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.


29 thoughts on “Cuba’s Agriculture Continues to Slump

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I never base my comments here at HT on the ‘estimation’ of fellow commenters intelligence. Neither over nor under. Since I don’t know you, I will not rely on your definition of morality either. If you wonder why Americans are gun crazy, it is because of a fear that strong-willed people who decide what is moral and what is immoral will try to impose their moralities on others.

  • Once again, self-reported study. Questionable results. Low credibility.

  • I used a bad term, I should have said ‘Cuba’ instead of ‘Cuban farmers’, because even DESPITE of it, the tiny little poor and sanctioned island still manages to satisfy FAO and meet with the ‘millennium development goals’ regarding nutrition.

    To ignore this is to spread propaganda.

  • You said that ‘so far, he has done what I wanted him to do’. In my interpetration, in between the lines you agree with all the wars, the drone attacks, the economic suffocation of Cuba and so on. If so, you have no morals and deserve no respect what-so-ever.

    This label may be ‘old’, but so are ‘capitalism’, ‘liberalism’, and so on. This system is indeed complex, but it remains its core principle from 50 years ago, even with the advent of toyotism and Chicago-school economics. Why? The wars continue on. And the industry based upon militarism is still one of the most profitable of all. Bush II made a flamboyant revival of it. Obama promised to be ‘different’ but that’s not how I see it. He’s doing the same as Bush II but desguised as the ‘good cop’. They are all puppets of the system. But If you want a more ‘modern’ term how ‘Corporatocracy’ sounds to you? Do not, I repeat, DO NOT underestimate me and insult my intelligence again.

  • You choose to regurgitate 50 year-old labels (military-industrial complex) as a way to understand a far more complex system that demands your attention if not your respect. I am a successful capitalist and I make no apologies for this. I respect your right to disagree with my principals. However, to accuse me of lacking morals because my choices are not yours is yet another empty accusation seemingly commonplace coming from those armed with nothing but empty accusations. You are right, WE are all Americans.

  • Cuba imports as much as 80% of the food consumed in Cuba. To say otherwise is lying.

  • Grady, this is not the point i was making in the first place.

    I understand and agree that socialist property != (not equal) state property. Alas, my vision of property is known to all – in the end, ALL property is private. A country is nothing more than the private property of the State. A State company is a private property of the Government, and so on.

    What I was saying is that, according to this ‘doomsday report’, the reactionaries would put all the blame on the State sector REGARDLESS of the actions taken by the blooming small rural Cuban bourgeoisie to contribute on these numbers. And that if secondary products then perhaps the land destined to the groth of primary products must have been overlooked, based on scientific information on how the food-chain works. We must remember that Cuba has difficulties importing agricultural machinery and raw products (fertilizers, pesticides) it doesn’t have the ability to produce due to the embargo – yes, Monsanto I’m talking to you. That’s one of the reasons Cuba must import food, and despite all of the agressive measures taken by its enemy, STILL manages to please FAO and succeed at the ‘millenium goals’ of reducing hunger and malnutricion.

    The fact is the economic reforms are *overall* positive and what we are looking at is a process. But Cuba must be careful when adopting economic liberal policies in order not to repeat the mistakes made during Perestroika, where everything happened way too fast and the result was a impoverished Russia governed by mobsters after the fall of the USSR.


  • No, no, no!

    FIRST, Mr. Imperialist, these ‘alleged’ US actions against the sovereignty of Latin America are NOT ‘alleged’ AT ALL. And this is NOT a policy that remained in past, as we saw the US intervention in the more recent coups in Venezuela, Honduras and Paraguay.

    SECOND, it’s the other way around. If you think Obama and the State Department works for you and not the military-industrial complex, unless you are PART of this military-industrial complex (and confirm my suspictions), then I have nothing to say to such amount of naiveté.

    If your government ‘crafted a message that mostly fits with my ideals and my designs’ and ‘so far, he has done what I wanted him to do, especially with regards to Cuba.’, then there’s more fodder for my hatred towards you. You have no morals.

    And I’m an American too. You are the one who doesn’t understand that your country DOES NOT OWN this continent.

  • Yes you DID. This quote of yours (a tip, when you quote somebody you should cite the source) supposely from the New York Times and The Economist is the perfect example of this babble.

    If you cannot fathom to understand the 10:1 average food-chain rule we learn in junior-high – and which I provided a link for those who forgot it – then I have no motive to quarrel with you.

  • No the 1:10 it’s NOT an oversimplification or exaggeration. Study ecology please before throwing common-sense agricultural engineering nonsense in order to make your invalid point valid. See how many tons of soya, water and hormones are produced to make rations for pigs, chicken and cattle. See this paper –

    I’ll translate the abstract for you: to produce 1kg of beef you must produce 7kg of grain and 15.000 liters of water. To produce 1kg of cereal you need 1.300 liters of water. The land and water needed to produce 1kg of beef can be used to produce 200kg of tomatoes and 160kg of potatoes.

    Perhaps Cuba in ‘the good old Batista days’ produced enough grain and cattle for export to the Havana rich mafia and the US and let the rest of the rural people starving.

    Before throwing old, typical neoliberal myths (state = inneciency and private = efficiency and the God Market always makes the right decisions) about ‘communist’ countries, go for FACTS on production first and ignore those propaganda sites:

    And detail – the Cuban farmar ALREADY produces ‘enough food to feed the Cuban people’. Ask FAO.

  • No Friedrich, Cuban agricultural output is one looong downward pointing bar graph.

    It’s easy for a bunch of bearded revolutionary’s to topple a government it’s another thing to comptenetly run it

  • actually Luis I did not use ANY “over-used bland anti anti communist babble” In fact I quoted directly form a Cuban State Economist.

    I find it mind-blowing that after 50+ years of the Castro’s command economy Cuban agricultural output is half what it was pre 1959

    I’m afraid I can’t comment on your so called “well known 10% rule”, of which I am unfamiliar with, but I can say that this article speaks of production not consumption, so your BLATHER about the evils of the private sector are mute!

  • Luis, pretty much everything you say in your exchanges with Moses herein is true. Nevertheless, the deficiencies of the state monopoly ideology and program cannot be denied. The devastation and continued under-performance of Cuban agriculture has been due primarily to the ideological disparagement and programmatic reduction of independent plot ownership by the small farmers and ranchers.

    I have a 1921, English-language book entitled “Denmark: A Cooperative Commonwealth,” by Frederic C. Howe, Ph. D., which probably should be read by every socialist in the world, including Fidel, Raul and the whole PCC leadership. It details how tiny Denmark, a poor country with poor soil and scant sunshine became a very prosperous country within two decades, in the late 1800s.

    The small farmers took control of Denmark’s gov’t by democratic means, and divided up most of the feudal latifundia into small plots for the peasantry. The small farmers then formed cooperatives of private owners, in order (1) to purchase agricultural economic inputs–machinery; fertilizer; etc.–and (2) to market their produce for the best prices, especially to other European countries.

    Within a short period of time, Denmark became famous for the quality of its eggs, butter, cheeze, bacon, ham, etc. This reputation for quality persists to this day. And tiny, poor Denmark became a very prosperous and happy country.

    The lesson here is that socialist property NEED NOT ONLY be “state” property. Other forms of private property under socialist state power can be socialist property, as well, if the wealth created builds the country and does not contradict the socialist national plan.

    If Cuba could throw off its self-destructive prejudice against small plot ownership, and allow the small rural bourgeoisie to flourish and market its goods according to their self interests, both domestically and internationally, Cuba, socialist Cuba could stop buying food from the US and other countries, and become a very prosperous country.

    Please listen to me, comrade. Please listen!

  • The point you miss is that before the revolution, Cuban farms grew enough grains to maintain a very large cattle population. Today, they’re unable to produce enough grain to keep a large cattle population.

    By the way, the ratio of 10:1 is an oversimplified & inaccurate approximation. Chickens, pigs and cattle require different levels of food inputs to raise. For example, free range chickens eat some grains, but also eat many insects, which does not detract from the grain supply. Cattle eat silage, grass and other forage not suitable for humans. It’s only during the finally feeding stage before slaughtering that cattle are fattened up on corn and soybeans.

    Pigs can eat just about anything and still grow fat. I visited a Cuban farm in Matanzas where the farmer was feeding coconuts to his swine. Coconuts are low quality food for humans, but make for nice fat, tasty pigs! Cuba pigs are fattened up on palm nuts, which are not edible for humans at all.

    Cattle represent a particularly illustrative example of the insanity of Cuban agriculture. A farmer is given cattle by the state to raise. He must work hard to feed it, water it, house it and so on. The state supplies grain to feed his herd, but as the system is inefficient and corrupt (grain is diverted to the black market), the farmer never gets enough grain to feed his cattle well. This results in unhealthy, low weight animals. If he tries to grow extra grain himself, or buy it on the market, the state won’t reimburse him for the extra costs.

    When the cattle are grown and ready for slaughter, the state pays the farmer a set price which is far less than the value of work he put into it. Thus the farmer is punished for working too hard. He can only survive if he does as little as possible to raise the cattle.

    Now if an animal dies before it is properly slaughtered, the farmer has to quickly notify a veterinarian to examine the animal and fill out the necessary forms & notify the government of the dead animal. Government inspectors might want to inspect the animal to be sure it really did die, and is not being sold off on the black market. All this takes days during which the carcass rots and the meat is wasted. Often, the government inspector will “confiscate” the dead cow, take it home, slaughter it and sell the meat on the black market. More waste, more corruption.

    But that’s not the only problem. Distribution is also a disaster, as much food rots before it can be brought to market. The introduction of wholesale markets is an attempt to solve this problem, but the government still controls the distribution and transportation sector. The government has also failed to invest sufficiently in maintaining and expanding roads in Cuba.

    Here’s an article on corruption and waste in the Cuban agriculture sector:

    The common experience among Communist countries in agriculture (USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba & etc) is a drop in production and increase in corruption. Food production in China dropped under Mao, but was only turned around when Deng allowed farmers to own their own land, sell their produce at markets and set their own prices. If Cuba will follow that model, the Cuban farmer will soon produce enough food to feed the Cuban people.

  • In nearly every comment your write, you complain of past alleged US actions in Latin America and elsewhere as a pretext for determining future behavior. You, of all people, should avoid ciriticizing others in this regard as this is your trademark argument. Still, accepting your point, if past successes in Cuban agriculture have no bearing on current problems, as you say, then how about current successes? There are countless stories on the island of farmers who on the small amount of land they have been allocated to farm are producing crop yields 5 times greater than the much larger and better equipped nearby state operations. Clearly, individual initiative and personal gain are the determining factors differentiating the two. Yet the Castros cling to the centralized management model you socialists worship so blindly. I assume that as a part of your “schtick” you love to claim that people who agree with US policy are therefore being paid to express that policy. Has it occurred to your socialist mindset that maybe, just maybe the government is reflecting MY opinion and not the other way around? You see, Obama works for me. The State Department works for me. That is really the difference between your outlook and mine. My government has carefully crafted a message that mostly fits with my ideals and my designs. When they stray from this path, I work to change the government. I voted for Obama because he said what I wanted to hear and, so far, he has done what I wanted him to do, especially with regards to Cuba. You misunderstand Americans. People do not reflect government. Government reflects the People.

  • as well as heyvy rainfall and other thing like hurricanes etc. I guess Fidel is sitting on a throne in the skies regulating all of that.

  • Incoherent? Well thanks for proving me right and throwing over-used, bland anti-communist babble, without touching concret aspects of this issue – EXACTLY as I said: just ignore the recent increase of the private sector and blame it all on ‘State inefficiency’ of the ‘evil communists’.

    On the ONE thing I DID share my opinion on the FACTS about this data on agriculture, that is, the well-known 10% rule we learn from ecology, you simply ignored.

    Oh yes, the New York Times and The Economist will talk wonders about the Cuban economy just like Granma will praise neoliberalism.

    Gimme a break, please?

  • You ‘carefully’ skip decades of the process and details of the very Wikipedia link you provided, that shows no mercy telling the ‘wonders’ of the Batista days:

    “Prior to the Cuban Revolution, Cuba had a one-crop economy whose domestic market was constricted. Its population was characterized by chronic unemployment and deep poverty. United States monopolies like Bethlehem Steel Corporation and Speyergained control over Cuba’s national resources, from which they made huge profits. The banks and the country’s entire financial system, all electric power production, and most industry was dominated by US capital. US monopolies owned 25 percent of the best land in Cuba, and more than 80 percent of all farm lands were occupied by sugar and livestock-raising latifundia. 90 percent of the country’s raw sugar and tobacco exports was sent to the USA. Before the Revolution, most Cuban children were not included in the school system. There was almost no machine-building industry in Cuba”

    Doesn’t look that all this ‘prosperity’ was being shared with the Cuban people, but rather monopolized by the Havana mobsters. Raw numbers mean nothing without any kind of GINI index to see if the wealthy Cuba of the past was indeed beneficial to the majority of Cubans or it was only but a money-laundry facade for the Mafia and a large US plantation.

    And add that to 20+ years of the Special Period, where losing 80% of their trade partners collapse combined with the tightening of the embargo with ruthless acts of violence from your country such as the Helms-Button law and the Toreicelli Act caused Cuban GDP to drop by 35%.

    You are an immoral supporter of the suffering of ordinary Cubans by the aggressive policies of your employer Uncle Sam.

    The issue is about here and now. The economy of Cuba today, in the first quarter of THIS YEAR. And you talk about ages past. If that’s not Red Herring, I don’t know what it is.

  • I simply pointed out facts. Facts that even the Cuban government does not dispute.

    Actually Friedrich, the Cuban potato harvest, as is clearly shown in this article, is quite unreliable dispite the excellent soil in Cuba. Just another indictment of the failed Castrista
    economic system

  • maybe the Castros should go and plant potatoes. But then you will most probably blame them for having wrecked the soil….

  • The most persuasive argument indicting the Castros destructive effect on the agricultural and livestock yields in Cuba is the simple before and after comparisons. As is often reported, there were as many cows as people in Cuba (around 6 million) before Castro took over.
    Now, there are less than 500,000 cows on the island. Before the revolution, Cuba had largely a one-crop economy (sugar) yet managed to import only 25% of the total food consumed. Today, Cuba imports as much as 80% of it’s food. ‘Nuff said.

  • Well Luis, As the old saying goes, “If the shoe fits…”

    Despite your incoherent blather (I mean really go back and re-read what you posted) The failures of Cuba’s agriculture is, as has been stated recently in the New York Times and The Economist, “One of waste, mismanagement, policy constraints, transportation problems and overall lack of efficiency.

    And Government economists are aware of the problem. As recently Stated by Joaquin Infante of the havana-based Cuban National Association of Economics, “If you give people land and no resources, it doesn’t matter what happens on the land,”

    In other words Luis for over 50 + years Castro style, communist central planning has failed to put food on the Cuban table and lead to the universal Cuban joke; “the failure of the revolution is breakfast, lunch and dinner”

    It is a sad fact that agricultural output was much higher before the Cuban revolution.

  • Let me guess: not soon the usual stooges will blame ‘the Castros’ and the ‘inefficiency of the State farms’ REGARDLESS of the blooming privite secor and intermediaries contribution to these numbers because the author ‘forgets’ to research about possible reasons behind them.

    The increase in beef must be considered, because of the food chain. In ecology we learn about the ‘10% rule’ – – which means that, at least, we must sacrifice 10 tons of primary sources (grain, vegetables) to obtain 1 ton of secondary sources (beef, chicken).

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