Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 18:07 UK

Cuba reforms turn to state land

Workers unload bananas in Havana
Large areas of Cuba's farm land lie fallow and food imports are high

Cuba is to put more state-controlled farm land into private hands, in a move to increase the island's lagging food production.

Private farmers who do well will be able to increase their holdings by up to 99 acres (40 hectares) for a 10-year period that can be renewed.

Until now, private farmers have only been able to run small areas of land.

The BBC's Michael Voss, in Havana, says this is one of President Raul Castro's most significant reforms to date.

National security

President Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in February, considers reducing costly food imports as a matter of national security.

For various reasons there is a considerable percentage of state land sitting vacant, so it must be handed over to individuals or groups as owners or users...
Cuban decree

Since the 1959 revolution, some Cubans have been allowed to run small family farms. But most agriculture has been placed in the hands of large, state-owned enterprises.

Our correspondent says these have proved highly inefficient - half the land is unused and today Cuba imports more than half its needs. Rising world food prices will cost the country an extra $1bn this year.

The presidential decree was published in the country's Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

In it, co-operatives are also allowed to add an unspecified amount of additional land for 25 years, with the possibility of renewing the lease.

Grants cannot be transferred or sold to third parties.

"The maximum to be handed over to individuals who do not hold land is 13.42 hectares (33 acres), and for those who hold lands, as owners or designated workers, the amount can rise as high as 40.26 hectares (99 acres)," the decree said.

"For various reasons there is a considerable percentage of state land sitting vacant, so it must be handed over to individuals or groups as owners or users, in an effort to increase production of food and reduce imports," it added.

The decree also said that farmers would have to pay taxes on their production, but it did not say how much.

The reform has been promised for some time by President Castro.

Since taking over the presidency, Raul Castro has signed the UN human rights accords and lifted restrictions on Cubans owning mobile phones and computers.

He has also announced that workers can earn productivity bonuses, doing away with the egalitarian concept that everyone must earn the same, our correspondent says.

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