When Raul Castro promoted a plan to lease idle land to the farmers and invited them to make it productive using oxen, he overlooked the fact that these parcels, in many case, has been infested with marabou weed for over 20 years. It is an invasive species that is very difficult to eradicate because to spreads through long rooms and creates numerous shoots that rise to the surface and multiply in the subsoil when the plants are cut or burned.
This means that it is impossible for any farmer to manually clear his 66 acres of marabou. It is when using technology that the odyssey begins. Typically, a crawler-type tractor—operating on tracks instead of wheels—with front blades is used to cordon off the marabou and burn it. But the farmer has no right to directly contract for this service with state entities, which are the ones who own the heavy equipment. Thus, the application has to go through the board of the cooperative, but it turns out that the tractors are broken or belong to companies that they cannot contract with. The solution: wait for a miracle to happen while “doing something” with the land for fear of having it taken away.
It is likely that, given the delays, then end up resorting to private individuals with their exorbitant rates. So the farmer has to go to the bank for a loan and on asking for the promised credit, the producer discovers that they won’t give you more than 20,000 Cuban pesos (about $800 dollars), if you don’t have anything to put down as collateral. With that money you might be able to pay to clean up about half your allotted land, so you make an inventory of the few things you can pawn: The house? An engine? The old tractor?
If you managed to burn the marabou, the government guarantees you at least five years of suffering chasing after herbicides and tools to control the persistent shoots. Every time you prepare your land you will have to turn to the black market in fuel because what the state has assigned you is barely a symbolic amount.
The legal alternative would be to buy the gas sold in hard currency on the highways by Cupet, but this could cost you 3,000 Cuban pesos for a day’s work, because a tractor with the plowing attachment can consume 120 liters of diesel a day. That is if the farmer owns an old tractor, because if not, it again becomes the story of an impossibility, that of contracting with a state enterprise. Then you have to add the expense of the contract with the private owner and the fuel.
When the farmer, finally, manages to have cleaned his land for production, you can see that a new chain of obstacles and problems opens before his eyes. He will have to sow on dry land, because pumping water is a privilege with too many conditions attached: availability of surface or well water, electricity or fossil fuel, a turbine with capacity and an irrigation system.
Opting for the state “technology package”—which includes seed, fertilizer and pest controls—implies selling the production to the state company Acopio at extremely low prices (in comparison to what private buyers will pay). In addition, they don’t deliver all the components of the package at the same time.
When the time comes to market the products, the farmer will find that if the buyers are individuals they cannot buy the entire crop, and the State Collection System of Agricultural Products will leave many of the fruits to rot in the field while the population in the city lacks them.