14ymedio, Havana, March 9, 2023 — The Rio Zaza Dairy Products Company in Sancti Spiritus province has temporarily suspended deliveries of milk for medical diets, with an exception granted for children and pregnant women, due to low production resulting from an ongoing drought. Alberto Cañizares Rodriguez, director of the state-owned company, told the regional newspaper Escambray it will instead provide flavor-enhanced milk.
Cañizares Rodriguez says there is not enough milk to meet demand due to the company’s low production levels. For now, the restriction will only apply to the city of Sancti Spiritus. Consumers on special diets in the rest of the province will still receive their normal ration of milk directly from the producer.
Cañizares Rodriguez hinted at a crisis in February when he acknowledged that milk supply in the province was “intermittent” due to delays in deliveries from farmers and a shortage of ammonia, which is used in refrigeration. At the time, he signaled that the situation would worsen in the next two months due to dry weather.
This year, Cuba has been dealing with a severe drought, which has hampered agricultural production and fanned fires in forests and pasture land. On top of low production, the island has not been able to import the powdered milk it needs to ensure continuation of its feeding program. As a result, the director added, the company cannot guarantee distribution of the 4,500 liters the city of Sancti Spirtus needs.
To cover the shortfall, he said the company has begun producing flavor-enhanced soy milk, which families can get through their local Ministry of Commerce distribution stations. Some unrationed soy milk will also be available for sale, for a higher price, at government-run stores.
Neighborhood stores that sell rationed goods have already begun adopting the measure. For example, a sign in La Revoltosa indicates it will begin selling milk for children and pregnant women on Tuesday, March 7. Meanwhile, flavored milk will be distributed on the days covered by the medical diet.
People with family members who suffer from diabetes, or who are on medication to control it, have described the decision as lunacy. “My neighbor told me she wouldn’t drink the milk if it had sugar in it. I told her, ’You’d better drink it because, if you don’t, you’ll die of hunger.’ It’s that simple,” wrote Elizabeth Herrera Rodriguez in a social media post.
Due to a water shortage, the production of soy yogurt has also been interrupted. The product is intended for consumption by children ages seven to thirteen. It is also included in a Cuban family’s monthly allotment of basic foodstuffs and can be purchased at stores that offer greater availability but at higher prices. Cañizares Rodríguez acknowledged that access to water is a critical issue. Without access to liquid milk, the only things the company can produce are soy-based derivatives, which requires it to pipe water into its processing plant.
According to Escambray, Sancti Spiritus is the only province that, “through thick and thin,” has been able to maintain milk production. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has, for months, had difficulty providing enough rationed goods for distribution.
State production of cow’s milk plummeted 95.2% from 1989 to 2020 while output by private producers grew 105.9%. That is not enough, however, to compensate for the plunge in overall domestic supply. In the last twenty-one years, the country went from producing 1.12 million tons of milk a year to just 455,300, a drop of 59.3%.
In addition to the drought, the livestock sector is also being affected by the theft of cattle by gangs who have even murdered some producers.
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