By Daniel Benitez (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Despite efforts to bolster agricultural and livestock production and reduce food product imports, the most recent government statistics reveal that Cuba’s economy is currently in a tight corner.
According to a report published by Cuba’s National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONE), production statistics for crops not included in the sugar cane sector plummeted by 7.8 percent during the first quarter of 2013.
The figures for viand production – 368.6 thousand tons, 20.8 percent less than the previous year – are truly catastrophic. Compared to the previous year, the production of tubers (290.3 thousand tons) experienced a 10 percent drop.
The country’s potato harvest was the most severly affected with a 36 percent drop reported. Decreased production was also reported for bananas (44%), corn (22 %), citrus fruits (34%), other fruits (14%) and beans (7%).
There was a rise in the production of tomatoes (22%), green vegetables (9%) and rice (2.5 %)
More Meat, Less Milk
The livestock industry experienced a 16.8 percent increase in production between the months of January and March according to ONE, which reported greater yields for beef (30 thousand tons) and pork (41.3 thousand tons). A slight drop in the production of rabbit meat and poultry was reported.
The production of milk and eggs, however, two of the pillars of the daily diets of Cubans, also experienced a significant drop.
At 84.8 million liters, milk production dropped by nearly one million liters compared to last year. The volume made available to the population directly was a mere 20.3 million liters, 19 percent less than the volume reported in 2012.
Milk shortages have again served to evoke the promises made by President Raul Castro in 2007, when he affirmed that the country had to guarantee that all Cubans had at least one glass of milk on their tables.
In recent declarations, Felix Gonzalez, president of Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), urged dairy farmers to catch up to the production goal established for the first third of the year and to eliminate the nearly three-million-liter milk deficit.
Gonzalez made these declarations in Villa Clara, a province with a 300-million-liter production plan, and called on farmers to make the most of the spring season, so as to be able to reach the established goal.
At 495.6 million units, egg production experienced a 2.4 percent drop when compared to figures reported for the poultry sector last year.
No Small Potatoes
The issue of potato production is one of the Ministry of Agriculture’s more serious headaches. Unable to maintain a steady offer of this product at official sales points, the country is witnessing high black market prices for the tuber.
It is estimated that current potato production efforts are 8,000 tons behind the established goal, as a result of organizational and technical deficiencies, among other factors. According to an official report, unfavorable weather conditions and generally poor yields by two imported varieties of potato, were chiefly responsible for this drop in production.
This critical situation has forced agricultural authorities to apply such measures as selling the product immediately, without previous storage, in order to avoid greater shortages during the peak stage of the harvest.
In view of this complex situation, the Cuban press has criticized the allotment of large volumes of the product to private businesses and intermediaries, a practice which has long affected Cuban society and results in the disappearance of highly-demanded products from State markets and their monopolization by privately-run kiosks.
In the hands of intermediaries, a pound of potatoes can cost as much as 25 pesos, or 1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The average monthly salary in Cuba is about 18 CUC.
New Market Policies
The situation is made even more complex by the emergence of more and more privately-run restaurants and cafeterias which offer potato-based menu items.
The Department for Viands of Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture recently reported that 5,575 hectares of land, in the provinces from Artemisa to Ciego de Avila, have been used as potato plantations so far this year. This year, fewer volumes of potatoes have been planted in an effort to reduce losses in the sector (in 2011, potato production fell 11 thousand tons short of the production goal).
The province of Ciego de Avila, which is 22,198 tons behind the production schedule, is one of the largest potato producers in the country. The province also ships the product to the provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo.
This past Monday, the Cuban government announced it would implement a new policy for the sale of agricultural and livestock products in the provinces of La Habana, Artemisa and Mayabeque, a policy that could later be applied to the rest of the country. The initiative seeks to regulate, in centralized fashion, the production prices of such products as rice, beans, potatoes, malanga, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and tomatoes.
The government also announced that, as of now, there will be two types of agricultural and livestock markets: those administered by the State, which will be entitled to operate under the same conditions as non-State establishments, and those operated by agricultural and livestock cooperatives.