14ymedio, Madrid, 21 April 2022 — The state production of cow’s milk has collapsed between 1989, when it exceeded 900,000 tons, and 2020, the year in which it barely reached the tiny amount of 43,500 tons, 95.27% less in the last 21 years. Faced with this, private production has made a considerable leap, growing by 105.9%. However, the private companies have not been able to compensate for the collapse of the state company and total production has decreased in those years: from 1,120,000 to 455,300 tons, a drop of 59.35%.
The numbers quantify what Cubans see every day: dairy products are hardly found, the recipe for ice cream now contains soy, and the daily glass of milk for each citizen promised by Raúl Castro in 2007 is no longer expected. In spite of which, the authorities do not seem to be willing to make forceful decisions.
“The solution to the milk production crisis in Cuba — before the pandemic — will depend on the response of the non-state sector. It produces 10 times more than the state sector. In turn, that response would depend on officially supporting a modern private sector livestock in the country,” requested the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal in a tweet in which he compiled the statistical data of the disaster.
But the authorities bet, as usual, on volunteerism. In an extensive report in Periódico 26, the official newspaper of Las Tunas, published this Wednesday, the director of the provincial dairy company explains the difficulties in covering the increasingly meager projections. “With this I assure you that we are always immersed in inventiveness, because there is no other option,” argues Vladimir Góngora as if there were no option to change the agricultural and livestock policy to develop production.
The article leads with the testimony of several desperate people from Las Tunas, because they can’t find soy yogurt for their minor children, nor does bulk milk taste like it should – “It’s water, journalist, I’m not lying.” To add insult to injury, the few dairy products they see can be bought only with freely convertible currency (MLC).
“We put ice cream, natural yogurt and cheese in the stores that sell in MLC because the industry has to pay the farmer 15 cents in the same currency for each liter of milk that exceeds the ’plan’ and we have to have solvency to stimulate production. This does not want say that at no time do we neglect the supply to the gastronomy networks,” argues Osmani Atencio Legrá, the company’s production technical director in the province.
The report indicates that milk for medical diets was suspended both in the main municipality and in Puerto Padre because only 16,000 of the 26,000 liters needed to cover the demand for the basic market basket (rationed) and the “prioritized institutions” were reached.
According to the officials with whom Periodico 26 spoke, the situation is improving and in spring “the same” can be achieved as in the previous calendar, “a great variety of products derived from cheese production that will be in gastronomy networks,” according to the director, something not very promising considering the figures of recent years.
The official attributes the terrible data to the poor feeding of the cows, but also to the problems with imports, which affect dairy products: there is no melting salt for the cheese, nor polyethylene for packaging, which affects the quality of the milk.
There is also no sugar, throughout the Island, with which Las Tunas has reduced the amount added to soy yogurt from 8% to 4%, a very healthy decision that the Government does not take for nutritional reasons, but because of scarcity. This product is guaranteed in the province, as in three others in Cuba, but only because there are no beans.
Soy is also being used, as is already known in other corners of the Island, in the manufacture of ice cream. According to Atencio Legrá, with the paste from this seed it is possible to maintain the plan of 2,000 liters of mixture per day with which to make 500 gallons of ice cream and, although consumers are not very happy with the result, they should get used to it because there are no plans change: “We want there to be enough in the province in the summer,” he emphasized.
The official related other dramas, such as the plants that do not work due to lack of gas or overuse, but affirmed that alternative productions are invented due to the lack of milk.
The only measure that the Government has taken to liberalize this sector is to allow the surplus to be sold after complying with the State, but once again the patch does not seem to work – without taking into account defaults – and the alternative of opening the market to Private is not considered. Quite the contrary, those who tried to create alternatives have been penalized. This was the case of Raúl Abreu Gómez, a rancher from Artemisa known as the king of cheese who was imprisoned in 2020 for illicit economic activity. The producer, who supplied several private premises, was accused of delivering 70 liters of milk to the State each day out of the 150 that he was supposed to provide, but a year later he was released and his dairy was back in full swing.
Meanwhile, the Government must invest in million-dollar purchases of powdered milk. According to a report published last week by the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX), in 2020 Cuba had to import whole milk powder worth 85,000,000 euros and skimmed milk for about 25,000,000 (about 120 million dollars in total), mainly from New Zealand and Uruguay, but also from Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands. In previous years and on four occasions, Cuba also bought powdered milk from the United States.
The report explains that a large part of the product goes to the rationed market, but another part goes to stores that take payment in pesos or foreign currency. “Normally, powdered milk is imported in bulk and is packaged in 500g and 1 kilogram containers under Cuban trademarks, or without a known brand, coming out in stores in these formats. These establishments are controlled by state-owned companies, and apply commercial margins ranging between 180% and 240% of cost,” he adds.
ICEX considers powdered milk a business opportunity because, although, in general, “state importers offer inflexible payment conditions, with payment terms generally set at 360 days after receipt of the merchandise, (…) milk powder is a good prioritized by the (Cuban) State, so it is likely that the commercial conditions for the import of this product are more favorable for foreign suppliers.”
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.