Thanks to a bumper harvest and more advanced equipment, Cuba's sugar production is expected to grow by 20 percent during 2012-2013, state-run sugar company Azcuba said Monday. This year's sugar harvest could be the best in nine years, said Azcuba President Orlando Celso Garcia, adding more efforts are being made to improve the infrastructure of the sugar industry, which had long been a major contributor to the national economy before its decline in the past decade. As part of the efforts to resuscitate the industry, officials are opening four new sugar mills in the central provinces, raising the number of active sugar mills in the country to 50. "We are increasing the number of factories and in 2015 we expect to add two more sugar mills," said Garcia. Also this year, 91 percent of the harvesting process will be mechanized using modern Brazilian-made machines and tractors. The state-run company expects to boost agricultural output by expanding the acreage under irrigation, using techniques to improve the quality and freshness of the raw material, improving services to producers, and offering workers better pay. To improve the quality of its sugar, Cuba needs to increase its annual investment in the sector from 3 million U.S. dollars to 10 million U.S. dollars, say industry experts. To that end, the Cuban government authorized in September the first joint venture in the sugar industry with foreign capital. For more than 200 years, the Cuban sugar industry was the engine of the economy, but production gradually fell to only 1.1 million tons in the 2009-2010 harvest season, the worst in 105 years. At the beginning of the century, low sugar prices in the international market and economic difficulties at home prompted the Cuban government to dismantle 95 sugar mills, slash 1.2 million hectares of sugar cane fields to grow other crops, and lay off thousands of sugar industry workers who were later retrained to work in other sectors. More than a decade later, sugar's high prices and the need to meet domestic demand have once again put the sector in government focus. In 2011, Cuban President Raul Castro dissolved the "inefficient" Ministry of Sugar and transformed it into the Azcuba company, whose mission is to modernize the sector with new technologies and systems, and boost output enough to not only meet domestic demand but also generate exports.