Despite reforms, food output shows disappointing results
Six years after President Raúl Castro came to power with a plan of gradual reforms for the economy, Cuba’s troubled farming sector still leaves more expectations than encouraging results.
Agriculture — namely food production for the domestic market — has been so weak and disappointing that Cuba, where monthly salaries averaged $18.70 in 2010 — was forced to spend $1.47 billion (or $130.50 per person) that year on food imports.
In 2008, imports went wild as the country spent 60¢ on food for every dollar of everything sold abroad. Food imports that year amounted to $2.21 billion, or $195 per person, when overall merchandise exports accounted for $324 per person. That ratio caused alarm and prompted the Castro regime to speed up economic reforms.
Three years later, food imports have fallen by a third but farming has not shown particularly strong improvement. In fact, it’s a long way from covering domestic demand in terms of volume, quality or diversity.
For example, output of roots and tubers has grown 9% since 2006, when Raúl Castro replaced his ill brother Fidel as head of state. But by last year, production was still 25% below the 2004 level of 1.95 million tons.
Production of rice — the main staple at the Cuban dinner table — grew a healthier 32% since 2006, but is still 21% below 2003 levels. Moreover, Cuba imports 80-90% of domestic demand, with the quality of domestic rice much poorer than that of imported varieties.
Bean production has jumped 85% since 2006 and 18% over the last 10 years, but it’s still far from satisfying domestic needs. Despite widespread consumption, large quantities of beans must still be purchased from overseas suppliers.
Other staples have performed even more badly. Output of bananas and plantains has been virtually unchanged since 2006, and is 31% lower than 2004 levels; tomato production has followed the same patterns. Bananas and plantains are especially vulnerable to storms and drought, and production highs and lows often reflect extreme weather changes.
Citrus, a crop badly affected by plagues, hurricanes, neglect and the loss of markets, shrank 30% after 2006 and by more than two-thirds over the past 10 years. In some traditional growing territories, as the Isle of Youth (see pages 10-11) citrus orchards have virtually vanished. It’s no coincidence that plantations are mostly state-managed in large plantations easily prone to transmission of diseases.
Fresh milk production marks a welcome departure from the overall picture. From 2006 to 2011, output more than doubled — apparently as result of efforts to eliminate red tape between producers and consumers. Milk was the first staple mentioned by Raúl to illustrate the need for reforms in the farm sector. Official statistics show that in 2011, per-capita milk output reached 294 liters.
Note: All graphics are in millions of tons
Source for all graphics: One, Statistical Yearbook
Don't miss out
Become a Digital Subscriber and continue to access all the exclusive and insightful reporting you'll only find in Cuba News.Subscribe Now - Get 30 days Free