Cuban Agriculture’s Forgotten Plans

Photo: Abraham Echevarría.

Why is Cuba only producing between 20 and 30% of its basic food needs?

By Miguel Alejandro Hayes Martinez  (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – For decades, Cubans heard Fidel Castro speak about plans, creations and projects: from the super cow Ubre Blanca to chocolate milk, passing by the “Cordon de la Habana” coffee plantations, microjet bananas, the Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest, moringa, the Energy Revolution, the Battle of Ideas… Some were more successful than others, of course.

These enterprises not only shared announcements of grandiloquence as a solution to some problem, but they were also put into action to some extent.

Despite the highest leader’s absence today, proposals for enthusiastic creative solutions continue. Over the past two years, the Government or associated authorities have proposed Cubans eat hutia, ostrich, decrepit chicken meat and croquettes made out of bird entrails.

There was a Mesa Redonda episode talking about these sui generis proposals, that resulted in both mockery and outrage. Anyway, nobody took it upon themselves to put them into action.

Forgotten planning

Negligence has extended to areas of the centrally “planned” economy. This is the case for agriculture, the ministry of which had over 50 plans that were due to start between 2017 and 2019, and end in 2021.

Now in 2022 and amidst the cumulative effects of a food crisis, citizens are still not being informed about the status of these plans. Nor are there any statistics in official media about the national scope they’ve had. The minister of Agriculture, Ydael Jesus Perez, hasn’t analyzed them in his report to the National Assembly either. Nor have the Communist Party or prime minister looked at them. (In reality, less than a fifth of them were executed, although available statistics about them are unclear, so this can’t be said with all certainty).

The important thing

The country’s leadership says that they are focusing their efforts on 63 new measures to improve food production, ignoring everything to do with the over 50 plans that already exist, when reaching targets and fulfilling plans is supposed to govern economic activity. In fact, economic management has gone in the entire opposite direction to what should be done. The 11% drop in investments in agriculture prove this. I’m sure more than one agricultural project was forgotten or postponed as a result of this decline.

As if that wasn’t enough, the over 50 projects that were meant to end in 2021 were described in far too abstract terms, without quantities, for example. They weren’t geared towards being a solution to the Cuban economy’s chronic problems; they were rather projects of a country that has a satisfactory productive capacity, and is only trying to make some ammendments, to diversify a little. An economy with a food production crisis is not going to go far if it doesn’t draw up plans with high targets, if it reduces investments and if it doesn’t fulfill these modest plans, to end things.

Responsible management would have publicly explained the status of these projects, if they met their goals, why they didn’t meet their goals, which goals were met, and to what extent. Then, it would show different levels of responsibility, as well as the decisions made for those who were responsible for not meeting targets, and actions they will take to make sure they are met will be announced.

Also, turning our attention to the 63 new measures would imply justifying the relationship between them, first of all. However, the exact opposite has happened in practice, which allows us to draw some conclusions:

  1. The Cuban Government couldn’t foresee symptoms of the country’s incapacity to produce. It confirms the fact that the decision-making process doesn’t happen as quickly as it should. Solutions only begin to be contemplated once a problem has blown out of control.
  2. In the Cuban economy, far from planning, first comes improvization, disconnected measures, abandoning a line of work to emphasize another in a completely disorganized way. There isn’t an articulate and organic framework of policies to direct food production.
  3. Cuba’s economic policy seems to be governed by enthusiasm and euphoria of the moment. Thus, if the order of the day in agricultural matters is the 63 new measures, whatever was being done beforehand is completely forgotten, regardless of whether it was only half-done. Every actor is put to working towards the new guidelines.
  4. Existing mechanisms and institutions in the country are unable to achieve citizen oversight. If the Government is directly involved in different plans and ends the year without bringing up the subject or taking action, it’s because it has no incentive, pressure or oversight that forces it to do this. Good management continues to depend upon the good will of leaders. Agriculture isn’t an exception.
  5. The official press are still far from being a power that serves the population.
  6. It’s likely we will continue to hear creative solutions and suffer little concrete action.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

7 thoughts on “Cuban Agriculture’s Forgotten Plans

  • “Now in 2022 and amidst the cumulative effects of a food crisis, citizens are still not being informed”
    “Nor are there any statistics in official media”
    “The minister of Agriculture, Ydael Jesus Perez, hasn’t analyzed them in his report”

    These bungling clowns can’t organize or achieve anything.
    It’s never going to get better there is no money to invest, and no real large scale foreign investment.
    Cuba continually postpones it’s annual debt payments to the Paris Club. It’s going nowhere fast.

  • The only good news in the above report is that 20% to 30% of the food Cubans consume is produced on the island. Left unsaid is that the locally produced food is the freshest, tastiest, most healthful food that Cubans consume. So, to produce more of that food study the people who are producing that food. Set up schools to teach their knowledge. Then replicate what the organic farmers are doing and build it up to scale all over the country. I don’t know why Cuba has such a difficult time with agriculture. There seems to be a general malaise in Cuba about agriculture. It is evident right here in the comments section. “It is stuck with what it had in 1959, without any prospect of change.” Horse carts can’t compete with refrigerated trucks it is claimed. Organic agriculture and animal traction is just “happy talk.” So much defeatism. There seems to be a completely different attitude in and about the Cuban pharmaceutical sector. There little Cuba is taking on the rich capitalist corporations and doing quite well at it. Now, how to expand that spirit to agriculture.

  • Hubert Gieschen, Cuba has not reduced its sugar cane production. There are fields and fields of mature sugar cane in Cuba right now. I saw them two weeks ago.

    The problem is Cuba no longer has the capacity to convert much sugar cane into sugar, the marketable and usable product. Of the 156 sugar mills in operating in 1959, only 38 remain operational. Those few remaining operational is decreasing as they are cannibalized to keep others working.

  • The powers that be are too busy building five star hotels to line their pockets than worry about agriculture and the people.

  • It is sad but true. Cuban agriculture is a complete failure. And it will not improve until it is modernized. Oxen cannot compete with modern tractors; Sickles cannot compete with mechanized harvesters; Arid fields cannot compete with irrigated fields; Unfertilized fields cannot compete with fertilized and pest protected fields; Horse carts cannot compete with refrigerated trucks; Traditional small farmers cannot compete with highly educated scientific large farm operators; One or two or three cow herds will never produce as much milk as thousand cow herds with automatic milking machines.

    Cuba is trying to compete in the modern world with the methods of the 1930s. Yet, modernization will require massive investment in the agricultural infrastructure of the nation. And Cuba is broke. It cannot afford to modernize. It is stuck with what it had in 1959, without any prospect of change.

    No other nation will lend Cuba the money needed to modernize its agriculture, because of its history of defaults and expropriation. And the Cuban socialist system does not allow the foreign ownership of property.

    There is little prospect of improvement. Discussion of organic farming and skilled oxen handlers is just happy talk. Until there is a massive financial investment in Cuban agriculture, it will continue to fail.

    So sad.

  • With sugar cane production reduced from its history height what is happening to the land? Cuba’s government has always relied on the kindness of strangers instead of working towards self-sufficiency.

  • Cuba is the unchallenged world leader in organic agriculture. There’s the strength of Cuban agriculture. That and the extensive use of animal traction. Cuba has expertise in those areas. Nowhere, at least in the western hemisphere, are there such expert ox handlers as in Cuba. Cuba can’t afford expensive tractors, diesel fuel, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and the other accouterments of capitalist industrial agriculture. Cuba has all that unused farm land and thousands of underemployed people to work the land. I’m sure the government is at least partly responsible for the failure of cuba to feed its own people, but it seems the problem is more than that. Put the farmers in charge of the agricultural program. That would be a good start.

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