… but it’s in crisis just like everything else in this country
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – “We have to produce more and deliver more. This is a turning point for the country and we can’t give up. We have problems, but it’s in our hands to feed the Cuban people. The Revolution is relying on us to put one foot forward. The enemy can’t defeat us and, together, we will honor the glorious name of our cooperative.”
These words were spoken by Enelvis Rodriguez, the representative of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) at our Credit and Services Cooperative, who delivered them with great effusiveness. She is now visiting every member’s house, one by one, or interrogating them in the middle of the street, as she can no longer call meetings as a result of lockdown measures.
Yet farmers, who are normally a lot more sincere than the rest of the population because they aren’t so heavily dependent on the State like the rest of the working population, are almost entirely quiet, this time. It’s a lot more dangerous to speak your mind during COVID-19. People are more afraid than normal.
However, a tomato farmer was bold enough to speak up: “if the cooperative can’t meet targets in the production plans when there were some supplies, what can we say will happen now when we don’t have anything? Let’s be realistic. We couldn’t even plant beans this year because of a shortage of ‘products’ (pesticides, biostimulants, fertilizer and certified seeds). We trusted that the “technological package” that had been promised and planned would come, and we prepared the soil.”
“We have to be realistic, drought is awful, they want us to plant short life-cycle crops, but we’ve been surrounded by water, a dam, canals, pipes, for over 10 years now, and they say they don’t have money to connect us. We can’t farm like this, everything is more expensive and the government’s purchasing company’s price for our produce doesn’t make it worth our while. This is reality, everything else is just talk.”
Gregorio, a tobacco farmer, also spoke up: “this year, they set forth the proposition that we plant a little more outside of the plan, that everything would be guaranteed and that’s why I planted more at the end of the season. Like they said, we have to increase exportable goods,” he said.
“Which is why I planted half a hectare on top (18,000 plants), and even though there are supplies waiting in warehouses, because this is a priority sector right now, I haven’t been able to get a hold of them. I have invested almost 6,000 pesos in this crop, and it’s about to go to waste because I still haven’t got any fertilizer.”
“The worse thing is that it is sitting in warehouses and has been assigned, but when it isn’t because there isn’t any fuel, it’s because there isn’t any transport. The truth of the matter is that there isn’t any efficiency, or a sense of belonging. Everything is a load of dreadful bureaucracy, and we can’t go on like this. This is the worse blockade we have here.” He said.
The absence of Cuba’s most popular meat (pork) at markets, is apparent in Mayari. There isn’t a single private or state-led store that has sold it in the past six weeks. A crisis that has been getting worse for two years now, to the climax right now, when pork has completely disappeared.
There are some people who sneakily kill their pig and sell it for the exorbitant price of 40-50 pesos per pound (double what it was last year), but they can’t spread the word for two reasons: a line would form outside the house just like they do outside shopping malls whenever a bit of chicken comes in to be sold, and it is quickly sold off to acquaintances with the utmost discretion; and the other is because the police would give you a hefty fine if they caught you and seize the meat of the animal that has been reared at the cost of your pocket and great sacrifice.
For example, Carlos, is a local farmer who has great installations to rear and fatten pigs, but according to him, “it isn’t good business to rear pigs (right now). Almost no animal feed is coming through as promised; cassava for pigs is disappearing and national corn production in the region is not only inadequate, but it has also taken a hit because of the intense drought.”
“I now find myself forced to take a jab at tobacco farming. I have had to start all over, learn how to be a “veguero” (tobacco farmer) bit by bit and try and get by, amidst plants. But rearing pigs is what I really like doing, it’s a shame this business is messed up.”
On the other side of the same issue, El Chino, a business owner who sold pork and now only sells vegetables, believes that “the government’s capped prices is to blame for pork disappearing off the map.”
He says that “you have to go with street prices. If there were a lot of pigs, the price would drop immediately, and if there are a few, then it would go up and encourage farmers to produce more. Even if it were expensive for a short while, there would still be pork on the street, which isn’t the case right now.”