HAVANA — Communist Cuba has lifted a ban on some farmers buying supplies, the latest sign that new President Raul Castro is looking to individual initiative to stimulate food production.
Agricultural sources said Monday that Cuba will soon open stores for farmers to buy tools, herbicides, boots and other supplies for the first time since the state took over all the country's shops in the 1960s.
Castro has raised hopes for economic change since becoming Cuba's first new leader in nearly half a century when he took over as president from his ailing brother, Fidel Castro, on Feb. 24.
Few analysts expect a radical political departure from the one-party state, but many predict he will pursue measures to make the state-run economy more efficient.
Cuban farmers complain that the cumbersome system does not work, leaving crops to rot and farmers without timely supplies such as animal feed.
Milk producers in state and private cooperatives, as well as private dairy farmers, will initially gain access to the stores. It was unclear whether nondairy farmers would be able to do so, but they believed so and were delighted.
"It has been hard to find supplies, and for cattle you need wire and a machete. Now things are changing, and I see that as very good," said Carlos Manuel Fernandez, a 62-year-old farmer who raises cows on the outskirts of Havana.
A local agriculture expert said that allowing farmers to buy supplies was a major step.
"For the first time, all supplies are not being assigned by the central government. It's a market crack in the monopoly and centralization that is sure to spread," he said, asking not to be identified.
Raul Castro, 76, has said he believes Cuba must produce more food and cut imports from the United States and elsewhere. He vowed to lift restrictions that hinder output.