied for in usufruct, as the cooperative that will attend to the land, Olivera Gutiérrez noted.