Cuba: Some 200 Cold Rooms ‘Invented’ by Fidel Castro to Preserve Potatoes are Damaged

Potatoes ready to be stored in refrigerated chambers. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 8 March 2023 — Enfrigo, the state company dedicated to the conservation of cold products, has damaged 206 of its 574 refrigerated storerooms and must dedicate them to warehousing because they no longer refrigerate. The machinery, its directors told the the official Communist Party newspaper Granma this Tuesday, is obsolete and there are no longer parts on the market to repair it.

In total there are 31 refrigerators of Bulgarian origin on the island distributed throughout all the provinces with the exception of Cienfuegos, in turn made up of 368 active cold rooms: 284 are used for refrigeration and 84 for freezing.

The rest, says optimistic Adolfo Velázquez Concepción, director of the entity, “has great rental potential” to store products from private companies or cooperatives that are engaged in wholesale trade, something that is already being done in Havana, Holguín, Villa Clara and Matanzas.

The acquisition of new equipment will have to wait, due to the lack of financing, although the official said that they are negotiating with foreign firms to achieve “the necessary liquidity to support the purchase of parts that allow modernizing some components of the refrigerator machinery.”

For the past six years, Velázquez Concepción continues, the company has not been able to obtain any parts for the ammonia compressors, so the workers – who are called ’Committees of Innovators and Rationalizers’ – are forced to invent alternatives that postpone, as far as possible, the loss of more cold storage.

Other problems presented by most of the equipment are leaks, roof breaks or structural deficiencies, which lead to the development of ingenuity. According to Maivy Milanés Gómez, director of Business, Foreign Investment and Development of Refrigo, last year this ingenuity led to the adaptation of evaporators, and the recovery of the Packing Base and the water pump of the supply network, and the fabrication of rubber band couplings, among other achievements.

The article is dedicated to the storage of potatoes, which will be the responsibility of Enfrigo, with 33,586 tons of the product under its responsibility, 10,000 more than in 2022. Vilma Bazán Pérez de Ágreda, commercial director of the company, said that there are 17 establishments in the country, the largest of which is in Alquízar (in Artemisa), which will receive 12,580 tons of the tuber.

The official offers all kinds of storage details, from its arrangement on pallets to the logical specifications of hygiene and quality control for weighing and refrigeration, but messages aimed at reassuring the population about the effect that blackouts can have on the product are missing. Even more so considering that the company is also in charge of preserving chicken, sausages, preserves, milk and fruit pulp for compote, among other foods.

It is not the first time that outdated technology has finished off food production. It was precisely the potato that suffered the consequences of the blackouts last year, which caused changes in the irrigation cycles that damaged a large part of the crop, according to the producers’ complaints.

The 2021-2022 campaign barely achieved a harvest of 93,650 tons, the worst in the last 30 years, with the exception of 2014, according to a report released by the Ministry of Agriculture. For the 2022-2023 campaign, it is planned to obtain just 102,369 tons of potatoes, a much more conservative forecast than that of 2021-2022, when 120,914 tons were planned and 116,396 tons were achieved.

In January, a sharp increase in the price of the product was announced, which went from 5 pesos (6 for refrigerated) to 11 pesos, being the second consecutive year to double its cost, since in 2021 it was at 3 pesos. The authorities then affirmed that the very low price of 2022 had caused substantial losses, valued at 200 million, of which more than half fell on the company that produces and markets seeds, “due to the increase in import prices.”

Despite the gloomy outlook with regards to refrigeration, the article in Granma does not miss the opportunity to remember Fidel Castro, who is credited with the milestone of founding Enfrigo and inventing potato refrigeration. In 1991, it reports, during the inauguration of the refrigerator in Alquízar: “If we do nothing, and with everyone taking a sack of potatoes home in March and April, and then there are no potatoes in June, in July, in August, in September, hence the importance of this work that we are inaugurating.”


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