In Cuba, poverty is obvious and so is pride
In Cuba, poverty is obvious and so is prideBy Gord Henderson, The Windsor Star February 26, 2011
'Hard times. Big smiles." One of our Cuban hosts, a young guy sporting a perpetual 1,000-watt grin, offered up that simple but telling line to explain how his people, scratching out a living in one of the poorest corners of a desperately poor country, maintain their dignity and immense passion for life under circumstances most of us couldn't begin to tolerate.
You could call it Cuba's back of beyond. Tucked away in the far southeast, hemmed in by the Sierra Maestra mountains where Fidel Castro and his guerrilla comrades ignited a revolution, is a land where time has reversed itself. Where diesel-spewing Russian tractors once prevailed, teams of oxen now plow fields. Horsepower means literally that. Ridden by expert horsemen or pulling a bizarre array of load-bearing contraptions, horses rule the ravaged roads from Manzanillo Airport down through the hills to the fishing village of Marea del Portillo where a three-star government resort catering to budget-minded Canadians is the only real industry.
For anyone seeking glitz and glamour, big-name entertainers and gourmet meals, this would be disaster. But if you're content with clean rooms, simple but appetizing meals, outdoor adventure and opportunities to befriend Cubans, all for a ridiculously low price, this can't be beat. How isolated is it? Each morning a rickety old propeller plane flies over the village and drops mail and newspapers and then sputters off down the coast.
You either love it or hate it, and with 70 per cent return business Marea has clearly won the hearts of a lot of Canadians. We were lucky. We travelled with pals from Hamilton, James Elliott and Irene Reinhold, whose annual holidays, like those of many Cubabound Canadians, double as foreign aid expeditions.
They cram their suitcases with supplies ranging from clothing to toothpaste for friends they've made in the village. You should have seen the grins last week when James and Irene unpacked hard-tofind items like baseball gloves, guitar strings and vegetable seed packs.
This year, thanks to the generosity of Hamilton area medical staff and help from the nice folks at Sunwing, they brought four extra suitcases stuffed with much-needed medical supplies for a threadbare hospital in the nearby town of Pilon.
This was a far cry from most gated all-inclusive holidays. With little or no crime, we were free to wander where we pleased. Unannounced, we landed in on several families. And yes. The poverty is obvious in these simple houses with metal or thatched roofs and concrete walls. But so is the pride. In each case the house was spotless, kids were neatly dressed and laundry was dangling from clothes lines.
Flowers and cactus adorned exterior walls. People beamed as they pointed to thriving crops of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes and pineapples. Pigs, chickens and goats roamed the streets. It proves one thing. You can be poor. But you need not live in squalor.
We saw plenty of the former and none of the latter and that speaks volumes about Cubans. So does the warmth of their personalities. Forget handshakes. It's all hugs and kisses when you meet these folks.
A horseback expedition into the mountains included sphincter-tightening trails over canyons, a swim at a waterfall and a hearty lamb stew lunch with a local family. All that for $30. By lucky coincidence we encountered a cattle drive, with several hundred horned Brahman-type cattle thundering down a dustenveloped road.
A scuba trip, down 23 metres in astonishingly clear water, erased a ghost that had haunted me for decades. And the fishing? Life doesn't get any sweeter than grouper and lobster cooked over an open fire on a deserted island and washed down with icy Bucanero beer.
But this isn't some Cuban Shangri-La. Far from it. The economy is a self-admitted mess. There are major shortages and bottlenecks. Cars are priceless. A man with a 1980s Lada is king of the road. If it weren't for the underground economy and barter system, people would be in even worse shape.
Now comes the big leap into the unknown. The government, which employs the vast majority of Cubans at an average monthly wage of about US$20, announced last year that 500,000 will be chopped from the public payroll and given incentives to go into business.
Even at this remote resort, with no other jobs around, at least 50 workers are getting pink slips. Where will they go? What will they do?
That was the burning issue among resort employees. People recognize that the socialist status quo, which protects the lazy and incompetent, is unaffordable.
But they're nervous about the radical change that is free enterprise.
What will happen to this paradise for penny-pinching Canadians over the next year as the ground shifts? I can hardly wait to find out.
Solving the problem of Cuban agriculture
Solving the problem of Cuban agricultureSeptember 6 2010tags: Cuba, socialism, agriculture, food
Revolutionary Cuba, no stranger to big problems, now faces another major challenge. Introducing major economic reforms in June 2008, President Raul Castro centered his government's proposals on changing agriculture. The results are anemic so far, reports Rebel Youth (Juventud Rebelde) correspondent Ricardo Ronquillo Bello.
Agricultural production fell 7.5 percent during the first half of 2010 compared to the first six months of 2009. Cuba's sugar harvest was the lowest since 1905. Of 4.2 million acres of idle state land offered to individuals and cooperatives for long term private use – the centerpiece of Castro's proposed reforms – only 2.5 million acres have been transferred, of which 46 percent are not yet in production.
The necessity for reform stemmed from arable land lying idle, 50 percent of the total, and the burden, which continues, of importing 80 percent of food consumed in Cuba. Annual food import costs approach $2.4 billion. Fallow land resulted largely from the government's 2002 decision to downgrade the sugar industry.
Agricultural ministers have been replaced and food imports reduced. Food purchases in the United States fell from $710 million in 2008, to $528 million in 2009 and to $220 million during the first half of 2010.
Half the land put into new production is dedicated to cattle raising, 27 percent to food crops, and 7.7 percent to rice production. Removal of the tenacious marabu plant from fallow lands has proved time consuming. Transportation resources, seeds, credit, and technical advice are only available irregularly, despite efforts to remove bureaucratic impediments. Private farmers occupying 41 percent of Cuba's arable land account now for 70 percent of the island's domestic food production.
News reports suggest that hundreds of thousands of state workers programmed to lose jobs in the coming years will be directed toward agricultural work. Half of those taking over newly available lands are under 35 years of age.
Agriculture looms large in Cuba, even though 80 percent of the 11.3 million Cubans live in cities. But with expanded urban agriculture, farm workers and family members number four million. Twenty years ago, agriculture – the sugar industry included – provided 83 percent of Cuba's export income. That figure is down now to 15 percent. In 2008 agriculture accounted for 20 percent of the island's GDP.
The residue of a tormented past, including colonial dependency, slavery, and dependence upon monoculture exports, still impinge upon reform efforts. The present attempts follow struggle beginning 20 years ago to overcome disaster caused by the Soviet Union's collapse when imports and GDP fell 80 percent and 35 percent respectively. Agriculture wilted for ten years. Organic farming, urban and sub-urban food production, release of state land to cooperatives, and institution of private farmer markets led to partial restoration
New difficulties include continuing drought and hurricanes in 2008 that destroyed farming infrastructure and wrought damage costing $10 billion. Reduced prices for nickel exports, diminishing yield from tourism, and falling remittances from Cubans living abroad have hit state and personal incomes. The U.S. economic blockade limits access to credit and hampers food sales to Cuba. Foreign vendors, many tied to U.S. corporations and subjected thereby to blockade restrictions, hold back on sales of new agricultural technologies, machinery, replacement parts, tools, and manufactured animal feed. Oxen, used as draft animals during the 1990's, are returning now to Cuban farms.
Other nations besides Cuba have wrestled with agriculture. Tension often prevails between proponents of industrialized agriculture and advocates of small, often family- operated farms over issues of efficiency, profitability, and cultural and ethical values. In socialist countries, planning and implementation must encompass equitable food distribution and agriculture's contribution to the larger national economy.
There is the cautionary tale of the Soviet Union whose last president noted that food production was "the most serious problem facing our nation today." Soon thereafter U. S. economist Joseph Medley suggested, however, that legitimate criticism, "tells us nothing of the magnitude of the goals set, nor of the results achieved.
Paraphrasing U.S. writer and farmer Wendell Berry, Ronquillo Bello concludes: "No matter that our lives are so urban, our bodies live because of agriculture. We come from the land and will return there … We exist through farming as much as we exist in our own bodies." "Our country [too] comes from the land," he explains. "We have to exist from agriculture as much as we exist in our own bodies."
IF IT WERE JUST THE MARABÚ
IF IT WERE JUST THE MARABÚ . . .CUBA'S AGRICULTURE 2009-10G.B. Hagelberg
"We face the imperative of making our land produce more . . . the needed structural and conceptual changes will have to be introduced," Raúl Castro famously proclaimed on 26 July 2007, a few days short of a year after provisionally taking over the reins of Cuba's government from his incapacitated older brother. Nine months later, now formally confirmed in power by the National Assembly, he told a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party on 28 April 2008 that food production had to be their top concern as a matter of the highest national security.
In countries otherwise so very diverse as the United States, Russia and Nigeria, Germany, Iran and the Dominican Republic, Sweden, Brazil and Honduras, the four years that Raúl Castro has de facto presided over Cuba would constitute a full term of office, towards the end of which supporters and opponents of an administration argue over its record during a general election campaign. While Cuba's one-party regime marches to the beat of a different drummer, its people – like people across the world – respond to the thrice-daily call of their stomachs. Cuba is no exception to the applicability of the time dimension in politics and economics, and the passage of time is a necessary yardstick for judging this government's effectiveness.
What brought the food situation to the fore of the government's agenda were the ballooning cost of food imports and an alarming deterioration of the food export-import balance pressing on the merchandise trade balance, now that foreign exchange earnings from sugar exports no longer offset outgoings for other agricultural products. Other countries also felt the impact of sharply increased international commodity prices in 2007-08. Cuba's government, however, could not blame soulless world markets alone if people did not have enough to eat. The downsizing of the sugar industry – more demolition than restructuring – had engendered hundreds of thousands of hectares of idle land, on which dense thickets of marabú (Dichrostachys cinerea) bore highly visible evidence of the state's mismanagement of the island's resources. Fifteen years or so into the "Special Period in Time of Peace" that began with the end of Soviet-bloc supports for the Cuban economy, the government was faced with the specter of a return to the drop in food availabilities, if not the nutritional deficits, experienced in the first half of the 1990s – a double dip in current economic recession parlance.
So what has the government done in the farm sector in the four years of Raúl Castro's stewardship?• Debts amounting to tens of millions of pesos owed by state agencies to cooperative and independent farmers have been paid. However, the revelation that barely had the old debts been settled when new debts began to accumulate (Varela Pérez, 2009a) undermined claims that the deficiencies which allowed such arrears to arise had been eliminated (cf. Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2007).• A reorganization of the agriculture ministry begun in 2007 reportedly resulted in the closure of 83 state enterprises and the transformation of 473 loss-making units, with 7,316 workers transferred to other jobs. Analysis of 17 enterprises selected in a second stage showed the possibility of more than halving the number of employees in management. Overall, the ministry counted some 89,000 "unproductive" workers in the state sector – not including Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs), undertakings that "after many ups and downs and ambiguities have still not fulfilled the mission for which they were created" (Varela Pérez, 2009b). More recently, agriculture minister Ulises Rosales del Toro stated that more than 40,000 "indirect workers" in the sector had to be relocated (Pérez Cabrera, 2010).• Controls formerly exercised directly by the agriculture ministry from Havana have been shifted down to municipal level. To what extent this actually reduced the bureaucratic apparatus and made life easier for producers is uncertain. The Cuban economist Armando Nova Gonzàlez expressed doubt, arguing that the functions of government and of business management were still being confused: while one structural level had been eliminated, two had been created by introducing a chain of service enterprises to supply production inputs. That was all very well, but how were the producers to acquire the inputs? Through a market, or, as hitherto, by central allocation, which for years had been shown not to be the best way? (Martín González, 2009)• Shops selling hand tools and supplies for convertible pesos (CUC) have been opened in some municipalities. The degree to which this has created direct access to production inputs has so far been limited by the small number of such outlets and the range of goods on offer. Some fraction of farmer income from produce sold to the state and otherwise is also denominated in CUC. But for the acquisition of larger items and bulk quantities, bank loans in that currency would have to become available (Nova González, 2008).• Sharply increased state procurement prices – some, notably for milk and beef, to double and more their former level – have, by all accounts, been an incentive to raise output.But these measures did not amount to structural or conceptual changes, though they could awaken hopes that those would come.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
At the end of the first four years of Raúl Castro's watch, the one structural change worthy of the name in agriculture is the mass grant in usufruct of idle state land, mainly to small farmers and landless persons. Although these transfers are surrounded by conditions, Decree-Law No. 259 of 10 July 2008 is deeply revisionist in concept since it implies – more clearly than the conversion of state farms into UBPCs in 1993 – the abandonment of the long-held doctrine of the superiority of state or parastatal, large-scale, mechanized agriculture reliant on wage labor, of which Fidel Castro had been the foremost exponent in Cuba. Over the signature of Raúl Castro as President of the Council of State, it was decreed that landless individuals could obtain up to 13.42 hectares and existing landholders could bring their total area up to 40.26 hectares under licenses valid for up to 10 years and successively renewable for the same period. Existing state farms, cooperatives and other legal entities could apply for the usufruct of an unlimited area for 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.
No detailed statistics of operations under Decree-Law No. 259 seem to have been published since mid-2009 (González, 2009), cited in Hagelberg and Alvarez (2009). The information on land areas by type and tenancy in the most recent yearbook of Cuba's National Office of Statistics stops at 2007 (ONE, 2010, Table 9.1). Different global figures can be found in media reports. Raúl Castro informed the National Assembly towards the end of 2009 that around 920,000 hectares had been transferred to more than 100,000 beneficiaries, which represented 54% of the total idle area (Granma, 21 December 2009). This would put the magnitude of the total idle area at the outset at 1.7 million hectares. Almost five months later, Marino Murillo Jorge, minister of economy and planning, gave the congress of the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP), the national association of small farmers, the same figure of 920,000 hectares as the land transferred under Decree-Law No. 259, adding that around half of the areas so assigned remained idle or insufficiently exploited (Granma, 17 May 2010).
From the second half of 2009 onwards, the reportorial focus in the state-controlled mass media has shifted noticeably from implementation of Decree-Law No. 259 to advancing a so-called Agricultura Suburbana program. Raúl Castro gave the cue in a speech to the summer 2009 session of the National Assembly (Granma, 3 August 2009):Let us forget tractors and fuel in this program, even if we had them in sufficient quantities; the concept is to execute it basically with oxen, because it is about small farms, as a growing number of producers are doing with excellent results. I have visited some and could verify that they have transformed the land they are working into true gardens where every inch of ground is used.
Raúl Castro entrusted this new initiative specifically to Adolfo Rodríguez Nodals, the head of the National Group of Urban Agriculture (since renamed National Group of Urban and Suburban Agriculture) in the agriculture ministry. The group, he declared, "has obtained outstanding results in urban agriculture, fruit of the exactingness and systemacity expressed in the four controls that it carries out annually in all the provinces and municipalities of the country" (Granma, 3 August 2009). This suggests that Raúl Castro still prized centralized control over operational functionality, evidently unconscious of the fact that it is wholly unsuitable for the management of small-scale mixed farming.
While the idea of the Agricultura Suburbana plan may indeed have come from the experience of the Agricultura Urbana program created in the 1990s (Rodríguez Castellón, 2003) and shares some of its policy objectives and features, such as high labor intensity, the two schemes are as distinct as town and country, horticulture and agriculture. Agricultura Urbana rests, in the main, on patios (domestic gardens), plots (empty lots planted to vegetables) and so-called organopónicos – low-walled beds filled with soil and organic matter, with or without drip irrigation, in the open air or in shade houses, their high-tech name derived from hydroponic installations that could not be maintained after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The system, now reportedly embracing around 10,500 organopónicos alone and occupying more than 300,000 workers (Luben Pérez, 2010), no doubt contributes substantially to the food supply and has other advantages. Equally, Rodríguez Nodals's group undoubtedly fulfills some useful functions by providing advice and facilitating access to supplies in other countries easily available. Its face to the wider public, however, consists of tedious reports of its quarterly inspections and the grades it bestows on its charges, rather in the manner of an elementary school teacher (e.g. Varela Pérez, 2010h).
In contrast, the basic structural model of Agricultura Suburbana is the finca, a small farm, most often in private hands, located in an eight-kilometer-deep ring between two and ten kilometers from urban centers. The plan is being rolled out in stages stretching over five years, some selected municipalities at a time. Its declared objective is to source the food supply of population concentrations as far as possible from nearby crop and livestock producers primarily reliant on animal power for field work as well as transport. Around the city of Camagüey, the test ground for the project, it is ultimately to comprise some 1,400 units with a total area of roughly 65,000 hectares, 80% of which is agricultural land, the greater part devoted to cattle (Hernández Porto, 2009; Carrobello, 2010; Frank, 2010). Introduced as an experiment in 18 municipalities at the beginning of 2010, the program would be progressively extended to some 600,000 hectares across the whole country, according to ANAP president Orlando Lugo Fonte (Bosch, 2010).
The emphasis put on narrowing the distance beween producer and purchaser – distributor, processor or final consumer, on employing animals in place of internal combustion engines in field work and haulage, and on using compost instead of inorganic fertilizers shows that the Agricultura Suburbana program, like the government's other major agricultural policy initiatives in the last 20 years from the creation of the UBPCs to Decree-Law No. 259, is inspired above all by the need to reduce Cuba's dependence on imports, both food and production inputs, at a time of extreme economic stress. To go by the official propaganda, were Agricultura Suburbana enterprises to be characterized by a logo, it would have to feature a pair of oxen. Hence it is disconcerting to find that Cuba's stock of draught oxen appears to have shrunk by a quarter from 377,100 to 284,700 between 2004 and 2009, in contrast to a growing equine population (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.15 and 9.24). If ONE's figures are right, the question can reasonably be asked: do the policymakers in Havana know what goes on down on the farm?
Regardless of whether it offers a perspective of more than a semi-subsistence agriculture, the shortage of material resources to back up the effort to return swathes of mostly marabú-infested land to production under Decree-Law No. 259 favored the more measured approach of the Agricultura Suburbana program. The authorities were admittedly overwhelmed by the flood of requests for plots triggered by Decree-Law No. 259 (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009a). Within barely more than a month of opening the door to submissions in the autumn of 2008, some 69,000 applications were received – 98% of them from individuals and 79% of these from persons without land – according to official figures (Nova González, 2008). Another month of so later and the number of applicants had swelled to some 117,000 (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009a). Was the notorious Cuban dislike for agricultural work another myth? If a fan of the Beatles, Raúl Castro may well have been reminded of the lyrics of Eleanor Rigby: "All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?" Declaring the distribution of idle land in usufruct one of the great challenges for the coming year, he rather optimistically told an interviewer on the last day of 2008: "We have already put behind us the first, initial obstacles we encountered because of atavistic bureaucratic habits" (González Pérez, 2009).
In fact, many successful applicants found that what they had signed up for was, as the trade union organ Trabajadores recalled later, hacer de tripas, corazón – summon up the guts to root out the marabú, "most often without the necessary tools and without a gram of herbicide, by sheer spirit alone" (Rey Veitia et al, 2010). An investigation by a team of Juventud Rebelde reporters in March 2009 unearthed multiple problems – lack of hand tools, machinery and fuel, insufficient financial support, uncertainty over whether even a shelter was permitted on the plot, shortage of fencing wire, and bureaucracy – along with concern over the technical unpreparedness of people new to farming (Pérez et al, 2009). In rebuttal of purported exploitation of the issues by foreign news agencies allegedly intent on defaming Cuba, Trabajadores sought to dampen down expectations: "It would be a delusion to think . . . that any agricultural process that begins with the request for the land could bring significant productive results in only nine months . . . . Bureaucracy? Yes, it is a process that implies steps and involves various agencies" (González, 2009).
Yet similar complaints of shortages, delays, irregularities, bureaucracy, and official incompetence have resurfaced again and again (e.g. "Efectuado pleno . . .," 2009; Rey Veitia et al, 2010). The persistent bureaucracy made the front page of Granma when farmers informed José Ramón Machado Ventura, member of the Politburo and first vice president of the councils of state and of ministers, at an ANAP meeting in Havana, of the "diabolical" mechanisms holding back pigmeat production in the metropolitan area (Varela Pérez, 2010e). And Juventud Rebelde quoted an outstanding young farmer (Martín González, 2010):For some time I have been supplying eggs to a school in the community. Until now I have done it with the hens I have, but they have to be replaced because they are getting old and don't produce. When I asked for replacements, there was so much paperwork that I am still thinking about it.
LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS
A bane in the lives of the Cuban people, an incompetent bureaucracy constitutes a minefield for the country's leadership. In their efforts to devise agricultural reforms, Cuba's policymakers labor under a big informational handicap. The government is ill-served by its statistical apparatus. A cardinal case in point is a monograph survey of land use, released by the National Office of Statistics in May 2008, which put the idle agricultural land at 1,232,800 hectares, equal to 18.6% of all agricultural land, as of December 2007 (ONE, 2008). Presumably, this was the figure that guided the framers of Decree-Law No. 259 of 10 July 2008. The number was repeated in ONE's statistical yearbooks for 2008 and 2009 (Table 9.1), published in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and is still the most recent available from that source. However, as casually revealed in Trabajadores, it appears to have been a gross understatement: "A study of the idle state lands arrived at 1,691 thousand hectares" (González, 2009). The provenance of this study has remained unidentified, as far as is known, but a figure in the order of 1.7 million hectares is now evidently the accepted magnitude of the idle land area existent on the eve of Decree-Law No. 259.
Hagelberg and Alvarez (2009) underlined the scope for statistical manipulation offered by a metric of land utilization that allows inclusion of areas merely earmarked for a crop, as officially employed in Cuba in respect of sugarcane. Carrobello and Terrero (2009a) subsequently pointed to another possibility – there may have been no second study, merely a reclassification of categories that moved the goalposts: "But if we add [to the figure of 1,232,800 hectares] the pastures of doubtful utility, 55% of the agricultural area was not cultivated." Agricultural statistics everywhere must, by the nature of things, be granted a margin of error and should not be interpreted too closely. But this is a discrepancy of a different order. In a matter as sensitive as idle land, pollution of the statistical process by political or ideological considerations cannot be excluded. A century-old practice of maintaining grassland reserves in sugar plantations to expand the cane area when profitable to do so moreover conjures up an image of turf wars between the agriculture and sugar ministries.
However, ONE publications also contain numerous infelicities hard to ascribe to political contamination. For instance, the most recent ONE statistical yearbooks (ONE, 2009 and 2010) report tonnages of sugarcane processed in each season since 2002/03 (Table 11.3) greater than those produced for delivery to the mills in the respective season (Table 9.4). Though perhaps not on a par with the biblical miracle of the loaves and fishes, the magnification amounts to as much as 900,000 metric tons in 2002/03 (4.1%) and 800,000 tons in 2006/07 (6.7%). Examination of earlier editions of the yearbook indicates that this inconsistency began in 2002/03, the first crop following the restructuring of the industry. The technical indicators displayed in Table 11.3 – cane milled, sugar produced, yield and polarization – are a farrago of incongruities and plain error. Unusually, ONE references these solecisms to the sugar ministry, but that does not absolve it of responsibility since it is the controller of the national system of statistics and guarantor of their quality.
The question-mark hanging over ONE's integrity, competence and professionalism notwithstanding, it is for outside analysts the only source of the data necessary to present more than an anecdotal picture of Cuban agricultural performance. Accurately weighing the impact of the three major hurricanes and a tropical storm that occurred in 2008 – described as the most destructive hurricane season in Cuba's recorded history (Messina, 2009) – both on that year's output and regarding after-effects, is an additional problem. Messina noted miscellaneous reports of damage and losses in tree and arable crops, chicken and egg production, and sugar factories. But the expected high levels of loss were not reflected in the official data. Discussing the possible reasons for the lighter than anticipated losses recorded, Messina thought the most plausible explanation was that particularly in perennial and tree crops the greater part of the harvest takes place in spring and was largely completed before the hurricane season. The full impact of the 2008 weather events would therefore not become apparent until the spring harvest of 2009 and would have to be taken into account in looking at that year's figures.
Table 1 summarizes the official data on 2009 performance in the major crop and livestock categories. The information for the non-state sector is said to comprehend Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs), Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPAs), Credits and Services Cooperatives (CCSs), as well as dispersed private producers and estimates for house patios and plots (ONE, 2010, Chapter 9, Introduction). No breakdown into its components is provided in the yearbook. Given the hybrid character of the UBPCs (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009), their assignment to the non-state sector is debatable. Interestingly, they are carried on a separate government register from CPAs and CCSs (ONE, 2010, Chapter 4, "Institutional Organization," Methodological Notes). The estimates for patios and plots may also include self-provisioning patches of state enterprises, UBPCs and CPAs; but it is reasonable to suppose that the majority are in private hands. In any event, it is understandably difficult to capture the full volume of production in this category (Messina, 2009).
Table 1: Cuban food crop and livestock production, 2009
Production Change from Non-state share (%) (1000 m.t.) 2008 (%) 2008 2009
Tubers and roots 1565.6 12.4 86.6 86.1Bananas and plantains 670.4 –11.6 82.7 84.5Horticultural crops 2548.8 4.5 82.1 80.4Paddy rice 563.6 29.3 87.5 85.8Corn 304.8 –6.4 93.4 91.8Beans 110.8 14.0 97.0 94.5Citrus fruits 418.0 6.7 37.9 38.8Other fruits 748.0 1.3 92.2 90.8Deliveries for slaughter, live weight Beef 130.0 4.9 n.a. n.a. Pigs 271.0 –7.2 41.0 44.8Poultry meat 42.6 <0.5 77.8 77.9Cow milk 600.3 10.0 86.4 86.4Eggs 2426.8a 4.2 19.1 23.4
a Million units.Sources: ONE, 2010, Tables 9.9, 9.11, 9.17, 9.18, 9.20, 9.22, 9.23. Percentages calculated by the author, in the case of the non-state shares of pigs delivered for slaughter, poultry meat and eggs, indirectly by subtraction of the output of state enterprises from total production.
With the sole exception of rice, recorded 2009 outputs in the major crop lines listed in Table 1 were below – in some cases, far below – their levels in 2004, the first year shown in this edition of the yearbook. Average yields per hectare (ONE, 2010, Table 9.12) were the lowest for the six-year period 2004-2009 – except citrus fruits, in fourth place from the best, higher than expected, and other fruits, in fifth place. The record is better in livestock products, with only poultry meat not reaching the 2004 figure. Except in egg and poultry meat production (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.22 and 9.23), there are also clear signs of improved efficiency, with average beef and pig live weights at slaughter and milk yield per cow on rising trends, although still at very low levels (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.17, 9.18 and 9.20).
Not so much legacy effects of the 2008 weather as badly distributed and overall low rainfall the following year (ONE, 2010, Table 2.3) was probably at least in part responsible for lackluster 2009 crop yields, alongside of more secular factors. Messina (2009) surmised that citrus output may still be affected by the bacterial citrus greening or Huanglongbing disease, a conjecture confirmed by Varela Pérez (2010c). Growing corn in Cuba is constrained by low yields and high production costs. Some of the output swings in either direction are easily traceable to official actions on prices and resource allocation. Potato producers enjoyed priority in the supply of imported seed, fertilizer and plant chemicals. Rice and beans are focal points of the policy of import substitution. Milk production mirrors the effect of price incentives and the increase in small-scale stock farming as a result of Decree-Law No. 259, among other factors. On the other hand, the drop in the delivery of pigs for slaughter suggests a classic hog cycle farmer response of herd reduction after encountering marketing difficulties in 2008.
Unsurprisingly in an agriculture as exposed as Cuba's to governmental intervention as well as the vagaries of the weather, there is scant evidence of stabilization in domestic food production. A greatly expanded area planted was the principal factor behind a comparatively large tomato harvest, the main contributor to the smallish rise in the horticultural crop total. Memories of losses due to the inability of Acopio, the state procurement agency, and of processing plants to handle last year's tomato crop are likely to be reflected in 2010, if the large decreases in area planted and production in the first quarter, compared with the same period in 2009 (ONE, Dirección de Agropecuario, 2010) are a guide. Compared with the same period in 2009, the first three months of 2010 saw bananas and plantains up 75.1%, but tubers and roots down 9.0%; horticultural crops down 25.1%; corn up 4.9%; beans down 30.5%; paddy rice up 45.5%; citrus fruits down 21.7%; other fruits up 16.1%; live weight beef and pig deliveries for slaughter down 3.2% and 3.3% respectively; cow milk down 6.0%; and eggs down 1.1% (ONE, Dirección de Agropecuario, 2010). Unless the 2010 rainy season breaks the severe drought that began in late 2008, the government could easily find itself again between the Scylla and Charybdis of a national food crisis or a huge food import bill.
PRIVATE ENTERPRISE TO THE RESCUE OF THE STATE
If there is a clear message from the data, it is Cuba's dependence on the non-state sector – and to a greatly increased extent on the truly private part thereof – for the national food supply. The gradual 245,000-hectare (25%) expansion of the agricultural land owned or leased by private operators that took place between 1989 and 2007 (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009) was dwarfed by the structural change in land tenancy within the space of a few months by the implementation of Decree-Law No. 259.
This is too recent a development to have made an impact on the non-state shares in output shown in Table 1, most of which were already of a high order. However, it is reflected in the non-state shares in crop areas harvested and in production – in seven out of eight categories higher in 2009 than in 2008 (Table 2).
Table 2: Non-sugar food crop areas harvested and in production, 2009
Area Change from Non-state share (%) (1000 ha) 2008 (%) 2008 2009
Tubers and roots 246.0 25.4 87.8 90.8Bananas and plantains 106.4 27.2 82.7 88.8Horticultural crops 278.6 7.5 86.7 88.4 Paddy rice 215.8 38.7 88.0 87.6Corn 204.0 57.9 91.2 95.5Beans 150.6 58.0 94.9 96.3Citrus fruits 47.9 5.0 54.0 62.2Other fruits 91.7 10.4 85.6 88.1
Sources: ONE, 2010, Tables 9.6, 9.8. Percentages calculated by the author.
Overall, the total area harvested and in production of the crops listed here grew by 293,353 hectares from 1,047,559 hectares in 2008 to 1,340,912 hectares in 2009 (ONE, 2010, Table 9.6), an increase of 28.0%. The expansion of the non-state share was greater, both absolutely and relatively, amounting to 296,571 hectares from 906,981 hectares in 2008 to 1,203,552 hectares (ONE, 2010, Table 9.8) – an increase of 32.7%.
Indicative of the impaired state of Cuba's agriculture, however, is that while the 2009 areas of all these crops exceeded the previous year's, those of bananas and plantains, horticultural crops and citrus fruits had yet to recover their 2004 level. The total 2009 area of 1,340,912 hectares exceeded the corresponding figure for 2004 by just 114,279 hectares, or 9.3%.
Another measure of the enhanced role of the non-state sector – in this case excluding UBPC affiliates who are considered ineligible to belong to it – is the growth of the organization representing private farmers, although there is a confusion of numbers. Towards the end of 2009, a member of the national bureau of the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños was reported to the effect that nearly 57,000 new producers had joined the organization and that a further 3,000 new entrants were expected, with an equal growth in the membership of credits and services cooperatives (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009b). The figure of some 60,000 new farmers was subsequently confirmed by Orlando Lugo Fonte, ANAP's president (Hernández, 2010). But Lugo Fonte has also reportedly said that the small farmer sector had grown by "more than 100,000 new members" as a result of the transfer of idle lands under Decree-Law No. 259 ("Destacan potencial . . ., " 2010; Fernández, 2010). However, on the eve of the 2010 ANAP congress he spoke of 362,440 members in CPAs and CSSs, organized in 3,635 base units (Varela Pérez, 2010g). This figure would be roughly consistent with the addition of 40,000 new members to the 327,380 reported in 2005, which was the influx Lugo Fonte had initially expected in 2009 to result from Decree-Law No. 259 (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009). While a large fraction of the new producers undoubtedly had previous farming experience as agricultural laborers or technicians – the personnel made redundant by the downsizing of the sugar industry alone constituting a big pool, the fact that the bulk of the applicants for land under Decree-Law No. 259 were previously landless led Armando Nova, an academic and member of the Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, to speculate on "the beginning of a process of 'repeasantization'" (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009b).
Recognition at the apex of Cuba's leadership that Decree-Law No. 259 had created new economic and social "facts on the ground," with political implications to be closely watched, would explain the participation of first vice president and Politburo member José Ramón Machado Ventura in ANAP regional meetings in preparation for the association's tenth congress in the spring of 2010. In a conspicuous display of political manpower, agriculture minister Ulises Rosales del Toro, Politburo member and a vice president of the council of ministers, and ANAP president Lugo Fonte, member of the Communist Party's central committee and of the council of state, were regularly outranked at the presiding table of these gatherings by the No. 2 in the national hierarchy.
REALITY – UP TO A POINT
In his speech to the National Assembly in July 2008, Raúl Castro himself returned to his oft-quoted 1994 statement, near the nadir of Cuba's fortunes following the collapse of central and east European communism, that "beans are more important than cannons." Previously, in April, his focus on food production together with the announcement that the long overdue sixth Communist Party congress would be held towards the end of 2009 had ensured that the subject would continue to figure prominently in the debates about Cuba's future that the regime had organized throughout the country. As it turned out, the congress was again postponed in July 2009 and the prospect then offered of a party conference has also still to materialize. But whatever the authorities gained from the debates in gauging the popular mood, identifying hot spots, preparing the citizenry for cuts in public services and state jobs, and providing a safety valve for discontent, there is one visible result: the greatly increased reflection in the mass media of the raw reality that people have long talked about in the street.
A notable example is the acknowledgment by the veteran chief spin-doctor of the sugar and (more recently) of the agriculture ministries, Juan Varela Pérez, of the defects of the UBPCs (Varela Pérez, 2009c):Time showed that, not having been recognized as true cooperatives, many remained halfway between the state farm and the CPA [collective farm composed of former private holdings]. [Their members] were neither cooperativists nor wholly agricultural workers; a limbo was created, but moreover factors deforming their essence arose, to the point of maintaining intact the structure of the original enterprises, to the control of which they were subordinated.In a subsequent article, Varela Pérez (2010b) listed the differences between genuine cooperatives and the UBPCs that had worked to the latter's detriment. But the new realism goes only so far. The UBPCs failed, with few exceptions, because "they strayed from the essential principles approved by the Politburo . . . the approved basic principles were forgotten" and because of "the violation of the concepts that brought the UBPCs to life." Yet it was the regime's penchant for centralized decision-making and micromanagement that dominated in the creation of the UBPCs in 1993. "We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves," La Rochefoucauld wrote long ago. As long as this is the case, the new openness cannot progress from description of symptoms to diagnosis of causes and thought-through response.
Recognition that beans are more important than cannons has not so far led the government to more than tinker with two major issues that weigh on the overall performance of Cuba's agriculture: the debacle of the sugar agroindustry and the flawed system of state controls over farm inputs and outputs.
For the sixth year running – and, ironically, when world market prices reached their highest point since 1981, Cuba has produced less than 1.5 million metric tons of sugar in 2009/10, a fall of more than 80% from the average annual output of the 1980s. In the last days of the harvest, Reuters (3 June) put the final figure at 1.1-1.2 million metric tons.
In early May, a note from the council of state announced a change of sugar ministers, the outgoing having asked to be relieved of his responsibilities "on recognizing the deficiencies of his work which were pointed out to him" (Granma, 4 May 2010). An agronomic engineer, he had been promoted from first vice minister less than 18 months before, after a 38-year career in the sugar sector. His replacement, a chemical engineer, has similarly risen from first vice minister, after more than 30 years in the sugar sector. The new incumbent will not be a minister for long, however, if the knowledgeable Reuters and Financial Times correspondent in Cuba, Marc Frank, was right that the sugar ministry would soon be transmuted into a corporation (Reuters, 7 April 2010).
The day after this announcement, Varela Pérez (2010f) blamed what he called the poorest sugar crop since 1905 on bad organization, overestimates of the available cane, and "a high grade of imprecisions and voluntarism." But if this had to be the main tenor of a story put out to explain the defenestration of the minister, disclosure that 55% of the crop area had not been fertilized, only 3% irrigated (down from up to 30% in the 1980s) and that sugarcane was "today the lowest paid [product] in agriculture" rendered implausible the pretense that "disciplinary measures" and "perfecting the system of administration" were all the answer required. In calling for the restoration of sugarcane to the place corresponding to its continued significance economically and as "part of Cuba's patrimony," Varela Pérez either forgot or hoped his readers will have forgotten Fidel Castro's denunciation in 2005 of sugar as the "ruin" of Cuba's economy and belonging to "the era of slavery" that was the cue to reduce the industry to its present penury. With the 2009/10 harvest having starkly demonstrated "the effects of the cane crisis" to the point where continued decline could end in the industry's extinction, there was an echo of the old Cuban saying, Sin azúcar, no hay país – without sugar, there is no country, in the way Varela Pérez (2010i) posed the question how to begin restoring sugar's "noble and economic tradition" that "has distinguished Cubans historically." The repeated emphasis on the unremunerative cane price – responsibility of the ministry of finance and prices – suggests that the Cuban regime is not exempt from the inter-departmental differences regularly seen in other governments.
The other big issue – the state's control over what goes into and comes out of agriculture – lies at the heart of the Cuba's command economy, which explains the regime's reluctance to tackle it in a fundamental way despite the record of its vices stretching over decades.
In what is until now the most recent attempt to make the system more efficient, the distribution and marketing functions of Acopio in Havana city and province passed from the Ministry of Agriculture to Domestic Commerce in August 2009. But within barely more than a month, it was clear that Mincin "was not sufficiently prepared for the task," with the result of "significant losses" of perishable products (Varela Pérez and de la Hoz, 2009a). Anxious to find some progress, Granma's reporters returned to the scene again and again (Varela Pérez and de la Hoz, 2009b, 2009c, 2009d), faith triumphing over experience: "However many difficulties, the socialist market has to be a mission possible," they wrote. It remained just a hope. In the first two months of 2010, the state food markets in the capital received only 62% of the supplies they were supposed to get from the farmers in the province. Among the reasons: growers had been left without the fertilizer and plant protection chemicals they needed in the last quarter of 2009, and Mincin still had not got its act together. Bizarrely, a regulation prohibited trucks carrying produce from other provinces to enter the city, even with the proper documentation, and with Mincin company buyers no longer picking up various kinds of horticultural produce, Havana province farmers were reducing plantings (Varela Pérez, 2010d).
Across the island, apparatchik interference with supply and demand has at different times and in different places thrown a variety of spanners in the works. Farmers who have heeded government calls to produce more have pitched up against a worn-out infrastructure. In Granma province, an unspecified amount of rice was lost, some was processed below quality, and growers still held 1,000 tons dried manually owing to insufficient industrial drying, milling and storage capacity, and these were not the only problems (Sariol Sosa, 2009). In a Villa Clara municipality, the government got itself into a tangle with farmers who, urged to plant a greater area of garlic than contemplated, produced about double the crop it had contracted to buy (Pérez Cabrera, 2009). In Camagüey, the state lactic products company was not ready to cope with the increased volume of milk deliveries, and the milk spent, on average, four and a half hours on the road between producer and processor, to the detriment of its quality (Febles Hernández, 2009). Mangoes similarly overwhelmed the infrastructure in Santiago de Cuba (Riquenes Cutiño, 2009). A cross-country survey of the non-citrus fruit situation (Carrobello and de Jesús, 2010) found some improvements, notably the appearance of roadside sales points and ambulant vendors; but production and distribution continued to be hampered by lack of irrigation facilities, input shortages ranging from fertilizer and plant chemicals to gloves and boxes, difficulties in obtaining bank credits, and the rigidities of the state procurement apparatus. Yet though he grumbled about various deficiencies and incongruities, ANAP's Lugo Fonte still thought that the cure lay in rigorous contracting between parties and was not prepared to identify the monopsonistic and monopolistic position of state enterprises in relation to the farmer as the root of the problem (Barreras Ferrán, 2010).
A whiff of oligarchal factionalism came from a Lugo Fonte interview in which he recounted the conditions that had depressed cattle farming in the private sector. Small farmers had been allowed to sell their animals only to state companies, most of which did not have scales and bought the cattle "on the hoof," based on the color of the hide, the tail and the horns, and with a high charge for slaughtering – all in accordance with regulations. These rules had been dumped and beef prices sharply raised. But, in order to preserve their margin, the companies were now hindering producers from sending animals directly to the abattoir by refusing to rent vehicles (Varela Pérez, 2010a). And while ANAP members were being encouraged to send raw milk straight to retail outlets, Lugo Fonte lamented that this practice had not been extended to other products, such as eggs (Varela Pérez, 2010g).
If Acopio was provoking "downpours" of criticism, the mechanisms of supplying farmers with inputs were causing a "tempest," Juventud Rebelde, the Communist Party's youth organ, reported on the weekend of the ANAP congress (Varios Autores, 2010). More was to come at the congress itself. Entitled "For greater farm and forestry production," much of the 37-point report of its commission on production and the economy was given over to a somewhat unselective survey of the gamut of products, from rice to medicinal plants, and from beef to honey, in which greater output could replace imports and enhance exports (Granma, 17 May 2010). But coupled with this were demands on government to resolve a host of functional issues: credit provision; water usage approval; allowing producers to sell directly to retailers, tourist facilities and slaughterhouses; promoting local micro and mini-industries; seasonal price differentiation; crop insurance; tax reform; access to building materials; freeing the cooperatives from restrictions and empowering them to enter into contracts; and reforming quality norms. Of sufficient importance to deserve a point by themselves were the "innumerable concerns" raised by the delegates from Havana city and province concerning the system of commercialization piloted in these territories – excessive product handling, crop losses, arguments over quality, retail outlet permits, state company margins, cartage, container return, and trucks owned by cooperatives being barred from delivering straight to the city's state markets.
MARKET DEREGULATION? NOT YET
Closing the congress from the government side, minister of the economy and planning Marino Murillo Jorge made it clear that there would be no relaxation of the state's control of food marketing (Granma, 17 May 2010). In the sole reference to what he admitted was "one of the subjects most discussed in this congress," he claimed consensus on the need to improve the quality and compelling force of contracts, so that the parties meet their obligations and the quantities agreed are planted, harvested and marketed, avoiding the sale in the suppy-and-demand markets of produce not certified as surplus to contract or allowed free disposal. Government and ANAP had to collaborate "to solve as soon as possible the problem of illegal intermediaries who artificially raise prices without contributing to society."
Concerning market reform, Murillo Jorge had but one announcement – the government would "organize the creation in the majority of the municipalities of the country of an input market where producers could acquire directly the resources necessary for crop and livestock production, replacing the current mechanism of central allocation." The price policy governing this market, he spelled out, "must guarantee, on the one hand, recognition in the acopio price [the price at which the state acquires products] of the real costs of production and, on the other, the elimination of the great number of subsidies that the state pays today through the budget." Whether this market will amount to something more than adding to the small number of existing stores selling tools and supplies for convertible pesos and how it will obtain its merchandise, if not by central allocation, was left in the dark.
All together, it is hard to resist the impression that this was a holding operation at which ANAP delegates could let off steam, but from which they emerged none the wiser about key government policy areas that affect the private farm sector. A number of subjects, Murillo Jorge said, were "in process of analysis and study within the context of the updating the Cuban economic model," naming taxation (of both farmers and their workers), the contracting of outside labor (stating that more than 100,000 wage workers were employed by cooperatives), and the prices of inputs and of acopio.
Speaking to the congress of the Communist Party's youth organization in April 2010 (Granma, 5 April), Raúl Castro acknowledged the existence of voices urging a faster pace of change. Whether the regime's tempo is dictated by the magnitude and complexity of the problems facing Cuba, as he claimed, by divisions among the leadership, by lack of the cash needed to jump-start major reforms, by incompetence, or by all these, is an unknown – certainly to outsiders. Specifically in the area of farm policy, the twists and turns over half a century invite the question: do the policymakers really understand agriculture and how it develops? When it comes to the effective application of scientific and technological advances – highlighted by Murillo Jorge as "an aspect that requires the greatest immediate attention," for instance, are Cuba's policymakers sufficiently versed in the agricultural history of other countries to appreciate the interactions of market forces, farmer-boffins, equipment manufacturers, chemical companies, plant breeders and agribusinesses, alongside of public institutions such as experiment stations and extension services, that drive innovation?
Although located, broadly speaking, towards the opposite end of the spectrum from the extensive model of agroindustry growth that hit the buffers in the second half of the 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the concept now being promoted is similarly extensive in several respects. In pursuit of the goals of replacing imports and increasing exports of agricultural products, the government campaigns to substitute human muscle and animal power for engines, compost for inorganic fertilizers, home-grown animal feedstuffs for concentrates, and prioritizes the expansion of land under cultivation over raising yields. Comprehensible, up to a point, as fire-fighting in the midsts of current economic and financial woes, can these methods generate a serious improvement in Cuba's agricultural trade balance? While the application of idle land and labor will surely increase the domestic food supply, can it make the country anywhere near self-sufficient? Is this model viable in the longer run?
Disturbingly, in all the hype in favor of using oxen for field work and transport, there is nary an indication that either the costs of breeding, rearing, training, feeding and apparelling the animals, or the productivity of a team, including its driver, taking into account speed of locomotion and length of working day, have been factored in. Likewise missing from the hymns to the benefits of compost are signs of awareness that to make enough compost for general application entails industrial-scale production techniques with specialized equipment.
To project the picture of a new mentality gestating in the countryside, Juventud Rebelde located, for its edition on the weekend of the ANAP congress, a few young farmers earning several times the average national wage (Varios Autores, 2010). "In my case," said one, "when I get the money together, I'll buy myself a cellphone, because I need it; let them tell me that, like other presidents of cooperatives, I don't have with what to communicate." Twenty-first century aspirations in Cuba, as elsewhere. For his part, Raúl Castro – spookily bringing to mind Churchillian rhetoric – proclaimed before the National Assembly on 1 August 2009: "They didn't elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba or to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it." For that, he realized, beans are more important than cannons. Does he understand that they are more important than command and control?
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Restoring the Tampa-Cuba connection
Restoring the Tampa-Cuba connectionUpdated: Friday, 28 May 2010, 7:14 AM EDT
TAMPA – There is a new push to make Tampa a gateway to Cuba, including direct flights from here to Havana, in an effort to connect Tampa's economical future with its historical past.
The vision is to have at least two non-stop flights each day to Havana, totaling more than 8,000 passengers a month, and open the Port of Tampa to shipping trade with Cuba.
"That will create jobs, and it will also help to break down some of those old barriers that need to be broken down in a peaceful way," said Stephen Michelini with the World Trade Center.
Backers of Cuba trade asked the Tampa City Council to visit the island nation on a cultural and trade mission. They found a ally in councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena.
"It's for our economic future, as well as our cultural, social, and economic heritage," Saul-Sena said.
A hundred years ago, Florida cattle were driven across the state to steamships in Tampa, bound for Cuba. Then came the famous Tampa cigar factories staffed by Cuban immigrants. The rise of Fidel Castro, however, led to the U.S. embargo that severed much of Tampa's historical Cuban connection.
The port of Houston recently got authorization to expand its trade with Cuba, and backers of the Tampa-Cuba connection say now is the time to reopen trade here.
Some agricultural trade is allowed under the embargo, and backers say Tampa needs to catch up.
The City Council voted to organize with the County Commission and the Aviation and Port Authorities to steer Tampa back to its longtime Cuban ties.
There are currently several bills in the United States Congress aimed at easing the embargo, but many Cuban exiles, especially in South Florida, are still opposed to lifting it.
US Is $500 Million Supermarket to Cuba
US Is $500 Million Supermarket to CubaPublished: Thursday, 27 May 2010 | 10:00 AM ETBy: Rob ReutemanSpecial to CNBC.comAP
The U.S. businesses that sold $528 million in food products to Cuba last year range from small dairy farmers to multi- billion dollar agribusiness corporations.
But they seem to have one thing in common: they admit to mixing a little social messaging in with their sales.
Take the case of Ralph Kaehler, a St. Charles, Minn., cattleman who shipped the first livestock to Cuba after the U.S. lifted its 52-year trade embargo to allow sales of food products and medical supplies in 2000.
In 2002, news photos of Kaehler's two sons were published around the world as they showed Fidel Castro one of their bulls, named Minnesota Red. (See one of the images below.)
"I'd rather have my boys someday go down there and negotiate a cattle contract than be members of a peacekeeping mission," Kaehler said. "We've never gone to war with a trading partner."
Kaehler is outspoken on the subject of doing business with Cuba, in sharp contrast to the rare and carefully chosen statements on the subject from agribusiness giants like Cargill or Archer Daniels Midland.
The Cuban trade embargo remains a hotly-debated topic of the sort most U.S. companies shy away from. You either believe that economic sanctions should remain in effect until the Cuban dictatorship switches to democracy or you believe that the quickest way to undermine the Cuban government would be to flood the island with U.S. goods and citizens.
Profit hasn't been foremost on Kaehler's list of motives.
"Like my banker says, for the amount of money we've gone through in trading with Cuba, we sure haven't kept much," he said. "We're doing it as much for correcting policy we think is wrong as anything else. And as farmers, we have to promote agriculture whenever we can."
Archer Daniels MidlandSeth Perlman / AP
Decatur, Ill.-based Archer Daniels Midland, with 2009 revenues of nearly $70 billion, was the first U.S. company to sign a contract with Cuba after the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 lifted part of the trade embargo.
By some estimates, ADM now accounts for nearly half of all U.S. food exports to Cuba. But the company doesn't publicize its Cuban trade.
Asked last week about ADM's trade with Cuba, media relations manager Roman Blahoski responded, "We generally do not discuss market conditions. We do not break down revenue by country or region, only by business unit—corn processing, etc.,—so we wouldn't have any revenue information specific to Cuba to provide."
But last year, Tony DeLio, a former vice-president of marketing and public relations at ADM, was quoted by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "We are always concerned when there is a lack of freedom. But as a company, our ability to affect that, and where we can help bring about change, is through trade."
Cargill Inc., one of the world's largest privately owned corporations, also has been doing business with Cuba for 10 years. Since it's privately held, Cargill is not required to file public reports on its financial profile, but its annual sales are estimated at well over $55 billion.
Asked this week about its trade with Cuba, media relations director David Feider responded by e-mail: "I can confirm that Cargill has sold U.S. agricultural commodities now for a number of years—corn, dried distillers' grains, wheat—licensed by the U.S. government under the Trade Sanctions Reform & Export Enhancement Act of 2000 into Cuba."
"This activity is consistent with our longstanding belief that that food is a basic right, and access to it should not be manipulated by governments for political purposes," Feider added.
Florida International University, which annually polls Cuban-American sentiment, identified a tipping point in 2008. For the first time less than half of respondents, 45 percent, supported the continuing U.S. economic embargo. Their 2004 poll showed that 66 percent wanted the embargo to continue.
"The embargo is about the Cuban exiles who backed Batista," Kaehler said. "It's all about old money and old power. Over 70 percent of Cuban Americans weren't alive when the embargo was put in place. All families in Cuba have relatives in the U.S. Just like Mexican families, they all have someone up here making money and sending it home. Even with the embargo and all its impeding circumstances, we're still one of Cuba's top four trading partners."
The U.S. food products now making their way to Cuba include corn from Iowa, cattle from Florida, millions of dozens of eggs from Massachusetts, rice from Texas and apples from Washington state. American coffee, shellfish, bread, wine, cigarettes and pistachios also are exported.
More than 30 states have sent trade missions to Cuba in the past 10 years, eager to do business with an island country of 11.4 million people that has to import 70 percent of its food.
"The more you learn about the embargo, the crazier it gets that we're continuing it," Kaehler said. "The logic of it defies a normal mind.""
Cuban farmers seek fewer government regulations
Posted on Tuesday, 05.18.10Cuban farmers seek fewer government regulationsBy JUAN O. [email protected]
Cuba's independent farmers are strongly urging the government to ease its suffocating controls on agriculture, arguing that they could deliver more and better products if the bureaucrats get out of the way.
“Internal Commerce is superfluous,'' the Juventúd Rebelde newspaper quoted farmer Lázaro Hernández as saying about the government ministry in charge of the sale of food and other goods.
The farmers aired their petitions during the weekend congress of the National Association of Small Farmers, whose 362,440 members — private farmers and members of 3,635 cooperatives — control 41 percent of Cuba's farmlands but account for 70 percent of the production. State farms, usually large-scale enterprises, produce the other 30 percent.
Raúl Castro's financially strapped government has beseeched farmers to step up production so Cuba can reduce food imports that cost $1.5 billion a year and make up 60 percent of all consumption.
But Cuban news reports Monday on the congress reflected the farmers' arguments that it's the bureaucracy that is hampering productivity — and indirectly that capitalist-styled incentives would help.
The vast government-run system for getting products from farm to consumer “has too many people and inflated payrolls,'' Hernández complained at one congress session, according to Juventúd Rebelde, run by the Communist Youth Union.
Tomato prices have risen, he added, "and not because there's fewer tomatoes. The problem is they don't get to market'' because of transportation and distribution problems.
"In the capital, where there used to be 1,300 sales points and now only 600 are left, we need not just 1,300 but 2,000 — and permission for the cooperatives to deliver their merchandise directly," he added.
Maximum prices should be set only for food items most needed by Cubans, Hernández argued, but the rest of the prices should be set by demand and supply as an incentive for farmers to produce more.
Using more circumspect language, the association's official end-of-congress resolutions and Economics Minister Marino Murillo Jorge, in a speech to the farmers Sunday, also reflected Cuba's tough agricultural problems.
Facing farmers' complaints of shortages of basic supplies such as fertilizers, insecticides, fuel for transportation and even horseshoes, Murillo promised the government would open more stores to sell those goods to farmers — but at real, not subsidized prizes.
He also hinted that farmers and their employees would have to start paying income taxes. One congress resolution said taxes would be OK but urged they be based on income. The government often imposes flat taxes on independent economic activity.
In its official declarations, the association urged the government to speed up the delivery of water services to farms and credits for the 60,000 farmers who have been loaned fallow state lands as part of a recent campaign to increase production.
Half the 2.5 million acres handed out under that program are not yet in full production because of various problems, Murillo acknowledged. Another 2.5 million acres of fallow lands have yet to be handed out, he added.
One declaration recommended “directly linking cooperatives to (the issue of) resolving the needs of the people'' and that farmers be allowed to sell directly to tourism enterprises — both moves designed to remove the bureaucracy from the food distribution chain and maximize profits for the farmers.
The document also called on the government to allow the cooperatives more autonomy, saying they are now required to sign production and other contracts with state enterprises — which then charge commissions on the deals.
The government also should end the “noxious practice'' of requiring that cattle and other livestock be kept in corrals — so they won't be stolen — instead of allowing them to pasture freely, the document added.
Milk should be priced according to the season — cows produce more in the rainy season — and the government should allow farmers in eastern Cuba to grow tobacco so they can supply the cigarettes factory in eastern Holguín that now depends on tobacco from Western Cuba, according to the declaration.
The farmers also asked to be allowed to grow and sell ornamental plants and flowers — “including floral arrangements, the production of floral wreaths and direct sales … to provide our modest contribution to the development of Cuban floriculture.''
In his speech to the farmers, Murillo announced the government had developed a five-year plan to increase domestic agricultural production so that the country could cut $800 million worth of food imports per year, but gave few details of the plan.
The government will promote the decentralization of agriculture, he said, mentioning the 17 towns already in a pilot “suburban agriculture'' program in which farms close to towns are selling only in those towns, bypassing the bureaucracy and transportation costs.
But Murillo, reflecting the government's reluctance to give up control of the food chain, also said the government and farmers must work together to eliminate “illegal intermediaries'' — Cubans who buy products from farmers and resell them in cities at higher prices.
“We're not questioning the income from the hard work of the peasants, but the incomes obtained by those who profit from the illegal commerce … and abuse our people,'' Murillo declared.
For Cubans, transition ahead
For Cubans, transition aheadBy Ted MannUpdated 03/28/2010 03:18 AM
Still recovering from post-Cold War changes, the country seeks a new economic reality
Reporter Ted Mann and photojournalist Sean D. Elliot traveled to Cuba last week with the Amistad, the reproduction schooner built at the Mystic Seaport. In 1839, the original Amistad was homeported in Cuba when it was sent to ferry kidnap-ped Africans bound for slavery.
Matanzas, Cuba – Fernando Chacón is an oil engineer by training. In the 1980s, he studied the trade on state-sponsored sabbatical in the Soviet Union. He speaks fluent English, but also Russian, Italian and German, among other languages.
Still, here in the sleepy countryside between the industrial port city of Matanzas and the tourist resort beaches of Varadero, Chacón is working as a tour guide at La Dionisia, the former site of a coffee plantation that held around 200 African and Afro-Cuban slaves. Chacón handles the tour groups that arrive in the new blue-and-white air-conditioned buses (they are Yutongs, made in China and found throughout greater Havana these days), making a quick circuit of the ruined outbuildings of the place, hoping for a convertible peso or two as a tip at tour’s end.
Despite his training, Chacón does this job by choice: The money, pesos here and there from the dozens of Ukrainians, Canadians and even Americans who will pass through today, is better this way.
The visit of the schooner Amistad to Cuba was intended by its organizers to provide a chance for Cubans and Americans to examine their shared history of racial discrimination and interchange. But for the small group of Americans who sailed the ship here or came to meet it, the trip has also provided a unique perspective on a Cuba in flux, one trying to maintain the systems and ideals of the revolución that is now in its 52nd year, even as national leaders court a new tourism sector that is, at its heart, a capitalist enterprise.
And while the political subtext of U.S.-Cuban relations was constantly on the mind of American and Cubans alike during the course of the Amistad visit, the treatment of internal political dissidents here was treated with a notable silence.
Scarcely a word about the Damas de Blanco, or Women in White, who were in the midst of seven days’ worth of marches through Havana as the Amistad’s support crew arrived in the capital. The marches, which were reportedly disrupted by counter-demonstrators loyal to the government and by police, mark the seventh anniversary of the Castro regime’s imprisonment of more than 100 dissidents considered by Amnesty International to be political prisoners.
For their part, some Cubans interviewed here in the past week believed that international attention to the dissident protests, and to the February death of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in a hunger strike over prison conditions, have been greatly overplayed by foreign press opposed to Castro.
But Cubans are remarkably matter-of-fact about the stress points in this economic system, which by some measures is experiencing significant gains, while still perpetuating significant burdens for Cuban citizens.
At the center of the country’s economic conundrum is the convertible peso, or CUC, which was introduced, along with the decriminalization of foreign currencies and tourism businesses, to help Cuba escape the so-called Periodo Especial that followed the collapse of Communist regimes – and major Cuban trading partners – in the early 1990s.
That recession remains the dark shadow of what is seen in the U.S. as one of the brightest developments of the booming 1990s: the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse, one by one, of authoritarian Communist regimes all over Europe. The end of the Cold War was hailed by politicians from both parties in the United States, and as recently as last year’s presidential election, invoked by President Barack Obama and others as the triumph of American principles of economic freedom throughout the world.
Meanwhile in Cuba, multiple Cuban sources said in conversations last week, the sudden elimination of trading partners like East Germany and the U.S.S.R. slashed the nation’s gross domestic product by as much as 35 percent.
Oil and petroleum products, of which Cuba produces very little of its own, virtually disappeared.
“We didn’t have blackouts,” said Michel Rodriguez, who works as a translator for Cuban officials and helped facilitate the Amistad visit. The surprise, she said, was when the lights came on at all.
Cubans had trained for a generation for a “Special Period in Time of War,” said Rodriguez. Instead, they found themselves mobilizing for a “Special Period in Time of Peace,” he said, mobilizing against an assault by economic forces, rather than military ones.
Rodriguez, like other Cubans who spoke of the period last week, remembers the period of austerity in clear detail.
A university student throughout the Special Period, Rodriguez was among the thousands living in the housing developments and neighborhoods east of Havana who rode painfully heavy, Chinese-made bicycles to the mouth of the harbor tunnel that leads to central Havana. There, those masses waited to load themselves and their bikes onto convoys of buses for the trip through the tunnel, only to begin peddling up through the city on the other side.
Thousands rode the so-called “camel” buses around the city and countryside – giant trucks, their open beds covered with canvas awnings to ward off the weather, or simply hitchhiked.
Rolling in a tour bus along the Vía Blanca through the neighborhoods around Playa de Este, the jovial Jorge Diaz pointed out the neighborhoods where residents struggled to raise government-issued chickens for food at the height of the ’90s austerity program (most of the chickens died, he said) and the routes followed by the camel buses to shuttle workers into the city.
“Now we hear everyone talk about a world economic crisis,” he said, grinning. “Come on! We are professionals at that.”
Fuel shortages meant that busy avenues of Havana, like the Paseo Martí and the iconic seaside boulevard of the Malecón, were stilled.
“You could go out to the middle of the street and lie down for three or four hours and not be hit by any bus or car,” Rodriguez said.
Today, those same streets are once again full of Chinese-made vehicles.
Now, they are the ubiquitous blue and white Yutong buses, along with Chinese-made sedans like the Geelys that augment Havana’s legendary automobile traffic of 50-year-old Chevys and barely held-together Soviet Ladas.
In the heyday of its alliances with communist governments around the Eastern Bloc, 70 percent of Cuba’s economy was exports, Rodriguez said, including coffee, sugar and cigars.
Now, 70 percent of the post-Special Period Cuban economy revolves around tourism, primarily in Havana and in the coastal resort town of Varadero, just down the coast from Matanzas, but also from developing centers in the east, including the province of Holguín. Cuban leaders hope to attract more direct air travel to such sites, Rodriguez said, to entice even more vacationers.
The country has also moved aggressively to tap its natural resources, using foreign investment to spur the development of nickel-mining operations.
And Diaz, shepherding his American charges along the Malecón, shares another daydream of national officials: the possibility of moving the remaining industrial port facilities that line the Havana harbor out to Mariel in the west, leaving the entirety of its downtown piers vacant for a hoped-for surge in cruise-ship visits. In the daydream version, the financing is arranged through one of Cuba’s sympathetic local neighbors, such as Brazil.
In Havana, the cobble-stoned streets of Habana Vieja play host to armies of tourists speaking foreign tongues, bearing bright-colored backpacks and spending their multicolored CUC bills by the thousands.
But that surge in economic activity in the official currency of tourists, the CUC, isn’t necessarily trickling down for all Cubans, who receive the separate, Cuban peso – a far less valuable currency – in salary for government-controlled jobs, and must use it to purchase a narrow variety of goods that recipients said scarcely rises above the level of subsistence.
Talking late one night in a hotel bar in Matanzas, after his shift had concluded at a nearby dance club and restaurant, a Cuban named Alexander said $5 CUC would make up roughly half of his weekly ration of Cuban pesos, which he used to pay for beans, rice and other staples. Commodities Americans would consider essential, from deodorant and toilet paper to new shoes, must be purchased with as many CUC as people like Alexander can scrape together through tips, black market services for tourists and occasionally a quiet request for a gift from a sympathetic foreigner.
But even the possession of CUC by someone in his position was a risk, Alexander said.
“For me, for having one peso, I could be in jail,” he said in English. “For talking to you, I could be in jail. Cuba is like Haiti, like Dominican Republic. But in Haiti, you can say it is a bad country. Not in Cuba. I could be dead for that in Cuba.”
To understand the economy, he added, “you need to go in the streets.”
There, contradictions reign.
The quiet necessity of CUC is demonstrated again and again. A young man who drives his souped-up 1955 Chevy as a private cab for a pair of American visitors apologetically insists on depositing his fares around the corner from the Parque de la Libertad, away from the police at the corner of the square. He is earning convertibles on the sly.
In several days of walking in the streets of Matanzas, countless residents expressed surprise and delight to discover Americans walking through the residential neighborhoods that climb the hills up from the port, though several wondered aloud if the visitors were lost, trying to find Varadero.
But the country also maintains a fierce pride in its independence, from the 19th-century martyrdom of the national icon Jose Martí to the boastful wall slogans and billboards erected by the Party of the People’s Power to commemorate the continuing of the revolution of 1959.
“Defendemos la patria y la revolución con las ideas y las armas hasta la ultima gota de sangre,” reads the sign outside the pillared entrance to the Port of Matanzas, where the Amistad docked for three days. It is a quote from Fidel Castro: “We will defend the fatherland and the revolution with our ideas and our weapons until the last drop of blood.”
Back in the hilly neighborhoods behind the port, a young, muscular man who gave his name as Carlos is sitting on a concrete stoop on a long staircase that rises up the side of a bluff to Calle 63 over the Rio Yumuri. Asked his profession, he says simply, “nada,” and when asked what he might do for work in the future, he shrugs and smiles, eventually conceding that it is a complicated question.
A mile or so down the slope, in an alley between two houses, Yainiel Rodriguez Marckintoch is cutting a friend’s hair. To them, the major obstacle to economic progress and improvements in quality of life for Cubans remains the U.S. embargo.
“It should be ended,” says Jorge Aerrí, who is sitting beside his friend. The effect of the embargo has been “very bad” for generations of Cubans, he adds.
Still, in private conversations, Cubans here concede that the current socialist system yields its own problems.
For an example, one individual suggested, consider the system of housing: The majority of Cubans do not own their apartments in Havana and Matanzas, but live in those assigned to their families after the redistribution of property that followed the revolution.
The only legal transfer of such properties is by passing them down to descendants, or in apartment swaps in which no money is supposed to change hands.
In practice, the individual said, this simply means that a small family searching for a bigger place to live must save up enough in CUC to conduct an under-the-table purchase of a new apartment, a transaction that leaves buyer and purchaser alike vulnerable to exposure and substantial legal penalties.
After land reforms during and after the Special Period, farmers can pool land into cooperatives to improve economies of scale, and some privately own livestock like cattle, as opposed to those that are the property of the government. But a farmer cannot slaughter his own cattle for meat – the beef for the ropa vieja in the tourist restaurants of Habana Vieja is either government-slaughtered or imported.
“So smart guajiros tie the cow near the railway,” the individual said, using the Cuban term for peasant. “When the train comes” – he smacked his fist into his palm – “they say, ‘act of God.’”
But the same individual, admitting frustration with some of the government’s policies, nonetheless did not subscribe to the sharp rhetoric of President Obama, who criticized “disturbing” human rights conditions and the government of Raúl Castro last week, just as the Amistad was making its visit to Havana.
The failure of such economic conditions to trigger a more overt opposition to the existing power structures in Cuba is something even vocal dissidents in the country acknowledge.
“For those of us with the illusion that people are preoccupied by the most burning issues of the day, it’s always a little frustrating to come across a group of men shouting and gesticulating passionately, not about how to end the country’s dual monetary system, nor how to reclaim some right they’ve been cheated out of, but only about whether some play was the right thing to do, or who, among all the players, is the best batter,” wrote Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog Generation Y, in a post last week about the ongoing Cuban baseball finals between Industriales of Havana and their rivals from Villa Clara.
A costly struggle
Ricardo Alarcón opens with a joke. As president of the National Assembly of the People’s Power, he acts as the speaker of the legislative chamber, which means he rarely has to speak, but instead orders others to take the floor.
Alarcón, one of the most powerful politicians in Cuba, is speaking at a late-evening reception on the open terrace of the Ludwig Foundation in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado, flanked by Cuban artists, the leaders of Amistad America and others who arranged the quasi-diplomatic visit that is the schooner’s trip to Cuba.
Alarcón is speaking primarily about the struggle for racial equality that is the primary subject of the Amistad event, but toward the end of his remarks, he interjects a note on economics. Other nations around the Caribbean threw off the yoke of colonial power as Cuba did, he notes, but too often entered independence with the same structures of racial and class hierarchy in place.
“From the very first day, that struggle was indivisible from the struggle of black people who had been exploited and overexploited in this island,” he says.
Other countries have tried less radical change, and have retreated from the 1959 ideal of mandating equality even if only harsh measures will work. But not Cuba, Alaracón says.
“And that is the reason why this struggle has been so difficult, why it has cost us so dearly.”
Cuba, Failing Under Communism, Launches Green Revolution
Cuba, Failing Under Communism, Launches Green RevolutionCuba Surrounds Towns With Organic Farms to Lessen Dependence on Imported FoodBy MARC FRANKFeb. 15, 2010
The government of Cuba, chronically poor and forced to import most of its food, is fighting back by going green. It is surrounding its urban areas with thousands of organic farms, as part of a five-year plan under President Raul Castro to make the country's food supply low-cost and environmentally-friendly.
The plan calls for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables, and raise some livestock, in four-mile rings around 150 cities and towns.
Bulk foods such as rice, beans, pork and plantains will still be produced mainly by state farms and cooperatives farther from urban areas, as will food for the capital, Havana.
The other day, as the sun same up over the beltway surrounding Camaguey, Cuba's third largest city, men and women were plowing fields with oxen, building protective coverings for crops, hoeing the earth and putting up fencing. The Camaguey area is being used as the pilot project for the new plan.
The quaint little city, where horse-drawn wagons and bicycles outnumber cars and the 320,000 inhabitants take their time going about their daily lives, will eventually have 1,400 plots and small farms covering 130,000 acres, according to the agriculture ministry, producing 75 percent of Camaguey's food.
The project is modeled after the hundreds of smaller urban gardens developed under Raul Castro during the economic depression that followed the collapse of communism in Europe. Cuba's defense minister said at the time that beans were more important than cannons.
Only organic materials are used on the farms. The government is trying to revive soils threatened by large-scale state farming and salt from rising sea-levels.
"This land they gave to us, the private farmers. I have four hectares (10 acres) and now they have leased me eight more," said Camilo Mendoza, a Camaguey-area farmer with a Florida cap on his head.
Mendoza said he grew fruit tree saplings on his farm, but his new plot would be sown with Yuka, a root vegetable that is a Cuban favorite.
A few years ago a dense brush, known as Marabu, covered the area for as far as the eye could see, making it useless even for the area's traditional cattle ranching.
State Monopoly Eased
Just a few minutes from the city, Mendoza said urban residents had joined the farmers to clear the brush.
Authorities hope small-scale farming close to urban areas will entice city residents, laid-off from jobs in Cuba's bloated bureaucracy, back to the land. Farming in Cuba has had a labor shortage for years.
The plan also seeks to save on the cost of transporting goods to market, rely less on expensive and fuel-consuming machinery and ensure a greater variety of fresh produce.
Mendoza pointed around the fields: "Look, on this side and the other side are other plots, and over there another. Here they have given quite a bit of land and support to private farmers," he said.
For the first time farmers can sell part of what they produce directly to licensed street vendors and consumers at stands set up every mile or so along the beltway.
The communist government monopolizes the sale of farm goods and controls most of the land in Cuba.
Castro has made a priority of cutting imports and putting more food on Cubans' sometimes-sparse dinner tables since taking over for his ailing brother Fidel two years ago.
Under the sustainable agriculture project, the government is leasing fallow state lands to some 100,000 mainly-private farmers. It has decentralized decision-making. It has allowed farmers to raise prices.
"The suburban agriculture plan aims at the rational exploitation of land around cities and other populated areas," Rodriguez Nodal, head of the program and the man who led the widely acclaimed urban gardens' development, said at a meeting last week.
Nodal called for the elimination of bureaucracy so that produce reaches consumers fresh and in good condition.
Experts Want Markets
On the other side of Camaguey and a few miles up the central highway, Armando, the head of a cattle cooperative, said they were persuaded to join the plan when the state offered them more land to raise garden and root vegetables and the chance to sell some of what they produced directly to the population.
"In December we produced around five tons. The root vegetables we had to sell to the state, but we were free to sell the garden vegetables directly," he said, adding growing and selling vegetables was a first for his cooperative.
"In the case of the suburban plan there are no chemicals or anything else that can damage the environment," Armando said.
Plans in Cuba are made not to be broken, a local saying goes.
While foreign and local experts applaud the project, they are skeptical it can meet its goals without the establishment of free markets where farmers can buy their supplies and sell their produce.
"It will take a lot of seed. Let's see if the state can provide it on a timely basis," one man said, asking that his name not be used.
Castro has opened shops where farmers for the first time can buy work clothes and basics such as fencing and machetes, but fuel, seed, irrigation systems and the like are still centrally allocated.
Mendoza and Armando said Cuba has not moved to free markets. The state still sets prices for their produce.
"They are prices that benefit us, but not exaggerated, in reach of the people with little money," Armando said.
Few of the farmers around Camaguey were ready to commit to the suburban development scheme's long-term success. But they said they were encouraged that it was based mainly on their efforts, not state farms.
"For sure, there will be more food around here if you come back in a few years," quipped Mendoza. "More than that I can't say."
Cuba Seeks Agricultural Reform By Way of Organic Farms – ABC News (15 February 2010)http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/cuba-seeks-agricultural-reform-organic-farms/story?id=9807482
Cuba looks to suburban farms to boost food output
Cuba looks to suburban farms to boost food outputSun Feb 7, 2010 2:56pm GMTBy Marc Frank
CAMAGUEY, Cuba (Reuters) – Cuba has launched an ambitious project to ring urban areas with thousands of small farms in a bid to reverse the country's long agricultural decline and ease its chronic economic woes.
The five-year plan calls for growing fruits and vegetables and raising livestock in 4-mile-wide (6.5 kilometer) rings around 150 of Cuba's cities and towns, with the exception of the capital Havana.
The island's Communist authorities hope suburban farming will make food cheaper and more abundant, cut transportation costs, be less reliant on machinery and encourage urban dwellers to leave bureaucratic jobs for more productive labor.
But the government will continue to hold a monopoly on most aspects of food production and distribution, including its control of most of the land in the Communist-run nation.
The pilot program for the project is being conducted in the central city of Camaguey, which the Cuban agriculture ministry has said eventually will have 1,400 small farms covering 52,000 hectares (128,490 acres), just minutes outside the town.
The farms, mostly in private hands but also including some cooperatives and state-owned enterprises, must grow everything organically, and the ministry expects they will produce 75 percent of the food for the city of 320,000 people, with big state-owned farms providing the rest.
On a recent day, dozens of people were hard at work plowing fields, hoeing earth, posting protective covering for crops and putting up fencing as the sun came up.
"This land they gave to us, the private farmers. I have four hectares (10 acres) and now they have leased me eight (20 acres) more," one of the farmers, Camilo Mendoza, told Reuters.
"Look, on this side and the other side are other plots, and over there another. Here they have given quite a bit of land and support to private farmers," he said.
The project is modeled after the hundreds of urban gardens developed by then-Defense Minister Raul Castro during the deep economic depression of the 1990s that followed the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe.
BEANS, NOT CANNONS
He proclaimed at the time that beans were more important than cannons, marking a strategic shift towards a more domestic focused agenda by Cuban leaders after decades of active support for liberation movements and leftist guerrillas overseas.
The suburban project dovetails with other steps introduced by President Raul Castro since he took over the day-to-day leadership from his ailing elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008.
These have included the leasing of fallow state lands to 100,000 mostly private farmers, raising prices for farm products and allowing farmers to sell part of their crops directly to the people instead of to the state.
On the other side of Camaguey and a few miles up Cuba's central highway, Armando, the head of a cattle cooperative, said his group was persuaded to join the plan by the offer of land to raise garden and root vegetables and the chance for direct sales to the public.
Stands have been set up every mile or so along the city's ring road for the sales, but Armando said they are taking their products to the customers.
"They assigned us a district where we can sell our produce. We are using a mobile system, a bicycle cart, and sell out every day," he said.
"In December we produced around five tonnes. The root vegetables we had to sell to the state, but we were free to sell the garden vegetables directly," he said.
The changes are tweaks to Cuba's centralized socialism, not a major step away from it, keeping with Raul Castro's vow to protect the system put in place after his brother took power in the 1959 Cuban revolution.
He has balked at more sweeping, market-oriented changes that many expected when he took power and without which many economists say Cuba will not significantly increase agricultural output.
Cubans have seen many past government efforts to transform the country's agriculture fail, so the farmers at Camaguey said they were taking a wait-and-see attitude on this latest one.
"For sure there will be more food around here if you come back in a few years," Camilio Mendoza said about his expectations.
"More than that, I can't say."
Cuba looks to suburban farms to boost food output | Top News | Reuters (7 February 2010)http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE61609G20100207?sp=true
Cuba’s Small Farmers Increased Output, Sales in 2009
Cuba's Small Farmers Increased Output, Sales in 2009
HAVANA – Cuban small farmers and agricultural cooperatives increased their sales of products such as milk, rice and pork to the government in 2009 after President Raul Castro introduced measures to boost domestic food production, the official media reported.
The president of the government-supported National Association of Small Farmers, Orlando Lugo Fonte, was quoted as saying the overall results achieved were "positive" but that 2009 also showed "how far the sector still needs to go in terms of organization, efficiency and discipline."
Lugo Fonte, a member of the Council of State, the communist-ruled island's supreme governing body, said there were "advances with a minimum amount of resources" in rice, milk, intensive bull raising and pork that prove Cuba can increase domestic food production – as Castro as urged, calling it a matter of national security.
Gen. Castro, who took the reins in July 2006 after older brother Fidel was stricken with a severe illness, has repeatedly complained about Cuba's poor agricultural productivity, noting that half the island's arable land is sitting unused.
Raul said last year that the "maximum priority" is increasing domestic farm production, given rising international prices and Cuba's reliance on imports for more than 80 percent of the food consumed by the island's 11.2 million residents.
According to Lugo Fonte, 2010 will be an even better year if "the transformations, in terms of both application and process, eliminate the bureaucratic decisions that hinder utilization and development of human and technical potential."
Sales of milk to the government by cooperatives rose 22 percent last year compared to 2008, while more than 40,000 people who have applied for permission from the government to use abandoned lands under usufruct contracts are devoting their efforts to cattle raising.
That increase is the result of a pilot program carried out in more than half of the country's municipalities to promote efforts to supply fresh milk to grocery stores as a substitute for powdered milk imports, which have steadily decreased.
The peasant cooperative sector also accounted for 70 percent of pork sales to the island's government by domestic producers, while small farmers have started experimenting with bull raising and are looking at sugarcane production, also to substitute imports.
"I don't want to create false expectations, but in terms of beef output we're on a good path," Lugo Fonte said.
"Given the positive results in 2009, it's clear that the will of (small) producers is exceeding the initial expectations," the official added.
Cuba is suffering one of its worst economic crises since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in January 1959.
The world economic slump has squeezed Cuba's two main sources of hard currency: nickel exports and tourism, while Cuban families have experienced a decline in remittances from relatives in the United States.
The Cuban economy grew just 1.4 percent in 2009, far from an initial forecast of 6 percent.
Latin American Herald Tribune – Cuba's Small Farmers Increased Output, Sales in 2009 (10 January 2010)http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=350133&CategoryId=14510
Cuban farm reforms sow seeds of enterprise
Cuban farm reforms sow seeds of enterprise12.17.09, 10:26 AM EST* Farming is focus of Raul Castro's tentative reforms* Private farms leased state land in bid to boost output* Cuba fighting to reduce heavy reliance on food importsBy Helen Popper
BEJUCAL, Cuba (Reuters) – Cuban farmer Saudiel Lazaro wears a broad smile under his wide-brimmed hat as he prepares two young oxen to plow fields newly leased as part of state agricultural reforms.Related Stories
Reducing the Communist-run island's heavy dependence on imports of staples like milk, corn and rice is at the heart of a farming shake-up ordered by Raul Castro since he took over as president from his ailing brother Fidel early last year.
In the verdant, palm-dotted countryside south of the capital Havana, farmers say there are signs of change despite frequent shortages of insecticides, fuel and irrigation pipes.
"Things have improved quite a lot. It's not perfect but it is better … I'm happy," Lazaro said in the farmyard of his small-holding near Bejucal, some 20 miles from Havana.
He has started farming an extra five hectares over the last year and he hopes to almost double his harvest of sweet potato next year.
"I sell to the state and next year my quota is for 600 quintals (60 tonnes). If I meet that, the rest is mine, but for me it's better to sell to the state," he said.
As well as leasing idle state-owned land to successful growers, Castro ordered sharp increases in the amount the state pays for farm goods to encourage higher production.
In Bejucal, dairy farmers now get 35 centavos, or less than two U.S. cents, for a liter of milk, but it is more than three times what they got a year or so ago, and the policy seems to be paying off. They also get vouchers that can be redeemed at hard currency stores where many farm goods are sold.
"(Production's) gone up a lot because they're giving the farmers extras like clothing, feed for the cows and wire for fencing," said municipal milk collector Reinaldo Rodriguez, 62, as he filled buckets from a giant churn loaded on a cart.
Pensioners, who along with children get a state milk ration, queued up nearby, clutching their ration books and plastic bottles ready to be refilled.
Raul Castro, a former army chief who is said to view food self-sufficiency as a matter of national security, launched the program to lease 1.69 million hectares of fallow state land to private farmers late last year.
Family farms and cooperatives occupy about 20 percent of Cuba's farmland, but the head of the ANAP small growers' association, Orlando Lugo, says they supply 60 percent of its rice, 65 percent of milk and 80 percent of beans and corn.
Parcels of vacant state-owned land have already been leased out to 70,000 farmers, Lugo told state media last week.
Castro has also moved to trim bureaucracy, breaking large and inefficient state farms into smaller units and reassigning administrative staff to production roles.
Castro's concern with food security means he is more open to reforms in agriculture even if they run counter to the principles of the 1959 revolution led by his brother Fidel.
"Cuba desperately needs to try to improve agricultural output to try to reduce the food import bill, so the economic reforms in agriculture have been a necessary evil," said William Messina, an agricultural economist at the University of Florida who has researched Cuba.
Cuba imports about two thirds of what it eats and that is straining the cash-strapped country's trade and current account balances, already hurting due to falling tourism and exports.
Food imports cost the nation of 11 million people $2.2 billion last year, some $700 million of that from its top food supplier, the United States. Much of that was basic goods such as rice and beans which it could easily grow for itself.
However, while state newspapers are full of stories about efficient new cattle feedlots and bumper harvests, and rice and bean production have picked up, government statistics have yet to show an upward turn in overall output. Two severe hurricanes caused severe agricultural losses last year.
Cuba has also been unable to take advantage of a boom in international prices for its main export crop, sugar, with production stagnant at around 1.3 million tonnes.
When Raul Castro became president in February 2008, many Cubans expected more sweeping economic reforms and some have been disappointed at the pace of change.
Cuba's National Assembly meets Sunday, but few analysts expect Castro to extend the changes seen in farming to other industries even as the global slowdown aggravates the island's economic woes.
"New reforms will likely be minor and gradually implemented," said Paolo Spadoni at Tulane University's Center for Inter-American Policy and Research. "(But) I think Raul Castro will deepen the reform process in agriculture because overall production is still largely insufficient."
Even if farmers are able to turn overgrown scrubland into productive fields, a lack of trucks, containers and processing plants risks undermining the efforts and critics say the government needs to implement deeper free-market reforms.
State media carry stories of tomato crops rotting in the fields because no one collected them and the government is trying to decentralize food commercialization as well as production to make it more responsive to sudden gluts and consumer needs.
Patchy supplies of agrochemicals and fertilizer, which officials normally blame on the U.S. trade embargo, have forced Cuban growers to embrace organic techniques and some see the country as a model for ecological agriculture.
On the outskirts of Bejucal, the Romerico Cordero market garden cooperative uses multicolored insect traps to lure bugs away from the neat rows of carrots, onions and radishes. But organic methods are not always enough.
"We do need certain supplies in order to increase productivity," said Jose Jeoba, 49, head of the market garden, as workers thinned out tomato plants from the rich, red soils.
"What we need the most is manure and fertilizer and insecticides," he said. "We've lost entire crops because we've had nothing to put on them." ($1 = 26.5 Cuban pesos) (With additional reporting by Milexsy Duran and Marc Frank; Editing by Kieran Murray)
FEATURE-Cuban farm reforms sow seeds of enterprise – Forbes.com (17 December 2009)http://www.forbes.com/feeds/reuters/2009/12/17/2009-12-17T152627Z_01_N17158850_RTRIDST_0_CUBA-FARMING-FEATURE-PIX-TV.html
Citrus harvest underway
Cuba: Citrus harvest underway
The processing of grapefruit began at the industrial enterprise of Ceballos town in Ciego de Ávila province.
Domingo Escalante Pérez, deputy director of the industrial unit, said fruits come from Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila, while the workers of the Avilanian factory do their best to obtain a high-quality product and make rational use of the electric power.
State citrus growers, the Cooperative sector, as well as Peasants, share the same purpose, not to waste a single grapefruit, since the exquisite juice of this fruit is in great demand in Europe.
Escalante Pérez pointed out that the second stage of the season will start in January with the storing of orange for the industry, the local markets and the tourist sector.
The husks of those fruits are intended for cattle raising, especially for dairy cows, which helps to counteract the damages of the dry season, as stated by Rolando Rodríguez, the head of cattle raising.
The Avilanian industry also mills guava, papaya, mango, banana and pineapple. It is the only unit in Cuba that produces precooked French fries both for exports and the local markets.
The industry is also ready to face the next the tomato season. The production of tomato paste and sauce helps to substitute imports.
During the first semester of this year they processed over 9 000 tons of that vegetable. Some 20 000 tons of that vegetable should be gathered in Ciego de Ávila next season, most of which is intended for the preserve industry, as asserted by Rolando Macías, deputy delegate of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Publication date: 12/4/2009Cuba: Citrus harvest underway (4 December 2009)http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail.asp?id=55067