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The food crisis in Cuba is another proof of the inefficiency of the communist party

The crisis in Cuba is weighing down the performance of its farmers, a fundamental piece for the little food that reaches the people, which reinforces the spiral of shortages, inflation and massive importation of agricultural products.

Producers like Lázaro Sánchez, face daily the lack of fuel, difficulties in acquiring fertilizers and pesticides, and even delays in payments by the Communist Party.

In communist Cuba, the Regime has a predominant role in the entire production process, since it is the supplier of inputs and the one who buys the crops, even though the lands are in the hands of peasants.

Many economists doubt that in the current situation this system is relevant and effective. While the Ministry of Agriculture is mute on this issue and remains motionless without making any decisions.

From his family farm in Guanabacoa, on the outskirts of Havana, Sánchez explains that sometimes he cannot get hold of pesticides, most of which are imported, because the authorities “prioritize other crops such as potatoes, cane and tobacco” and is exposed to pests.

This farmer produces vegetables, grains and tubers and has a contract with the State that allows him to request credits, inputs and sell his products.

Lázaro regrets that a few months ago he sold a cabbage production to the Communist Party at 25 Cuban pesos (approximately 15 cents in the dollar at the prevailing exchange rate on the island) per unit, but that “it took more than three months to pay for it.”

“I lost some money with which I pay the farm workers’ wages, in addition to an investment that took time to recover,” he lamented.

Like Sánchez, there are many peasants in Cuba who complain about the conditions in which they currently have to work.

The sum of the pandemic and the errors in Diaz-Canel’s internal economic policy have led Cuba to a multidimensional crisis that has caused for months a severe shortage of basic products – from medicines to fuel, including food -, high inflation and growing dollarization.

At present, barely 48.7% of arable land is planted in Cuba.

Agriculture Minister Ydael Pérez acknowledged that 2021 was one of the worst years for food production in the last decade, even for iconic Cuban crops such as sugar and tobacco.

The dictatorship, which approved a Food Security Law this year, admitted that “Cuban agriculture does not achieve the production levels necessary to meet the demand for products for different destinations.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently estimated that the Caribbean island must import about 80% of what it consumes.

Orelvis Morales owns a farm linked to a Credit and Services Cooperative, a type of agricultural management where the producer is the owner of the land, but is associated to contract services and carry out procedures through the State.

This soldier who lives in Bauta (west) points out that he gives the State up to six liters of milk a day of the almost 40 that he produces. The State pays 9 pesos for each liter if the quota is met, if not only 7.50.

Morales, who recognizes that supplies are scarce, explains however that he has extended his “hobby” to agriculture and grows vegetables, tubers, corn, avocado and even planted 4,000 rose bushes.

PRICES FOR THE CLOUDS

Sánchez sells a hand of bananas to the State for 15 pesos and on the street it is easily around 30.

According to testimonies collected in the field and different establishments, the jump could be even greater: food in stores reaches up to triple the value agreed with the farmer.

“People complain about the prices and blame the farmers,” laments Sánchez.

The Cuban regime does not regularly publish a Consumer Price Index (CPI), but the authorities recognized that in 2021 inflation reached 70% in the regulated market and experts estimate that in the majority informal market it exceeded 500%.

This rebound has different reasons: from the scarcity itself to the use of imports, through the controversial implementation of a state network of stores that sell basic products only in foreign currency.

Currently, a carton of 30 eggs can cost between 800 and 1,000 Cuban pesos on the informal market, a pound (450 grams) of tomatoes about 150 pesos, and a pound of pork can reach 300 pesos.

Those prices have been rising for months and are increasing almost daily – like those of so many other basics – in a country where the minimum wage is around 2,100 pesos and pensions are 1,528 pesos.

The Cuban regime subsidizes a series of basics through the supply book, but this basket has been reduced and does not cover basic needs at all.

63 MEASURES

Last year, the Cuban dictatorship approved 63 measures to increase agricultural production and reduce spending on food imports, which exceeds 2,000 million dollars a year. Absolutely none have worked.

The package included lowering electricity and water rates for farmers, reducing the price of animal feed, and allowing farmers to market surplus beef, milk, and dairy products after selling their share to the state.

For the economist Tamarys Lien, the situation in Cuban agriculture is linked to other structural problems and requires solutions of greater magnitude.

“The crisis in the agricultural sector is related to energy and fuel shortages, but also to the functioning and forms of integration of this sector of the economy,” she says.

In her opinion, “we should expand the opportunities given to peasants and the independence to act and the ways they have to establish contracts, whether with local governments or foreign investors.”

That the State is the first possible buyer of agricultural products makes no sense or reason for being at this point, and it should be eliminated.

Just as it would be necessary to eliminate the restrictions that the regime continues to give the peasant in terms of diesel, seeds and the box to collect the tomatoes, in addition to the fact that he buys most (of the products) and establishes prices.”

Although the Cubans recognize that what must be eliminated is communism, which would solve all the previous problems.

At a global level, financial measures without a productive support, passing through industry or agriculture, will not have the growth of the Gross Domestic Product that the economy needs and that later translates into well-being for the population.

In short, the situation in the countryside is not a simple circumstantial trance that is resolved with lists of measures.

The crisis of agricultural yields requires the development of a modern private agriculture, including institutional transformations (property and market) and a lot of investment.

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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