HAVANA TIMES – For a half century the Cuban media boasts of successes in food production while the population faces endless shortages. Everyone is aware of the contradiction.
Facing a growing financial crisis, the country continues to import over a billion dollars in food products each year, but there isn’t the needed investment to assure post-harvest processing of what is grown in the country.
The following article is one more example of how farmers get shafted by government buyers, showing it doesn’t matter if they produce more as asked of them, their financial problems and the food problem for the population will persist.
Harvests ready, but lost
By Istvan Ojeda Bello (Progreso Semanal)
It mustn’t have been very pleasant for several Cuban farmers to be the protagonists of the accounts we’ve been seeing or reading recently. “How can I exercise my right of having my hard work respected?” Agustin Sanz Rodriguez, a resident from the western Madruga municipality in Mayabeque, asked. He was complaining because his cooperative would no longer be able to sell the agreed 20 tons of fruit to the processing industry. Consequently, his fruit wouldn’t go to the place where it was destined, or worse yet, they would rot.
In late June, in Guantanamo, on the other side of the island, two cooperatives in the Manuel Tames municipality had to resort to their “Plan B” when the planned recipient of their mangos, the Guaso Vegetable Preserves Factory, told them that they couldn’t receive them because they were lacking in containers to store the fruit’s pulp. Luckily, another Vegetable Preserve Company in the same region took on the task, but they also had their own share of problems too. According to local TV, part of the pulp had to be quickly sent to its counterpart in the Sancti Spiritus province because the software license used to operate the aseptic filler machines had expired.
A month later, the situation hadn’t improved by much, according to what Orlando Bombale Luna, president of the Angel Bouza Calvo Credit and Services Cooperative (CCS), stated: “We have many problems that aren’t new at all, now they are becoming even greater because of the paralization of industry and the lack of packaging available,” he said.
Up until mid-July, the province of Guantanamo wrote off as lost approximately 1,600 tons of mango, sources from the Provincial Agriculture Office pointed out.
At the beginning of the year, there was a similar situation but with tomatoes, when 12,000 tons were collected which was well and above even the most optimistic estimates. A correspondent from the national press said that they would have collected more if it hadn’t been for the lack of foresight… and packaging for canning!
The second stage of the same
In its mid-year session, the Cuban Parliament once again dealt with the subject of lost harvests. At the meeting, lawmakers criticized, yet again, a situation that has been repeated throughout time and in different places.
“Some products, like the mango fruit, are lost in the fields because of shortcomings in mini-industry,” Graciela Rodriguez said, a member of Parliament for the Banes municipality (Holguin), with a long career as a manager of agricultural collection establishments. Also from Holguin, Jorge Antonio Perez, a farmer from the Aracelio Iglesias Co-op also made the technological obsolescence of processing plants in the agricultural sector known at the meeting.
“Investments have been made in the dairy industry, which is well-received, but processing vegetables, which requires less investment but has greater added value, still hasn’t been touched,” the lawmaker specified. His colleague from the Granma province, Yaquelin Puebla, depicted a similar picture and emphasized the fact that “producers and the people have asked us explanations for this.”
“Next year, there will be greater levels of production and what are we going to do, will we come back here talking about the same problem?” Israel Perez questioned. In fact, the voice of this member of parliament from the Yaguajay municipality (Sancti Spiritus) is already known when we talk about this subject. Here, we can confirm that in July, 2016, he said pretty much the same thing.
Shortages and also poor organization
A report from the Basque NGO “Mundubat” which is dated May this year, claims that out of the total production of food achieved by Cuban farming cooperatives, about 30% of this is lost during the harvesting and post-harvesting stage. The assessment, carried out in collaboration with the National Association of Small Farmers in Cuba (ANAP) revealed that another 27% was lost in the distribution phase when agricultural products are sent to local markets and to cities. We are talking about a 57% loss of cooperative production – the largest among all the productive methods.
In January 2016, the Cuban Agriculture Minister launched a set of measures aimed at recovering its marketing infrastructure with the objective of recovering lost ground over the years when they believed that cooperatives could take on distributing root vegetables, vegetables and fruit to national markets and industries themselves. Cases were also regretted such as that of in 2012, when a sharp decline in banana production took place.
Nelson Concepcion de la Cruz, the CEO of the government’s National Harvest Union, claimed that a part of equipment and personnel had been recovered in the past year and a half. These actions increased harvests considerably. The same can’t be said of processing plants within the sector, just as managers from the Ministry of Food Industry admitted before the Cuban Legislative body. They recognized the fact that food processing had been modernized in Pinar del Rio, Ciego Avila and Sancti Spiritus, but emphasis has only been placed up until now on recovering the productive capacity relating to milk and meat demands.
The packaging situation has gotten much worse, where demands have tripled in the last two years as harvests have grown. “In order to cushion this situation, we have decided to store in bigger containers in order to protect the greatest quantity of pulp, as well as using bottles in mini-industries,” said Eloy Alvarez Martinez, the vice-minister of Industry.
The pressure of public opinion has left glimpses of the obstacles that exist along with material shortages. “We are aware of the extremely difficult economic situation the country is currently in, but what people see on the news has nothing to do with this, but rather with a lack of organization. This discourages producers… later they found out that they weren’t the only ones to lose mango in the country. This, not to mention the other shortcomings that drive a lack of motivation,” Orlando Bombale stated referring to the news on national TV about a very similar situation to his own but in neighboring Holguin.
Government figures mark an increase in Cuban farming production, mainly in tubers, vegetables, bananas and fruit. However, the food industry responsible for processing it isn’t up to this standard, and figures which indicate progress in foreign investment projects which reactivate existing manufacturing systems still haven’t been seen.
Everyone shares this concern about lost harvests. Reports from experts and the presence of this issue in national media realize this. The government is still spending at least a billion USD per year to importing food products; as a result, national production of these items is a priority and an economy with depleted levels of growth can’t afford to hopelessly lose what has been cultivated.