Japan donates rice machinery to Cuba

Japan has donated about $3 million worth of machinery to grow and harvest rice as Cuba seeks to halve imports of the grain which top $200 million per year, local media said Tuesday.

The aid was part of a "new cooperation project" between the two countries and also includes technical support, such as training for farmers, said Japan International Cooperation Agency coordinator Kenichiro Kawaji, cited by Cuba's official Granma daily.

Kawaji said the donated tractors, harvesters, mowers, tillers and other high-tech equipment would allow the Communist island by 2016 to grow some 2,000 tonnes of certified grains of rice, a staple in the Cuban diet.

"I am convinced that through our experience and techniques, we can contribute to increased rice production in Cuba," Japan's Ambassador Masuo Nishibayashi said in delivering the equipment.

Cuba, which imports nearly 70 percent of its rice, launched a program in 2008 to boost domestic production, with the goal of halving its rice imports within five years.

In 2010, Cuba imported 414,000 tonnes of rice for $219 million, according tot the latest figures available.

President Raul Castro's government considers food production to be "strategic" and has introduced reforms to boost agriculture, as well as distribute idle lands and soft loans to farmers.

Cuba spends about $1.7 billion a year to import 80 percent of the food it consumes.

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