14ymedio, Havana, October 14, 2022 — Many readers were surprised when, just a month ago, Cuba’s official media outlets were suggesting people turn to quail eggs as an effective, economical and nutritional alternative to chicken. Though eggs have been in noticeably short supply in stores for months, no one knew just how scarce they were until Invasor, a newspaper in Ciego de Avila province, published an article on Friday.
“The country needs about six million eggs a day to meet its basic needs and we are only getting two or three,” says Katia Leyda Martinez Arnaez, director of the province’s Poultry Company.
The article describes a dire situation. In Ciego de Avila, one of Cuba’s top three poultry-producing provinces, more than half its hens are not laying eggs. More specifically, only 43% of hens lay one egg a day while 57% lay none. Although the data is sobering, the article highlights the fact that it is almost a miracle the hens are laying any eggs at all.
“Considering that chickens go several days without food; that those which do get fed subsist on a protein mixture which is in very short supply; that some go without water for extended periods of time due power outages; that some are not exposed to light long enough to stimulate egg production; that they are fed at irregular hours due to delays in feed delivery; that enfeebled hens remain on the production line fourteen months longer than proscribed; then the fact that 43 out of every 100 hens manage to overcome this stress and lay an egg may sound like encouraging news,” the article states.
The company admits that, although it managed to produce 126 million eggs one year, it had set a goal of 100 million by 2022. By the end of September, however, it had only delivered 60 million. In the words of its director, “It’s going to be our worst year ever, without a doubt.”
According to the head of production, the eggs slated for delivery in September did not arrive in Ciego de Avila until the 29th. This follows several months in which output was reduced, so consumers cannot expect to see additional supplies. The eggs are distributed in several provinces where the situation is even worse. For example, Holguin and Santiago did not see August’s delivery until September 7.
The article also notes that the problem of late deliveries has been going on for five months, with April and May’s supplies not arriving in Guantanamo until June.
Ciego de Avila is not an isolated case. Martinez Aranez says the situation in Santiago de Cuba is even worse due to the feed shortage: “It’s difficult to import raw materials, produce the feed and transport it.” Only 10% of the hens in the province are laying eggs on a daily basis.
The company director explains that getting the feed to where it needs to be is one of the issues. Normally, it starts out in Cienfuegos but, in a effort to cut costs, it now only goes as far as Santiago. However, the situation has gotten even worse because the cost of fuel is raising the price of an egg, which officials increased from two pesos to almost three.
“As a result, the company has not only failed to turn a profit by trying to feed its birds at any cost, it has incurred eight million in losses,” says the director.
To lessen the blow to the poultry industry, efforts are now being made to augment the supply with the so-called Creole egg, a locally produced commodity, raised by individuals, which would not have to be shipped to other provinces. The goal of the plan, which would not be put in place until next year, would be to reduce losses by bringing these eggs to market. This would first involve distributing hens to rural areas, though it is not yet clear how this would be done.
Eggs on the island are produced principally by individual families for their own consumption, with chickens traditionally being fed kitchen scraps. But with the country in a deep economic crisis, this has become much less feasible.
To cope, some families turn to the informal market, where a carton of thirty eggs can go for as much as 1,700 pesos, half the monthly salary of a minimum-wage worker.
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