Cuban Agriculture between Farmers and Pencil-Pushers

Fernando Ravsberg*

An abyss separates the Ministry of Agriculture and farmers.
An abyss separates the Ministry of Agriculture and farmers.

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government has finally decided to throw agriculture a life line, eliminating part of the bureaucratic apparatus that is stifling it. Some 6,400 administrative positions have disappeared with the State entity responsible for distributing the fruits of farm production.

The bureaucratic entity in question is known as acopio (“storing”) and it has always stood out for its inefficiency. It is responsible for the loss of many harvests and the poor condition in which nearly all products have reached consumers.

It seems they are now attacking the root of the problem, realizing that there are far too many bosses in agriculture. One cannot reap the fruits of the earth sitting behind a desk and writing up absurd restrictions, like the one that forbade farmers to build a home next to their farms.

The history of nonsensical measures is long and includes such episodes as a retired general who was not allowed to bring into the country a tractor given him as a gift and the order to save on wood by making posts for natural fences shorter (something that would consist in destroying them, as the cattle would then be able to eat the sprouts).

Thirty percent of the land in the hands of State companies operated by the Ministry of Agriculture are idle.
Thirty percent of the land in the hands of State companies operated by the Ministry of Agriculture are idle.

There is probably no ministry in Cuba larger than the Ministry of Agriculture and very few come close to it in terms of its results. Its headquarters are an enormous building located in Havana, very close to the seat of power but very far from the countryside and farmers.

That may explain why they took years to finally decide to listen to farmers who demanded that the price of tools and supplies be lowered, or when they explained to officials that, in order to work the land, they had to live and sleep on their farms.

Only a bureaucrat with a State-assigned automobile could think that a farmer can live in a town or city and travel to their plot of land every morning to work. Everyone knows that such farmers would lose all of their animals the first night they were away.

Managing Agriculture

Over these past six years of reforms, the Cuban government had tried to have this gigantic apparatus transform itself from within and pull agriculture from the crisis that had bogged it down following decades of inefficiency, bureaucratic control, centralization and an excess of State control.

Things in agriculture, however, aren’t improving, and the government appears to want to go to the root of the problem to keep harvests from rotting out in the fields, farmers from going without payment and milk from disappearing while thousands of cows die of hunger.

A few days ago, the Secretary General of Cuba’s Workers’ Federation referred to the US $ 2 billion the country spends a year importing food products. The Minister of Agriculture next to him merely said that rice production had increased.

Vice-President Marino Murillo informed parliament, however, that nearly one third of the land in the hands of State companies is currently idle, while 90% of the farms in the private and cooperative sector are productive.

Tens of thousands of cows die of thirst and hunger every year while the Ministry of Agriculture stands powerless to put an end to this catastrophe.
Tens of thousands of cows die of thirst and hunger every year while the Ministry of Agriculture stands powerless to put an end to this catastrophe.

Minister of Agriculture Rodriguez Rollero later commented that the ministry would issue more flexible regulations for cooperatives, which account for two-thirds of the workers on farms and the greater part of Cuba’s agricultural and forest production.

This way, they seek to eliminate the obstacles that are holding back agricultural development. This is something positive because, if the ministry wishes to continue deciding on every issue through decrees, it will find it very difficult to map out the country’s major policies and to meet the needs of producers.

To do this, Cuba does not need hundreds of thousands of public officials, only a handful of capable experts. The rest can be offered the possibility of joining a cooperative or leasing out a plot of land, places where they will surely be able to keep an eye on all those details they like deciding on.
(*) Visit the blog of Fernando Ravsberg.

4 thoughts on “Cuban Agriculture between Farmers and Pencil-Pushers

  • I omitted to comment upon the livestock policies of the President Fidel Castro Ruz. Back in 1965 he employed Dr. Reginald Preston from the Rowatt Agricultural Reseach Centre in Aberdeen, Scotland to research methods of feeding sugar cane refuse to beef cattle – nothing came of it.
    On 8th May, 1989 President Fidel Castro Ruz said:
    “A major dairy project will begin this year. In a few months, in 1989, the funds will be available to build 150 dairy farms in Sancti Spiritus Province.”
    Where are they? Milk is rationed for infants in Cuba!
    The Castro regime is truly socialist. Full of plans – five year ones predominating – and then full of excuses for failure. In the meantime the people of Cuba having been repeatedly subjected to communist pipe-dreams lead a day-to-day existance on the average $20 per month.

  • If Socialismo continues, the agricultural production will continue to decline. The last thing that the Castro regime recognises is the need for change having been suffering political constipation for fifty five years. Change will only come when Socialismo is abandoned and an elected government serves the people. Cuba was the most productive sugar producer on the planet but is now down to 15% of former production. If political change occurs you may live to see Cuba becoming agriculturally productive again, but if Socialismo continues not even Methuselah would live long enough

  • This is very good news. What must be understood is Cuba will need to make some radical changes and the question remains not if but when. Agriculture should be in the forefront for this transition and the end result will benefit many
    Cubans. That’s the goal isn’t it? One day, Cuba will be one of the most productive countries on the planet. I hope to be alive to witness it.

  • Of all Cuba’s mass of economic woes and bureaucratic incompentence, that of agriculture is the worst. Such demonstrated stupidity would make the agricultural bureaucracy a laughing stock in any democratic country with cartoons, TV and radio skits and humorous stories being related in restaurants and bars. But in Cuba the consequences are less than minimal food rations for the weary subjects of Socialismo and dependence upon the efficiency of other predominantly democratic countries to provide 80% of food requirements. Even the purchase of those products ought to be the subject of humour as for example the Government shops offer pickled brussel sprouts – a vegetable unknown to Cubans. It would however be cruel to expose the poor Cubans to humour upon the subject of food. They have to try to exist under the incompetence of the Castro regime as it imposes the benefits of Socialismo upon their long suffering subjects. and what will those poor people be able to eat manana?

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