Cuba is facing what is probably the greatest agricultural crisis in its history and the Government doesn’t have a clear strategy to fix it. This is the conclusion from statements made by the Minister of Agriculture, Ydael Perez Brito, on the TV show Mesa Redonda, on October 27, 2023.
His words can be boiled down to his call for “everyone who can to take to the fields.” This is how they are trying to make up for a shortage of imported resources, which are essential for modern agriculture. The problem is that this formula has been used in the past, without success.
With only 15% of the population living in rural areas and an even smaller percentage working in agriculture and cattle ranching, the island would need to mechanize the majority of agricultural jobs and increase the use of fertilizers and other chemical products.
But ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, availability of fuel for agriculture fell almost 60%, imported fodder for cattle dropped by 80%, and industrial fertilizers by 96%.
The Cuban Government has insisted for years now that it isn’t worth investing in chemical fertilizers, fuel and other resources for agricultural production, a theory that the Minister of Agriculture, Ydael Perez Brito, defended wholeheartedly.
“We have to join families’ efforts” with popular sowing campaigns, because “the objective is to increase production and replace imports,” he said.
One of the examples he used was corn, with Cuba producing over 400,000 tons in 2016, but it has fallen by 70% because of a lack of supplies. His statements contradict the reality such as results from an experimental harvest that took place in April 2023 in Artemisa.
There, a field that had every modern agricultural resource available used on it managed to triple the average national yield and do it for 166 USD per ton, less than half the price of this grain on the international market. With investments trickling in, agriculture could satisfy most of the country’s needs and become an important source of foreign currency for exports.
The Minister insisted that “there are unexploited reserves that we need to allocate to it,” but he didn’t go into the effects this lack of resources has on agricultural production and especially on the food that makes it to Cuban tables.
“Not enough production is the main reason for high prices,” he recognized at another point in his TV appearance, before comparing today’s indicators of different sectors and national demand.
Cuba would need 200,000 tons of pork every year and it’s producing no more than 20,000; 5 million eggs every day compared to the less than 3 million that are collected; and 500 million liters of milk every year, and it’s falling under 200 million.
If this trend continues, 2023 could end up being one of the worst years in Cuban livestock history. Outstanding payments to dairy producers, and the State’s inability to guarantee at least basic levels of fuel and other resources, are harming livestock activities.
The situation is even more difficult with rice and beans. In 2018, it seemed like half of national consumption of rice could be covered, and all of bean consumption, but harvests of both crops have plummeted.
After five years, we still don’t have the agrochemicals we need to do away with pests such as bean flower thrips, which destroyed plantations all over the country in a matter of months. In 2022, rice production was around 100,000 tons (the country needs 700,000) and bean production was 10,000 (we need 100,000).
In the case of coffee, demand to cover the rations and other domestic consumption is 24,000 tons. It is estimated that only 9,000 tons will be produced in 2023, just 38%.
On the TV show, the official referred to the issue of crime in rural areas, a problem that quite a few farmers have complained about for months now, and crime rates have shot up with blackouts and shortages.
In the face of such a situation, the Government has decided to opt for “different agricultures,” Perez Brito explained, where large-scale productions with state-led companies should coexist with self-sufficiency projects in municipalities and workplaces, on farms and family backyards. He also defended the need to look for joint investment with foreign investors or between new private national economic actors.
The latter proposal suggests a change in attitude towards private enterprise, with the majority having remained outside the agricultural sector up until now.
We still have to see if the partnership model conceived by the Ministry of Agriculture replicates those that already exist in sectors such as the food industry, like the different resources MSMEs and non-agricultural cooperatives are importing.
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