14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 15 June 2022 — It is green and unattainable for most Cubans, but this is not about the dollar. Like every summer, the avocado returns to the island’s markets, but this summer its price has doubled compared to the previous year. Where before one fruit cost between 40 and 50 pesos, now it costs between 80 and 100, an increase that keeps it from appearing on the tables of many households.
The rains of May mark the beginning of the avocado season on the Island. “Those downpours are what give it the touch. Although before that you can find some plants that have already ripened, it’s better to eat them when they are more flavorful,” a customer pointed out this Monday while examining the offerings from a cart vendor in Centro Habana.
“But it seems that this time the rains have been golden, because the avocado is very expensive,” said a buyer, sarcastically, finally deciding to buy one still a little hard, “not for today, it still needs to ripen but the ripe ones cost 90 pesos and I prefer to pay ten less even if I have to wait to eat it until tomorrow or the day after.” Behind him, a woman who was asking about the price winced at the number and turned away with her empty bag.
Although in Europe and other countries with a colder climate, the avocado is seen almost as a luxury, the abundance of trees in Cuba, the advantages of the climate and the cultivation tradition have made it a product as common on tables as apples or oranges are in other geographies.
“The avocado makes a meal, but now it’s unaffordable,” pointed out another customer at the agricultural market on 19th and B, a place run mainly by private vendors and whose traditionally high prices have earned it the nickname of “the boutique.” “It is true that this place is expensive, but here you find things that are no longer in other places,” defended a young man who was selling from a platform in the face of the complaints of those who passed by.
“Everyone in the family knows that you can come here to buy fruits and vegetables that don’t appear in any other market, except in the Playa area where people with more money live and even broccoli is sold.” According to the merchant, “the avocado began to arrive weeks ago, but the rains have greatly complicated the shipment to Havana.”
“People complain that it is expensive, but everything is and at this time of year there is very little lettuce, tomatoes are practically gone and what is left is a good slice of avocado with the meal,” he details. “I can’t do anything else because it’s already expensive for me here, everything has gone up a lot in price and moving merchandise from the field is costing a lot due to lack of fuel.”
In the nearby municipality of Güira de Melena, the family of Reinier García confirms this increase in price by telephone. “On our farm we have a dozen avocado plants, four of which we have sold a few years ago,” he explains. The sale of these trees is not registered and is a risky business for both parties.
The purchaser of the tree buys, for a fixed price which can be monthly or annually, the production that the plant will give. In good seasons, when the rains arrive on time and the hurricanes do not damage the tree much, you can “get a good slice,” explains García. “But there are bad years and then we all lose, the one who bought gets killed because he doesn’t earn much and we get killed because people don’t have the patience to wait for better times and withdraw from the agreement.”
“The avocado seems strong but it is a product that requires care. From the time it is planted until you begin to harvest fruit, a lot of years go by and everything can be ruined by a plague, lightning or a cyclone,” the farmer enumerates. Then comes the transfer, because even if it is done with the green avocado, “if you don’t move it correctly, everything will collapse.”
García counts on a brother-in-law to move the merchandise to Havana and distribute it among various merchants in the area of El Vedado and La Víbora. “I’ve been days without getting fuel and when I find it it’s a ‘just a sip’,” says the driver of an old Plymouth speaking to this newspaper. Only the ‘inventions’ and ‘additions’ he’s made to the vehicle allow him to continue rolling on the roads.
“I offer the small avocado at 50 or 60 to the seller, the larger ones can reach 70 or 80 depending on the quality. The Catalina is the one that people like the most, because it has a lot of flavor and is larger. With this one you don’t need anything else, not even lemon, vinegar or oil on top, because it already comes from the bush fully seasoned,” he says.
But accompanying the main course with one of these Catalina adds a figure that lower-income families cannot afford. “Each egg cost me 20 pesos, I found a pound of rice at 50 after walking all over. So a meal for five people cost me 150, plus 100 that I paid for the avocado,” says Dinorah, a resident of the Havana municipality Diez de Octubre.
In Dinorah’s family there are two retirees with minimal pensions and the rest are her grandchildren, minors. “I spent more on one meal than I earn for a day’s pension, and I can’t do that so I’m not going to continue buying avocados, it’s a luxury I can’t afford,” she concludes. “We will have to wait to see if the price drops in July or August.”
The situation is not exclusive to the Cuban capital, where prices are usually higher. This Tuesday, in the La Plaza de Sancti Spíritus market, an avocado cost 100 Cuban pesos, almost the same as in a central corner of Centro Habana near Plaza de Carlos III, where the products tend to be more expensive. Even traditionally agricultural areas are not spared from inflation where ,until recently, avocado was a common ingredient on tables during the summer.
“Right now I’m going to pick the avocados from my trees and I’m going to try to pay with them, because they’re already worth almost the same as a dollar,” jokes Reinier García. “And I’m not complaining, at least my family doesn’t lack avocados and with that we can make a meal, but what it costs us the most to buy is everything else: oil, soap and toothpaste.”
Garcia does not rule out barter. “People from Havana are already coming here as far as Güira de Melena to exchange clothes for food or toiletries, for avocados and root vegetables,” he explains. “We have to be watching over the bushes through the night, because this is like having the bank safe open and in sight.”
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.