Re: IF IT WERE JUST THE MARABÚ
- From: <T.Schmidt.Teddy@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2010 11:03:39 -0600
A los colombianos no nos importa tus estúpidas ideas sobre Cuba. Postea en
soc.culture.cuba, allá te van a dar tu merecido.
P.S. Paul Lamot es un agente provocador del Imperio y de los gusanos de
"PL" <pl.nospam@xxxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
IF IT WERE JUST THE MARABÚ . . .
CUBA'S AGRICULTURE 2009-10
"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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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 86.1
Bananas and plantains 670.4 -11.6 82.7 84.5
Horticultural crops 2548.8 4.5 82.1 80.4
Paddy rice 563.6 29.3 87.5 85.8
Corn 304.8 -6.4 93.4 91.8
Beans 110.8 14.0 97.0 94.5
Citrus fruits 418.0 6.7 37.9 38.8
Other fruits 748.0 1.3 92.2 90.8
Deliveries for slaughter, live weight
Beef 130.0 4.9 n.a. n.a.
Pigs 271.0 -7.2 41.0 44.8
Poultry meat 42.6 <0.5 77.8 77.9
Cow milk 600.3 10.0 86.4 86.4
Eggs 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 90.8
Bananas and plantains 106.4 27.2 82.7 88.8
Horticultural crops 278.6 7.5 86.7 88.4 Paddy rice 215.8 38.7 88.0 87.6
Corn 204.0 57.9 91.2 95.5
Beans 150.6 58.0 94.9 96.3
Citrus fruits 47.9 5.0 54.0 62.2
Other 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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
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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