Cuba Sees Harvests Rot in the Fields

Centralized production / marketing plans don’t seem to be working

Some 29 cooperatives in Sancti Spiritus reported economic losses at the end of the first quarter of the year. (Bohemia)

At a time of great food shortages nationwide

By 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – Yamile Bombino, an agricultural producer from the municipality of Cabaiguán, in Sancti Spíritus, opted to denounce the incompetence of the state-owned Acopio on April 3. The Sancti Spritus woman has a contract for the delivery of 400 quintals (1 quintal = approx. 100 pounds) of tomatoes with the State purchasing company, but the harvest is spoiling in the field.

“Two weeks ago the two presidents of the cooperatives were notified of the [tomato] harvests,” she wrote on her Facebook profile and the post quickly went viral. Bombino added that currently Acopio has not sought a solution for the fate of the tomatoes. “It is not fair that this quantity of good quality food is lost given the need for it that the country is going through and also with the efforts we made to be able to harvest the crop.”

Two days after the first publication on her social network, Bombino said that she had called Acopio again, this time the provincial company, and only received the answer that “tomatoes are a national matte” The producer responded, “please respect the contract and meet it.”

The deficiencies in the collection and marketing of farm products are not new, but the Government maintains its position of continuing to centralize the work and production of the farmers. A recent meeting of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) of Sancti Spíritus province once again highlighted these problems.

“Today we have products in the fields such as tomatoes and squash that cannot be harvested because there is no fuel,” the president of the provincial ANAP, Pedro Águila, acknowledged at the meeting. He was quoted by the local newspaper Escambray. This official was blunt: “The resources have not reached the farmers.”

It is not surprising then, that in the face of this scenario that is repeated in other provinces, some 29 Sancti Spiritus cooperatives report economic losses at the end of the first quarter of the year, while more than 140 have presented “cracks” in finances and productive operations, according to the local newspaper.

After a new change in the tariffs for the commercialization of the crops announced by the Government at the end of March, Esteban Ajete Abascal, president of the [non-recognized] League of Independent Cuban Farmers, warned that the authorities “are doing the opposite of what they really should: give freedom and decentralize to satisfy the needs of the farmers.”

Meanwhile, complaints from producers are increasingly common. Last month, Héctor González, a member of the Pedro y Bienvenido Cooperative, in the Minas municipality, in Pinar del Río, lost a cabbage harvest. The state company Acopio, in charge of receiving the harvest, said it had no workforce to process it.

According to the complaint published on Facebook by the user Anadeilys González, the Cuban farmer lost 1,300 cabbages, after Acopio rejected the merchandise. As a result of the post, several people commented on similar experiences on the island with papayas, sweet potatoes and}.

“The same thing happened to my cousin with some melons in Holguín and Acopio’s response was that they did not have transportation, but the farmers are not allowed to sell them on their own. Conclusion: The harvest was spoiled,” wrote Elizabeth Batista.

Add to these problems with harvests a great shortage of inputs. Many products that farmers need to work the land will now have to be paid for in US dollars, as is the case of fertilizers.

Last November, to try to alleviate the severe food crisis in which the island is submerged, the government announced provisions that seemed to announce a slight relaxation in the countryside. Among them, that private farmers could sell part of their production on their own, as long as they first meet with the deliveries agreed with Acopio, something that was looked at skeptically by independent farmers.

“The goals that Acopio sets for us to sell to the State are high and the prices are low,” notes Rolando Villegas, a farmer from the Guane area in Pinar del Río.  He added, “many times we have more losses than gains to meet those amounts. The little that remains after meeting the requirement, often goes to feed our own families.”

[Editor’s note: On paper in government offices and celebrated on the TV news, food production should be rising considerably. However, in practice, that is not at all the case and shortages not only persist but increase.]

Read more news from Cuba here on Havana Times.

2 thoughts on “Cuba Sees Harvests Rot in the Fields

  • April 12, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    Yamile Bombino clearly personifies the pathetic state of the Cuban agricultural sector. With a contract to produce a plethora of tomatoes which she did, however, to harvest the crop requires the intervention of Acopio – the communist crop managers – who in their trite bureaucratic, patronizing manner state that those tomatoes in the field are in the “national interest” and it is up to Yamile, the tomatoes grower, to get them to market.

    Most readers, I am sure, can sympathize with Yamile’s predicament. The tomatoes are ready to be harvested but the Cuban cooperative harvesters have no way to harvest the crop. Of course, no Cuban communist arm of government will take responsibly nor blame themselves for the incompetence and mismanagement of the situation: the lowly Cuban farmer takes the loss and the humiliation and the vile threat: “. . .please respect the contract and meet it.” which adds insult to injury, to boot.

    So, how will Cuban farmers, all I am sure in the same produce predicament, going to react to this sad state of affairs and how will Cuban farmers react to the PCC’s approach to “modernize” Cuban agriculture and “tweak” the Cuban economy by perhaps introducing some form of private ownership, some semblance of the market economy in the agricultural fields?

    State cooperatives like Acopio with its incompetent managers who only follow beaurcratic niceties to protect themselves and to ensure they do not rock the proverbial “gravy train” do not help hard working entrepreneurial farmers like Yamile Bombino. In fact, they are more of a hinderance.

    Had Yamile been given the unfettered opportunity to grow her own tomatoes with the local market determining how much to grow and if she had had the opportunity to sell what she produced to the local community, I am sure those tomatoes would not be rotting in the fields.

    Any entrepreneurial farmer in her shoes in a private market driven economy, once the tomatoes are ripe and ready for sale, would have invited local citizens to come to the farm and buy the tomatoes from her directly without her having to hire trucks – which would have been too expensive or not existent given the lack of gasoline – to ship the tomatoes to a local communist run cooperative.

    I am sure hungry Cubans would rather take the trip out to her farm – even if they have to walk the distance – and personally buy tomatoes from her rather than standing in long, unbearable line ups under a hot sun hoping to buy a few tomatoes from state run cooperatives. This scenario would have been a win – win – win situation.

    Definitely a win for Yamile who would have sold many tomatoes and profited. She in turn could have hired some local labor to help her harvest the crop more efficiently; definitely a win for the local community who would have purchased as many tomatoes they could afford and transport them to their homes; and, a win for Cuban farmers in general who from this hypothetical situation can see a definitive way to prosper and profit from local unfettered farming.

    “The goals that Acopio sets for us to sell to the State are high and the prices are low,” notes Rolando Villegas, a farmer from the Guane area in Pinar del Río.” As long as communist driven cooperatives, like Acopio, whose managers set unrealistic bureaucratic quotas out of line with what the market demands, there will always be obstacles leading to future farm failure.

    Let private market driven entrepreneurs like Yamile Bombino have unfettered access in the fields, with her crop, and let her sell and keep a sufficient return on her investment. With farmers like her and those who aspire to be like her, Cubans will have enough to eat on a daily basis going into the future.

  • April 10, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    Wait a minute, the writer forgot to mention that the US embargo is mainly to blame. Or is it that repeating the same failed farm policies and mecanisms for decades has a bit of the fault? There are some who will say if only the embargo was removed the Cuban government / Communist Party would then choose better policies. And I mean in practice not just on paper. My question is why not do that anyhow? Half the country is lined up trying to buy food. However, my educated guess is that the leaders and policy makers don’t wait in lines or take public transportation. They are in no big hurry.

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