14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 26 November 2018 — Chicken is the food that stars on Cuban tables, beyond the traditional pork, the longed-for beef or the scarce fish. With the product shortages having intensified in recent years, the legs and thighs of these birds have become the main source of animal protein for many families, a market that will now be entered by a Spanish production company.
The Cuban government is in negotiations with the Spanish company Kodysa to create a joint venture that will supply three out of every ten chickens consumed on the island, according to an announcement during the recently concluded official visit of Pedro Sánchez, president of the Spanish Government.
Kodysa is a construction and engineering company that also has an agri-food sector among its business areas. The multinational has poultry complexes in Andalusia and a company dedicated to the preparation of poultry products.
The first step was the signing of a memorandum of understanding to launch a 50 million euro project through which a mixed capital company will produce 400,000 fresh chickens a week for the Cuban market, a product with a broad demand which, today, is mostly imported from Brazil and the United States.
The Cuban poultry industry is going through a bad time, hit last September by Hurricane Irma and last May by the subtropical storm Michael, which damaged numerous chicken farms along the northern coast and in the western part of the country, although most of them were dedicated to egg production.
“We have very little production of chicken for meat consumption because of the issue of feed for growth and fattening, which is not easily achieved,” explains Luis Abreu by phone to 4ymedio. Abreu, 53, works on a poultry farm near the community of Las Terrazas in Artemisa. “Here we are dedicated to laying hens but right now we are below half of our capacity.”
Problems with the roofs of farm buildings, the supply of water to keep the hen-houses clean and the delicate issue of feed, makes it difficult for the animals to enjoy “the minimum conditions to lay all the eggs they could, much less to raise a chicken to a certain weight in a short period of time,” Abreu laments.
At the farm, a group of sorters reviews the newly hatched chicks and separates out the females, which will go to areas with special lighting to supply them with heat and later to the laying sheds to use for egg production. Those classified as males “go to feed the pigs,” says the employee.
The depressed local industry forces Cuba to import more than 80% of the food consumed on the island, including more than 120,000 tons of chicken meat. In 2017, Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), confirmed to the official press that “the [national] production of meat is practically nil.”
Under the agreement with Kodysa, chickens could cover up to 30% of local demand, which includes not only domestic consumption, but also a portion of the needs of hotels and private businesses, a sector hit hard by the shortages.
The Spaniards are committed to guaranteeing the supply of animal feed, the weakest point of Cuban industry, and one that must be watched with greater zeal. “One of the main problems of meat production in Cuba is the diversion [i.e. theft] of resources from state companies to the informal market,” said Maritza Rojas, a Villa Clara native who worked for two decades as an accountant on a poultry farm, speaking to this newspaper.
“Private producers are sold barely any feed, so this product sells very well on the black market,” she explains. “Any place where chickens are raised, we have to watch the feed more than the birds, because it disappears little by little.” The accountant thinks that “it is still too expensive to produce chickens in Cuba” because of “the lack of infrastructure and so much theft.”
In the last two decades, the United States has been the greatest supplier of chicken to the Island, especially the so-called “dark meat” (thigh and leg-thigh). In November of 2017, after several months of Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, more than $21 million in agricultural products and food was sold to Cuba, almost $17 million of which was frozen chicken.
However, Havana must pay cash for the these products, as established by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which the US Congress approved in 2000.
Brazil also supplies much of the whole chicken that ends up on Cuban tables, particularly the companies Frangosul and Perdix, JBS and BRF, although political relations between Cuba and Brazil have deteriorated. Havana has a debt with the Brazilian National Development Bank of more than 600 million dollars that it has committed to settle, although this year alone it needs to renegotiate arrears in the amount of 110 million dollars for 2018.
Local production of chickens would alleviate the spending on imports and bring a fresher product to Cuban tables, but the agreement with Kodysa still has no firm date to go into effect.
*Translator’s note: Cubañol: a combination of Cuban and Spanish (español)
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