Cuba: Another Harvest Below Expectations

Vicente Morin Aguado

Sugarcane cutter.  Photo: Raquel Pérez.
Sugarcane cutter. Photo: Raquel Pérez.

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.

4 thoughts on “Cuba: Another Harvest Below Expectations

  • Another failure in a never ending line of failures for the regime. The Castro regime has destroyed food production in Cuba for the sugar cane “zafra” of 10 million tons that never happened and then destroyed the sugar industry by making every wrong decision it could. It increased production when the market was flooded with sugar and cut down when demand rose. Its inability to creatively use the cane for energy and other byproducts is astonishing.

  • Yet another illustration of socialist planning being unrelated to reality or achievement. The Castro regime’s history of abject failure in the agricultural sector is perhaps the most serious of their many economic problems. Any concern that Fidel Castro may express for the most vulnerable population is pathetically belated. His agricultural policies and planning have led to Cuba having to purchase almost 80% of food supplies from other countries including the US.
    Viva Fidel! Viva Raul, Viva los Castros! Que controla todo y todas!

  • Year after year, those in charge of the sugar industry and others, present the same litany of excuses for not fulfilling their meager plans. It is either drought, excess rain, hurricanes, delayed arrival of supplies, fertilizers etc., as if, no one knew they should plan for a crop next year.

    A weak area in this chain of events, is how farm workers in the sugar industry have been depleted from the land since the late 60’s, when some assumed that mechanizing and introducing other technologies and machinery in plantation, cultivation, cutting and harvesting, would humanize the work and increase productivity. Unforeseen factors as fuel, spare parts, lack of discipline, poor repairs, derailed this dream world.

    Today, farm workers have to invest half an hour or more in each direction to their work site, if the tractor is on time, it did not broke down or the operator did not run into a nice looking woman and made a detour.

    Subdividing these huge enterprises into 75-100 acres lots and lease for 25 years to hard working, needy English Speaking and Haitian families, who did this backbreaking, inhumane work for US enterprises, Cuban and Spanish enterprises in semi-slavery condition, when Cuba was a leading sugar production in the world, should be seriously contemplated, especially within the integration efforts among Caribbean islands.

    Extending a helping hand to those in need in the Caribbean, is another opportunity for Cuba to begin erasing its unpayable debt of gratitude with thousands of families from each Caribbean islands, whose sweat, tears and deaths, made possible everything that is visible and invisible in Cuba.

  • As recent as October 2013 executives from 17 Brazilian sugar and derivatives companies gathered in Havana with executives of Azcuba to negotiate participation in a $200 million pilot project anchored by a sugar mill known as the ‘5 de Septiembre’ sugar mill in Cienfuegos province. This sugar mill is managed by Companhia de Obras e Infraestrutura (COI), a subsidiary of Brazil’s Grupo Odebrecht. Odebrecht became the first major foreign company to engage in Cuba’s sugar industry when it signed a 13-year joint production agreement in November 2012 with Azcuba. Despite the involvement of the international powerhouse, Cuba continues to fail to meet production goals. On a side note, to counter the false remarks of a few HT commenters who are deluded into believing that Fidel Castro has quietly retired with no influence on the day-to-day affairs of Cuba, the 5 de Septiembre sugar mill has become a testing ground for the modernization of Cuba’s ailing sugar industry. A key part of the 5 de Septiembre project is apparently ethanol production. Brazil is the ethanol world leader, and Odebrecht’s bioenergy division is one of Brazil’s largest ethanol producers. Cuba has abstained from boosting ethanol production because FIDEL CAASTRO has been arguing that it diminishes food security for the most vulnerable population. Last year, a Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman, Flavio Castelar, told reporters that Cuba is about to engage in ethanol production, as “Fidel’s resistance in this field is being overcome.”

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