Agro, Another Efficiency That Doesn’t Arrive / Miriam Celaya

Notice of price cuts

My produce stand, located at the corner of Árbol Seco and Maloja in Central Havana, had a very promising sign a few days ago. It read as follows:

“Informing the population”
From the production results and the availability of agricultural products, price reductions were approved on all MAE small stands in the capital from September 3rd, 2010.

For the uninitiated, MAE means State Agricultural Market.

Following that, the sign enumerated significant per-pound price drops in plantains, cassava and sweet potato, as can be seen in the photo. However, as I approached the counter, I noticed that the establishment had only small, half-bruised avocados and some dregs of sweet potatoes. In response to my question, some customers there informed me that those would be the prices “when they had the produce”. Bottom line, there were none of the “discounted” items, although, days earlier and for several weeks, I know for a fact that there was an abundance of those three vegetables.

I’ve been to the little stand several times since then, without success. The news programs have reported the fabulous banana harvest, a large part of which is rotting in the fields for lack of transportation to take them to retail sites. The image of the food rotting on the ground contrasts against empty markets. More of the same. On the other hand, compared to the significant production of vegetables, there is a serious shortage of other popular high-demand products such as garlic, onion, pepper, fresh vegetables and pork, which demonstrates the continuing ineffectiveness of the structures and the inability to meet the needs of the population, among numerous other causes, because the scant official measures that stimulated agricultural production did not foresee the insufficiency of state transportation to make goods at point of sale effective.

For several days, plantains flooded the city. (Photo: Orlando Luis)

Week-end agricultural fairs are just a palliative to half-cover the popular demand, and are not stable in their offerings: just like they may offer a significant amount of products of acceptable quality for sale one week, they may offer significantly reduced varieties of produce of lesser quality the following week. In all cases, human crowds are inevitable.

Fear, on the part of the authorities, of private sector development in any of its variants, causes gaps in the markets and frustration of producers at the wasted effort. Excessive control is also a major obstacle that sabotages the natural flow between producers, the market, and consumers. It is not enough, then, to “change” an occasional piece of gear. The economy, exhausted, requires profound and effective changes. The government must release Cubans’ productive potential and their ability to work for themselves if it is really interested in reversing the crisis. Already they, the owners of power, have amassed their gains and it is known that they have put their sights on more lucrative and larger enterprises. How long will they hinder the progress of domestic business?

Translated by Norma Whiting

September 21, 2010