Cuba’s Food Production Labyrinth: Heading Toward Failure

Cooperatives are one of the forms of agriculture in Cuba. (Bohemia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 9 May 2023 — Local food production is the latest experiment practiced by Cuban communists but it will be a failure. Like many others. The municipalities aren’t up to the task of producing enough food. The idea proposed — to shift state responsibilities to the local level for them to be managed by the territorial communist organizations — is a useless, inefficient exercise and far from improving the quality of life for people, will result in authentic chaos, exacerbating differences among Cubans according to the zone where they live, and many other things.

But Cuban President Díaz-Canel’s persistence in implementing structural changes and in managing and eliminating obstacles, so that municipalities develop these functions seems firm. And the state-run press does not pass up an opportunity to spotlight the gesture.

This is what occurred on Monday in Artemisa, where Díaz-Canel participated in a meeting to “evaluate achievement of the commitments made in January by this territory to overcome the complexities the nation is experiencing in the economic, social, and political-ideologic order.” A kind of ministerial review meeting that, since it will extend to the rest of the provinces, will keep the junta that runs the country occupied for quite a while.

And here comes the most notable result, when they realized that five months after a similar meeting was held in the province, during which they identified strategies to produce food in the area, “much remains to be done and there is great potential in several places that are not being used.”

Our position on this matter is clear. If, instead of focusing on creating and strengthening local production systems, they bet on the unity of the national market to take advantage of the production potential of increasing economies of scale, which ensures a superior efficiency of production processes, it would be another story.

Any first-year economics student would have corrected their “localist” initiative which is stifled by a phenomenon economists know well: diminishing returns. These occur precisely when the scale in which one factor operates, for example, the land, is not sufficient for the amount of work available. The obsession with producing in this manner creates inefficiency and “multiple potentialities,” as the state press note says, are lost.

But this local food production is another one of the communist congress’s conclusions, of those that when implemented end up damaging the Cuban economy. Remember what happened with the Ordering Task*, which also was imposed as a communist obligation. Putting ideology ahead of economic rationality is one of the most evident examples of failure in communist Cuba.

Wanting a municipality to become the fundamental entity responsible for food production is a mistake. Another is expecting food sovereignty goals to be met; as is believing that local authorities have the capacity to make decisions related to state companies located in their territories; and getting them to produce more is another inefficient idea.

Communists are adamant about these changes in structure and resource management because the central budget is at its limit and they need to transfer expenses to the territories where tax collection tends to be higher.  But they don’t realize that, by imposing this model, what they are really doing is transferring the inefficiencies and the communist central government’s poor functioning to the territories, which will end up imploding the system. Those responsible at the local level should confront the central government about this imposition which can only lead to chaos.

Moreso because the current economic conditions and the complex international scenario are not the most amenable to absurd experiments. It is bad enough to depend on imports, as happened with the communist centrally-planned economy; it is worse to try formulas so that each territory is capable of producing a good portion of the food consumed by its population. Small-scale does not work, it is inefficient and also not very profitable.

And we realize the absurdity of Díaz-Canel’s initiative when we see that what matters to him is to have a livestock census to achieve control over the masses; to facilitate the approval of foreign investment and good evaluations of food production projects funded by international donors; to join forces with the youth labor army to farm fields that are currently fallow; and to promote the development of areas within businesses or employers to produce food for their internal consumption. Bureaucratic and administrative work. When it comes to changing things, wouldn’t it be better and more correct if they restored property and land rights and facilitated a structural transformation of the Cuban economy to a free market economy?

For their part, local governments justify to Díaz-Canel their failure to meet targets  by claiming: “too much subjectivity and lack of awareness when applying the food sovereignty and nutrition education law,” and the lack of “training that includes all those implicated in the implementation.” Another good example of the improvisation that goes along with the regime’s application of ideological measures.

No one dares to say, publicly, that it is an absurd idea best tucked away in a drawer. There is not a single opposing position that defends a thesis like the ones proposed here. Everyone knows that the formula is useless, but everyone moves forward, united, toward the disaster. And for that reason, the most curious thing is that they devote themselves to counting “commitments” and there is someone who congratulates themselves when they state that of the 111 general commitments made during the previous meeting 72 have been met to date, 24 have not been met, and 21 could possibly be met. What do you think of that? Counting nonsense and meanwhile, the people experience deprivation, scarcity, and out-of-control price increases.

And clearly, it’s time to review this year’s targets and it’s like turning off the lights and saying goodbye. A wide spectrum of unmet targets weighs on the local managers and exempts Díaz-Canel and his people.

No matter, the thing is that Cubans continue experiencing hunger. They reported that the production targets will not be met for meat and sugar, nor will the targets for international tourists in the territory. They highlighted that they surpassed the targets set for exported services, but not goods; even though they did not delay making the fallow lands available — 14,000 hectares in eight months — producers are still not satisfied with the pace at which this process is carried out. That is, leasers request more land and the communists do not make it available. And this is in Artemisa, which is productive.

The meeting went down another path, subsequently turning its attention to the programs prioritized as demographic dynamics, the Life Task, and the production of local construction materials. They reported that in six months more than 600 jobs were created, in the government and non-government sectors; and they said that they continued to repair health and education institutions, and that 141 new slots were created in pre-schools.

Generally, in the province they worked to implement the strategic lines of action in the national plan for economic and social development 2030. They also highlighted a lack of training among party cadres to confront the complexities that lie ahead. They also talked about integrating all forms of production at the municipal level; promoting greater agility in the procedures that must be followed in order to export goods; and the importance of making better use of science and innovation. About the population’s dissatisfaction, those at the meeting only talked about “the revolutionary dissatisfaction with what we do every day.”

*Translator’s note: The “Ordering Task” [Tarea Ordenamiento] is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy. 

Translated by: Silvia Suárez


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