Cuban efforts to reduce bulk food imports on track
* Consumable rice output at 300,000 tonnes
* Dried bean production tops 100,000 tonnes
* Government seeks to halve imports by 2013
HAVANA, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Cuban rice production jumped 44.6 percent, dried beans 9.6 percent and milk 10.8 percent in 2009 as a five-year government plan to boost output and reduce bulk food imports registered its first results.
Consumable rice production was 300,000 tonnes, beans 106,500 tonnes and milk 587 million liters, compared with 207,500 tonnes, 97,200 tonnes and 530 million liters respectively in 2008, the National Statistics office reported on its Web page (www.one.cu/panorama2009.htm).
The cash-strapped Cuban government has embarked on a program to cut import costs by increasing the island's food production and hopes to slash rice, bean and powdered milk imports -- staples of the Cuban diet -- 50 percent by 2013.
President Raul Castro, who took over for his older brother Fidel Castro in February 2008, has increased what the state pays for crops, decentralized agricultural decision-making and distribution and leased 50 percent of vacant state lands to 100,000 individuals and private and state cooperatives farms.
Cuba imported 567,000 tonnes of rice in 2008, most of it from Vietnam's state-run Northern Food Corp under preferential financial terms.
The Communist-run Caribbean island imported from various countries 246,000 tonnes of dried beans and 52,113 tonnes of powdered milk in 2008, according to government statistics.
Cuba spent $2.2 billion in 2008 to buy food, including $700 million for rice and beans combined and $250 million for powdered milk. It imports about 70 percent of its food.
Most land in Cuba remains in state hands, but private farmers and cooperatives own some 20 percent and produce more than 60 percent of the food.
The state controls the wholesale purchase and retail distribution of between 80 percent and 90 percent of all that is produced. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)
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