CUBA HURRIES TO START NEW TYPE OF CO-OP FARMS BEFORE HARVEST

CUBA HURRIES TO START NEW TYPE OF CO-OP FARMS BEFORE HARVEST

Cuba is rushing to set up new-style cooperative farms before the November start of its strategic sugar harvest, reforming huge state farms to boost productivity.

The government, seeking to pull Cuba out of economic crisis, announced

plans to create smaller, more autonomous cooperative farms in sugar cane and other agricultural sectors two weeks ago.Sugar Minister Nelson Torres, attending the opening of one of the first of the new-style sugar farms, at the village of Quivican near the capital Havana Tuesday afternoon, told reporters that authorities expected most of the new enterprises in the sugar sector to be set up by the end of October.

He said the cooperatives would be formed immediately where it was certain that "with fewer resources, more sugar cane will be produced."

"In some provinces, they will be finished in the first two weeks of October," he said. "In almost the entire country, they will be finished by October. Some units will wait for November, but should be in place by the time the sugar harvest starts."

Mr. Torres added there were some other cases where it would not yet be appropriate to make the switch. He did not give details of what proportion of farms this constituted.

The farm reform follows a disastrous 1992-93 sugar cane harvest. Hit by bad weather and technical shortages, sugar production slumped to a little more than 4 million metric tons, the lowest in years.

President Fidel Castro has said the setback cost Cuba - traditionally the world's biggest exporter of raw sugar - about $500 million.

The poor harvest and falling food output strained the Cuban economy, already squeezed by shortages of hard currency, fuel and other goods following the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the end of traditional trade and aid ties.

The new-style farms are being set up within the existing large-scale agricultural state holdings. The aim is to boost workers' incentives and give them more say in management.

The cooperatives, known as "basic units of cooperative production," will remain under overall state supervision and will sell their produce to the state.

The state farm sector accounts for about 70 percent of Cuban farmland. The rest belongs to small farmers, mostly organized in cooperatives, who have to sell production quotas to the state.

The cooperatives plan is one of a series of recent economic reforms in Cuba. Since July, the government has also announced that citizens may hold and use hard currency such as dollars and has permitted limited private enterprise by allowing Cubans to sell some services outside the state structure.