Cuban food production drops despite reforms

Cuba saw a steep and unexplained drop in the harvest of vegetables and fruit in the first three months of the year despite government reforms to increase production in a country that spends more than $1.5 billion on food imports.

The National Statistics Office, known by the Spanish acronym ONE, gave no reason for the production decline in a report published this week.

Overall agricultural production, not counting sugarcane, dropped by 7.8 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the first three months of 2012, ONE reported.

But some sectors saw far bigger plunges.

Plantains dropped by 44.2 percent, potatoes by 36 percent and citrus by 33.9 percent. The category of “other tubers” plunged by 58.4 percent. Corn production fell by 22.5 percent, beans by 7 percent and fruit by 13.9 percent, according to the report.

Increases in production were reported in garden vegetables — up 8.4 percent, and rice, up by 2.5 percent. The cattle sector grew by 16.8 percent, but milk production dropped by 19 percent.

Part of the decline may be attributed to Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba on Oct. 25, killing 11 people and causing a reported $2 billion in damage. Eastern Cuba is known for its fruit production.

The fall-off in production also may reflect decisions by farmers to hide more of their products from state-controlled distribution channels — where the government sets low prices — and sell them anywhere they can make bigger profits.

ONE said its figures were based on information received from state farms, cooperatives controlled both by the state and private farmers, and private farmers across Cuba’s 15 provinces and the special district of Isle of youth.

ONE’s grim report came despite President Raúl Castro’s campaign to increase domestic food production since 2007 by leasing fallow state lands to private farmers, hiking the prices that the government pays for agricultural goods and easing state controls on the distribution networks.

Cuba now imports an estimated 80 percent of the food its people consume, at a cost of more than $1.5 billion per year.

Food production on the island dropped in 2011 to pre-2007 levels and dropped again in 2012, when agricultural food prices were reported to have spiked by about 20 percent while salaries barely moved up.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

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