Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Today, Cuba produces as much sugar as it did a century ago, when Mario Garcia Menocal, nicknamed “the foreman of Chaparra” (a well-known factory he owned in the province of Las Tunas), was president of the country. This year’s harvest officially reported a little over 1.6 million tons of sugar, 12% below the planned amount.
According to Liobel Perez, spokesman for Cuba’s sugar production company Azcuba, only six of the country’s provinces fulfilled the production plan established for the 49 refineries in operation. Historical records show that, when the revolution triumphed, more than 150 sugar refineries (easily capable of producing over 6 million tons of this natural sweetener) were in operation.
The agricultural yield reported – a figure that has particular significance for Cuba – was of 43 tons of sugarcane per hectare. This was hailed as a feat of Cuban agricultural workers, when the acceptable average is over 60 tons anywhere in the world.
That said, officials at Azcuba can look back to even more disastrous figures, lower than 30 tons of sugar raw material for every hundred square meters of land (the 2010-2011 harvest average), a yield that is unsustainable if one wishes to make a minimum profit.
Though a little more was produced in comparison to the previous harvest, this is the second year in a row in which the country fails to meet the production plan. In the 2012-2013 period, production came in 11 % below the plan. The slight improvement this year is no success: it demonstrates the inability of the industry – once the pride of the Cuban nation – to recover its efficiency.
There is no shortage of the typical excuses that accompany the declarations made by the high officials responsible. This time, they again lay the blame on the hot and humid weather which hinders the conversion of the sucrose contained in the sugarcane. The previous year, a hurricane named Sandy was the culprit (the culprit one cannot capture and make accountable).
A little over a decade ago, Cuba’s top leadership made the hasty decision of turning half of the country’s sugar refineries into scrap metal, in view of the industry’s patent inability to accomplish agricultural yields that were internationally competitive (and of the low market price of sugar at the time).
The situation changed, beyond the control of those who manage Cuba’s economy through improvised measures. The price of food products, particularly sugar and one of its essential derivatives, ethanol, is growing steadily. Cuba’s leaders now want to rectify the situation, but are unable to maintain a productive pace that can bring in the profits that the country’s agroindustry (an industry that once turned Cuba into the world’s top sugar producer) deserves.