HAVANA TIMES — Part three of our interview with agronomist/organic farmer Fernando Funes deals with prices in Cuba’s markets and the relationship between producers and consumers. See parts one and two of this interview.
To be able to maintain this farm do you have to sell at high prices?
FF: You have to sell and value the farm work. The agricultural system is linked to the market and to people living in the countryside that do not want to live precariously. For us to sell is a fundamental element, there is a demand that we have to focus on. When we arrived there was nothing to sell. As soon as the mangoes began to start producing we began by selling the fruit at the door of our home in the city. We did the same with the avocados when they began to have a harvest. With coconuts we started making milk and also sold shelled and whole coconuts. Later we got into beekeeping. One hive became five and today there are 75. Recently we sold almost a thousand US dollars of honey. The more income we had the more workers we could hire and were able to achieve better results. Then we made beds and planted vegetables. I developed a mixed product basket and went to restaurants in Havana and they began to buy from us. We reinvest and now we have two hectares of planted vegetable beds on terraces and supply 25 restaurants in Havana and 10 families. During the year we sell more than 60 different products. As for prices, the government must recognize that there are different market segments. They should allow the connection between the farm and commerce sectors to flow freely. Too many rules or barriers for these mechanisms limit what produce reaches the consumer. Tomatoes do not reach consumers because they hit these barriers and spoil.
How much production is lost in the fields or after harvest?
FF: My research shows that about 50% of what is produced in Cuba is lost because we have bad harvest systems, poor storage capacity, we are not able to process the products, transportation systems are weak and the sale and distribution does not work well. We are faced with the dilemma of producing more or improving the chain to bring what is produced to the consumer. You have to make considerable effort so that what is produced is not lost. Producing more in these circumstances implies lost energy and hurts the morale of farmers because even the most materialistic peasants suffer when he/she sees what they have grown lost.
What is the relationship with the consumer you are trying to create?
FF: We want to create a system to sell products to 50 families on a subscription basis. We want these families to also have access to environmental education, food preparation information and the nutritional properties of our products. We want to promote consumer empowerment, creating consumer cooperatives. The families will place an order for the coming delivery and we will sell the surplus production on the open market. We want to establish a two-way commitment between consumers and the producer. Such relationships exist since the 1970s in the United States; it’s called community supported agriculture.
What can be done to stop so much loss of farm production?
FF: It’s about creating a link between farmers and consumers. We must develop mechanisms; here we too are learning. We lose less than 10% of what we produce and we value it more than other farms. It is precisely because there is a link between producers and consumers. The market demands and we supply according to a study of the demand. The consumer is the one who has to give the initial information and you produce in terms of what people want.
But how can the problem of intermediaries raising prices by up to 1000% be resolved?
FF: Speculation can be reduced when there are better relations between producers and consumers. But to achieve this you have to understand the market and restrictions must be relaxed. Many people believe the issue is reducing the prices paid to the farmer but I don’t think that’s the case. The problem is not that the products are expensive but that people do not have money to pay for them. People working in the fields need to feel that their living standards improves. These are people who even come here to work in heavy rain because they see their lives improve, they have been able to put two windows in their home, for example.
How do you deal with the problem of employee theft?
FF: It’s a reality and there’s a long way to go. People have material and spiritual deprivation. Around 40 persons have worked here and we had let go around 25. We put a filter, society needs a filter. What we are living in Finca Marta is what we want for our country and we do not want bad people.