Cuba’s Agriculture Continues to Slump

By Daniel Benitez (Café Fuerte)

Potatoes are a favorite for Cubans but are often not available. Photo: Caridad

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.


31 thoughts on “Cuba’s Agriculture Continues to Slump

  • May 28, 2013 at 11:29 am

    You above all should study more about everything as it is PROVEN that you know crap about anything (let’s not forget how I cut off both of your arms and leg, Monty Python’s Black Knight) and is trying to make up some miraculous background story to argument from authority just like ‘Moses’

    Grain, especially beans and soya, are very rich on protein. You should know this if you are what you say you are. Farming and ecology are entwined. All protein animals meat has must come from somewhere. And vegetables are also good sources of protein, broccoli comes to mind. Just go home. You are *very* weak.

  • May 22, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Keeping the Farm Going – Agricultural Machinery from the Agricultural Revolution to the Present Day..

    The Agricultural Revolution had a huge effect on British, and indeed on world agriculture. The Revolution, which started in the 17th century with the invention of machines like the seed drill and the spinning jenny, saw appliances begin to replace human workers, and was essentially based on the invention of the differential gear – which allows a person to translate a specific amount of cyclically generated power from a vertical to a horizontal plane.

  • May 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Denmark offers a very interesting and successful example. Thank you for providing the reference. Howe was a brilliant Senator and prolific writer.

  • May 20, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    You ought to learn something about farming before you presume to lecture others about the latest book you read on ecology. I spent my childhood around far,s in southwestern Ontario. my mother grew up on a cattle ranch in Alberta. Potatoes and tomatoes don’t have much protein. Meat is an excellent source of protein, and cattle are able to eat grass and other foods inedible to humans, and convert it into milk and meat. Cattle can be raised on land unsuited to growing vegetable crops. Cattle farmers around here don’t raise their herd on grain alone. The majority of feed is in the form of grass, alfalfa and hay. Only a fool would raise his cattle on grain alone.

    The point of the topic is that Cuban agriculture as it is presently organized cannot produce enough food, whether meats, dairy, grains or vegetables to feed their own population. Despite recent government initiatives, food production continues to decline.

    I do not advocate a return to the way agriculture has traditionally been organized in Latin America, with large land owners and poor tenant farmers. I would point to the Canadian model of the family owned farm. The farmer prospers when he makes the best decisions and is rewarded for his hard work. This system has helped Canada become a net exporter of food.

    You might be interested to know a Canadian government funded program supports a team of Canadian cattle farmers working in Cuba to help improve beef and milk production in Cuba.

  • May 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Luis, thanks for the comradely reply. You and I both know that, no matter what Cuba does to the good, the detractors of socialism will find fault. We ought to ignore their bile and focus on real questions, such as how embattled Cuba can start growing most of its own food, and also begin to export agricultural products–besides tobacco.

    Look, I’m either right or I’m wrong. I believe that Cuba–based on the Denmark experience, in particular–should utilize small plot private ownership and cooperation for much of its agricultural production.

    And also, small farmers and ranchers should be able to cooperate with each other, in order to market their produce for the best prices, domestically and internationally.

    The thing standing in the way of this kind of “socialist” agriculture is the old bourgeois-utopian prejudice against private land ownership, and against private producers trying to make a decent living for their families.

    Socialism, real socialism must be based on prosperity, not on some sort of idealization of worker poverty.

    I’m encouraged, Luis, that you agree that “socialist property” can be state property, but can also be other kinds of property. This attitude is pluralistic, and this is precisely the attitude that all socialists ought to embrace.

    The small rural producers of Cuba should be able to own their own lands–as well as lease others lands which are not being used efficiently–and make themselves prosperous. This would make the whole country prosperous, just as it did in Denmark.

  • May 18, 2013 at 9:08 am

    And people who link any positive, complements by highly-regarded international organizations on Cuba as ‘questionable’ and with ‘low credibility’ because we all know that communists are lying bastards and that’s the ultimate truth. Period.

    You apparently see the topic ‘nutrition’ with the eyes that the minimum paradigm is that people must be able to eat lobster everyday.

    Sorry, but that’s not how it works.

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