At the recent meeting of the Council of Ministers, an economic performance report for the first six months of 2017 revealed that Cuban agriculture production results are varied. Some crop production has increased, some meets its targets and other crops fall short of the goals. Infrastructure, natural events, lack of modern farming equipment and transportation of crops to market are the major obstacles facing efforts to increase agricultural production.
Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Minister of Economy and Planning said, “In order to fulfill the plan, work continues on the adoption of measures related to prioritized activities which are critical to the economy’s vitality.”
It goes without saying that increasing agriculture production is vital to the economy, feeding its citizens and reducing reliance on food imports, currently standing at 70 – 80%.
Vegetables, sugar cane, fruits, and tobacco crops all appear to be meeting 2017 targets and, in some cases, surpassing those targets. This year, the tobacco harvest is the best in over a decade at 19,000 tonnes, but fell short of the target of 30,000 tonnes.
The same cannot be said of cattle (beef) and milk production. Although there seems to be an increase in cattle and cattle farms in recent years, it is estimated that beef production will take another 10 years until Cubans see steak on their plates.
Sugar cane production is experiencing a revival. Once Cuba’s main export, sugar cane production declined in the 1990s due to falling global prices and infrastructure insufficiency. Today, sugar cane production is up 20% over last year, but still falls short of targets by 300,000 tons.
Cuba is seeking to diversify sugar cane crop which is now used for rum, candy and cattle feed. Carlos Gonzalez, head of AZCUBA‘s Derivatives Group said, “The industry is being revived again.” Today, the government has been investing in sugar production for distilleries, glucose and sorbitol plants, and using bagasse made from fibrous sugarcane waste for energy production.
Tobacco farmers have met growth targets and cigar sales are up with the increase in tourism.
Tropical fruit crops are also doing well except in cases where drought or plant disease affects fruit farming. The province of Ciego de Ávila produced 55,856 metric tons in 2016. Coconut, pineapple, mango, avocado, guava, mango and papaya crop production is up by six thousand tons.
In an effort to increase agriculture production and bring farmers back to the land, the Cuban government has extended leases on state owned land from 10 to 20 years so these lands continue to be farmed. The leasing of land first began in 2008 and today 31% of Cuba’s farm land is leased to farms. Land leases are granted under the conditions that a Cuban farmer will both manage and work the land.
However the demand for farm land leases is down because the available land is far from towns and services, invaded by marabu weed and water irrigation and supply for crops is a problem.
There a few substantial obstacles hindering increased agricultural production. These are problems of infrastructure, modernization of farming equipment and what I would describe as natural events. Natural obstacles include drought, water supply and irrigation and crop disease (the Huanglongbin epidemic) as well as the invasive marabu weed. For example, water supply reservoirs for rice farming are functioning at just over 25% of capacity.
Transportation of agricultural crops to market is still a hurdle. What cannot be transported by railway is delivered by road and last year’s road deliveries totaled 9.4 million tons. Road transportation is hampered by the lack of a transnational highway connecting the east to the west. Yes, there is the Carreterra Central of Cuba but it drops off dead at midpoint of the west-east journey.
Improving transportation infrastructure is crucial for economic development. A highway connecting the country is desperately needed for transportation of goods through Cuba. After the Carreterra Central, the road becomes sometimes a two lane highway and sometimes a dangerous three lane highway whereby the third lane is used for fast cars passing slower drivers in either direction). I can only imagine a high speed head-on collision is a common occurrence.
The road from Sancti Spiritus travels through towns and cities, slowing down cross-country traffic. What’s needed are ring roads around the towns (not only for transportation purposes but also to protect its people) and an extension of the two lane Carreterra Central from Sancti Spiritus to the East.
The Carreterra Central is a high traffic route and hazardously over-crowded with small trucks, big trucks, rental cars and 1950s classic cars, bici-taxis, bicycles, pedestrians crossing the road here, there and anywhere, and wayward cattle.
Cuba needs to connect itself from east to west and develop road infrastructure to link its people, cities and ports by a rapid route. It will take many years and financial investment to built such a highway. Maybe the excellent Carreterra Central from Havana to Sancti Spiritus should be a toll road to finance future road construction. A central highway from the Port of Mariel to the Port of Santiago de Cuba is “critical to the economy’s vitality.” Agriculture production and the transportation of food to market vital to this economy and to the Cuban people.