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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Cuba allows more private farming to boost food production

Cuba is to put more state-controlled farm land into private hands, in a move to increase the island's lagging food production. The communist island state has a very large agro-ecological potential, so large in fact that it should be a net food and fuel exporter. But the catastrophically low efficiency of state farms and the disastrous effects of decades of mismanagement have prevented the full exploitation of this potential. Because of this, Cuba is now a net food and fuel importer.

In a major policy shift, private farmers who do well will now be able to increase their holdings by up to 40 hectares (99 acres) for a 10-year period that can be renewed. Until now, private farmers have only been able to run small areas of land.

The new move is one of President Raul Castro's most significant reforms to date. Raul, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel, considers reducing costly food imports as a matter of national security.

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. These have proved extremely inefficient - half the land is unused and today Cuba imports more than half its needs. Government statistics released last month show that the percentage of fallow or underused Cuban farm land increased to 55 percent in 2007, up from 46 percent in 2002. Just 29 percent of land on state farms is actively used.

Rising world food prices will cost the country an extra $1 billion this year. And luckily, these increased prices now trigger a more rational approach to agriculture and land reform.

The presidential decree was published in the country's Communist Party newspaper, Granma.
Decree-Law No. 259 authorizes the handing over in usufruct of idle state land to individuals and legal entities for using in a rational and sustainable form, in line with the land’s suitability for agricultural production.

It adds that the usufruct granted is for a period of up to 10 years in the case of individuals and up to 25 years in the case of legal entities.

It notes that the maximum amount of land to be distributed to individuals without any land is 13.42 hectares [33 acres] and, in the case of those holding land as their own property or in usufruct, they can increase it up to 40.26 hectares [99 acres].
The decree also says 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 Raul Castro:
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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.

Raul Castro has also hinted at the possibility that Cuba might invest in ethanol production in order to become less dependent on foreign oil imports. According to recent assessments by Cuban researchers, the country has the potential to become the world's third largest ethanol producer, while improving food output (previous post).

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the sugar-for-oil deal that kept Cuba alive for so long, the country's sugar outputs have fallen dramatically. More than half of Cuba's state-owned sugar mills are no longer operational and are rusing away. Sugar output is a tenth of what it used to be.

As is well known amongst development thinkers, bad governance and weak policies are key drivers of food insecurity. A country like Cuba, with its large agro-ecological potential, should be a net food exporter. But decades of mismanagement have prevented it from becoming a country capable of feeding itself. Luckily, the rising food prices are now prompting a more sensible approach to agriculture and land ownership in Cuba.

Granma: Council of State issues new legislation - July 18, 2008.

AP: Cuba allows private farmers to have more land - July 18, 2008.

Biopact: Biofuels could transform Cuba into a prosperous nation - February 20, 2008


Blogger al fin said...

Good news from Cuba, thanks!

BTW, I am very pleased you are bringing regular updates again. I have several bloglinks to your site, and quote from your site, with attribution, regularly.

2:43 PM  

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