Agricultural production in the Cuban province of Artemisa, the former breadbasket of Havana, has fallen sharply. in recent years, as on the entire island which is now forced to import 100% of its basic foodstuffs.
Several specialists have recently warned of the risks of food insecurity on the communist island, while the authorities are responsible for providing 11 million Cubans with essential foods at subsidized prices through a rationing system, the famous “libreta “.
In the province of Artemisa, neighboring that of Havana, a farmer who wants to remain anonymous, recognizes that the land is “splendid”, but that there “is a lack of fertilizer, manure, of seeds”.
The farmer is part of a cooperative that used to receive all these inputs from the authorities, but now “they don't give anything”, he told AFP, while picking onions in his field.
A farmer sitting on a bag of sweet potatoes in a field in Alquizar, in the province of Artemisa, on September 29, 2023 in Cuba © AFP – Yamil LAGE
“The tractors are in poor condition, we have no resources, no fuel, we do not receive oil or tires. We have to work the land with a small yoke of an ox,” he laments.
In the past, each municipality in Artemisa had a center to store and market crops, but “these sheds are almost non-existent, there is no way to market or transport crops “, he laments.
Not far from there, in another field, Jesus, who does not want to give his last name, has been working the land for 40 years. According to him, the yield of malanga cultivation, a tuber popular with Cubans, has fallen by half.
This field “yields four to six bags per furrow, before it was double,” he says, his feet buried in the damp earth.
– Costa Rican eggs –
According to official figures, agricultural production fell by 35% between 2019 and 2023.
A farmer harvests sweet potatoes in Alquizar, in the province of Artemisa, on September 29, 2023 in Cuba © AFP – Yamil LAGE
Sugar production plummeted from 816,000 tonnes in 2020-2021 to 470,000 tonnes in 2021 -2022. Rice and black beans, staple foods of Cubans, are mostly imported.
“We have a law on food sovereignty and there is no food, we are going to pass a law to promote breeding and we have no livestock, we have a law on fishing (… ) and there are no fish”, President Miguel Diaz-Canel emphasized to the deputies at the end of 2022.
At the end of September, the Minister of the Economy Alejandro Gil recognized that the country was important ” practically 100% of the basic family basket”, compared to 80% before the pandemic.
Added to the structural weaknesses of the Cuban economy are the slow recovery of tourism, the second source of foreign currency before the pandemic, and the strengthening of American sanctions since 2021.
A man buys food at a stall in Caimito, in the province of Artemisa, on September 29, 2023 in Cuba © AFP – Yamil LAGE
“There is a shortage of locally produced food, as for imports, we know that it is very difficult to import into Cuba” due to the American embargo, “there is therefore a risk” of food insecurity , explains to AFP Etienne Labande, representative of the World Food Program (WFP) in Cuba.
The problems have worsened since the entry into force in 2021 of a monetary reform, which fueled the inflation — 45.8% between January and May, 39% in 2022, according to official figures that experts consider undervalued.
This “caused an increase in the prices of basic goods and services, which had an impact on the vulnerability of households to food insecurity”, indicates the 2022 WFP report.
Upon arrival in power in 2008, former President Raul Castro launched a reform to stimulate production: transfer of wasteland, closure of unproductive state farms, direct sales of agricultural products to the tourist sector…
But for Pavel Vidal, Cuban economist from the Javeriana University of Cali (Colombia), if the country does not “bet on market logic, (these reforms) will not bear fruit.”
A farmer in a sweet potato field in Alquizar, in the province of Artemisa, on September 29, 2023 in Cuba © AFP – Yamil LAGE
According to official data, imports in the first half of the year reached 4.3 billion dollars, including 1.6 billion in food purchases and the rest mainly in fuel. Exports amount to $1.2 billion.
“We cannot, with the available land and production capacity, wait for the boat of rice to arrive from abroad, nor the boat of beans,” warned the Minister of the Economy in July.
At the beginning of October, the Cuban press agency announced the imminent arrival of eggs and coffee imported from Costa Rica.
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