Private sector bites into Cuban state food sales
By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans are building private food distribution networks from the farm through to retail outlets as communist authorities gradually dismantle the state's monopoly on the purchase and sale of agricultural products.
The country's first wholesale produce market is up and running on the outskirts of Havana and across the island farmers report they are selling more of their goods directly to customers, ranging from hotels to individual vendors.
Those involved say the change is speeding the flow of food to market, helping end longstanding inefficiencies that often left crops to rot in fields and putting more money in the pockets of producers.
"We purchased two old trucks this year, in part to deliver produce to our state clients in Camaguey," said the president of a cooperative near the city in central Cuba.
"A few years ago we had to sell everything to the state, which then sold it to our clients a few days later. Now it arrives fresh and we keep the 21 percent profit that went to the state wholesaler," he said, asking to remain anonymous.
Private trucks, some dating back to the 1950s and beyond, clatter into cities and towns delivering goods to kiosks and stalls run by private farm cooperatives or their surrogates.
In eastern Santiago de Cuba, the trucks roll into retail markets where private food vendors, who roam the streets with horse-drawn wagons, push and tricycle carts, gather to buy.
With the country importing around 60 percent of its food and private farmers outperforming state farms on a fraction of the land, authorities are gradually deregulating the sector and leasing fallow land to would-be farmers. Continued...