Rice Production in Sierpe, Cuba Falls 62 Percent after Vietnamese Advisors Leave

Farmers are having trouble “keeping the harvest going,” say managers / Escambray

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 28 March 2024 — Since technical advisors from Vietnam left in frustration in 2022, the rice farmers of Sierpe, a town in Sancti Spíritus province, are increasingly feeling pressure from the state to increase production. They are not happy about having to turn over the bulk of their crops to ACOPIO, the state agricultural procurement and distribution agency, or about the low prices the state pays them. “We feel coerced. We have no way out because they only allow us to keep a small portion of what we harvest for our own consumption and we have to hand over the rest,” says Mariano, one of the producers.

To prevent farmers from selling the rice at provincial markets or “on the side,” local officials have strengthened security measures and are insisting farmers turn over the rice that was grown under Vienamese management.

“We all feel uncomfortable with the pressure, which ultimately isn’t helping because we’re still only paid a pittance”

“We all feel uncomfortable with the pressure, which ultimately isn’t helping because we’re still only paid a pittance. But what can we do? Most of us have spent our whole lives farming rice and our livelihoods depend on it,” Mariano complains.

In an interview published on Thursday in Escambray, Héctor Yoel Feitó, director of the Sur del Jíbaro cooperative in Sierpe, reports that rice cultivation is, so far, on track. He hopes to have a yield as high as 4.8 tons per hectare, a figure similar to what farmers were able to achieve with Vietnamese guidance. However, the article also indicates that the yield in 2023 amounted to only 1.8 tons per hectare.

“The cooperative has planted 458 hectares of grain. Lot #7, one of the most advanced, has 227 hectares planted with the Selection variety, which is doing great at the moment. The dozen workers on this tract are committed to achieving the highest quality possible,” says Feitó.

Feitó also pointed out that farmers, whose responsibility it is to produce the higher yields, are looking for immediate alternatives in an effort to put more rice on the province’s tables. He acknowledged that there have been production problems in “keeping the harvest afloat” but blamed the U.S. embargo for difficulties in obtaining herbicides and fertilizers.

In mid-2022, Vietnamese rice experts, who had been been providing advice and technical assistance to producers in Sierpe, ended their cooperation agreement with the island. They arrived in Cuba twenty years earlier, bringing with them equipment and machinery, but were never able to achieve the expected results.

Despite backing out of its collaboration agreement with Cuba a year earlier, Vietnam made three donations of rice to Cuba in 2023  

They also had to deal with fuel shortages, ACOPIO’s inefficiency and governmental bureaucracy, all of which prompted their decision to return to Vietnam before the agreement ended.

Despite backing out of its collaboration agreement with Cuba a year earlier, Vietnam donated 5,000 tons of rice to Cuba in May 2023, followed by another 2,000 tons in September. A third  donation was announced last August but the exact date of delivery was not indicated.

Last November the local newspaper in Artemisa indicated that there was only enough rice to meet the ration quotas for the municipalities of Candelaria and San Cristóbal, a situation that has been repeating itself in neighborhood ration distribution sites across the island. Unable to provide the 18,000 tons of rice per year that Artemisa’s consumers need, officials called upon producers to redouble “self-management” efforts. So far, however, it has not worked.

Every month Cubans face the challenge of finding rice, a product essential to their diet but which commands exhorbitant prices both on the open market and at state-run stores. According to a price list compiled by 14ymedio, a pound of rice at the market on Plaza Boulevard in Sancti Spíritus cost 240 pesos* as of March 22.

*Translator’s note: These numbers are a constantly moving target, but as of December 2023, the minimum pension in Cuba was reported as 1,528 pesos per month and the minimum wage was 2,100. Based on the official exchange rate today, these numbers are $64 and $88 US. Thus, roughly, the minimum monthly wage is not enough to buy ten pounds of rice, while the minimum pension is not enough to buy 7 pounds. 

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