Cuba seeks to stimulate sugarcane production by doubling the price paid to farmers and by renegotiating their debts, the official AIN news agency said, citing a top official.

The Cuban government "is investing to provide farmers with the necessary funds" despite the Communist-ruled island's current financial straits, Sugar Minister Orlando Celso Garcia said at a meeting with growers in the eastern province of Camaguey.

He said that the initiative has been in effect since last year, but said "the response in yields is not yet what was expected" and what is needed is a "great leap forward."

Among the measures aimed at motivating production, the minister said the government will pay growers more and wipe out their debts.

"These measures, among others, show our interest in reviving and increasing crop yields in the short term," he said.

Within the plan of economic reforms promoted by President Raul Castro, one of the primary goals is the sustained increase in sugarcane production, the perfecting of relations between mills and growers, and diversification.

Formerly the nation's economic driving force, Cuba's sugar industry last year had the worst harvest in 105 years, with a production of 1.1 million tons.

The sector is currently trying to modernize its operations with new technologies, more efficient management systems and even foreign investment through the creation of mixed companies.

Between 2002 and 2004, Cuba restructured the sugar sector with the reduction of mills from 155 to 51, the elimination of 100,000 jobs and by shrinking the crop area from 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) to around 750,000 hectares (1.9 million acres).