The island, which imports most of the food it consumes, also buys large quantities of French wheat per year.
HAVANA TIMES – French sweetness in Cuban coffee: the Caribbean island, long a world leader in sugar production, must now import it from France, in large quantities, for the first time in its history, after another pale harvest, reports the AFP.
France exported 40,000 tons of sugar to Cuba between the summer of 2017 and August 2018, according to customs data, FranceAgriMer, the French public agency for agriculture and sea products, told AFP.
In Havana, the news of the product arrived from the other side of the Atlantic was disseminated by households, because suddenly they received with their monthly food rations a sugar more fine and bright than usual. It is extracted from sugar beet, in Cuba, from sugar cane.
“The sugar that came now is very good, sweetens a lot, with no difference [with the Cuban], the only thing that differentiates it is the color that varies, that this is whiter and the other darker,” says Felicia Navarro, a 40-year-old housewife.
Some 5,000 tons of white sugar in June, 25,000 in July, 10,000 in August: “Historically, this is the first time that Cuba imports sugar from France in a significant amount” compared to only three tons between 2001 and 2017, explains FranceAgriMer.
The island, which imports most of the food it consumes, already buys “around 400,000 tons of French wheat per year,” they noted.
“According to our information, Cuba’s production has been reduced considerably compared to what was expected [1.1 million tons of the 1.6 million tons expected] and it is not surprising that Cuba imports sugar, especially since it mus meet the export contracts it has with China [400,000 tons], “explains FranceAgrimer.
The agricultural analysis agency FO Licht expects Cuba to return to “normal production” in the next season, with 1.5 million tons. Although very far from the figures reached in the 1980s.
The Cuban Government blames the decline on the US embargo in place since 1962, which prevents importing the necessary agricultural and industrial equipment.
“The main obstacle to the development of the island is the embargo imposed by the United States,” recently denounced President Miguel Diaz-Canel, saying that this measure seeks that his people are “condemned to die of hunger.”
Without a doubt “there is a lack of resources, a lack of foreign exchange”, admits the Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez, but “there are also structural factors, organizational factors”.
The obsession to diversify the economy and make it less dependent on sugar, has caused the sector to weaken and reach “one of the lowest crops in history, we can say the lowest since the beginning of the twentieth century, said the economist.
“The golden age has passed because production capacity is reduced,” said Perez, who notes that Cuba now has only fifty sugar mills, compared to 150, and recommends that between “10 to 15 of them” open their capital to foreign investors since several sugar groups have already shown interest.
The new draft Cuban Constitution, which will be submitted to a referendum in February, could make things easier because it precisely recognizes “the importance of foreign investment for the country’s development.”
Otherwise, Perez warns, the risk is “not having more sugar in the next few years.”
In parallel, a mission of the French industrial engineering group Fives carries out an evaluation of the Cuban sugar sector to determine what reforms and investments it needs for its recovery.