In Cuba, 70 percent of the nation’s food is imported, costing the $1.5 billion annually. Though island is ripe with potential farmland, farmers have little incentive to produce crops at a higher volume under the communist government’s strict policies. Farmers are forced to meet a government quota and sell their goods at a lower price, but under new president Raul Casto, they are slowly being allowed to expand their production without government interference.
The idea of an open produce market was at one time unusual in Cuba, where farmers risked having their crops confiscated should they try to sell them independently. The government’s attempts to manage both crop production and distribution deterred many Cubans from investing in agriculture. New regulations now allow farmers to participate in wholesale markets, and state controlled farmland is being transferred into the hands of private entities.
“The police would stop you and confiscate your produce,” farmer Armando Manzo said during an interview with NPR, referring to previous attempts at wholesale. “It was madness. Now what we’re doing is legal.”
Castro’s more lenient approach has been spurred on by the mission to reduce import spending. The transition to a more competitive food market may be difficult for Cuban citizens living off government wages, as free market produce demands higher prices. Additionally, existing farmers and those looking to enter the industry are struggling to buy new equipment needed for their work, due to government restrictions.
“There’s still too much government control,” Cuban native Alejandro Cruz told NPR. “They have to loosen up so there can be more business on the streets and people can make a living without fear.”
The introduction to a free market system in such a vital industry may affect Cuba’s long term economic strategies, as the government learns to cope with and support its enterprising citizens. Many Latin American countries use similar systems to allow their farmers better opportunities for profit.