14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 January 2019 — In Norma and Francisco’s refrigerator only four eggs remain. In order to handle the shortage that affects the whole country and avoid disputes at home, the retirees have written on the shells the initial of each member of the family.
At the end of last year, authorities attributed poultry production deficiencies to damages from Hurricane Irma in September of 2017 and the sub-tropical storm Alberto in May of 2018. In Havana, where 28 million eggs are consumed each month, only five million came to market in December, according to the official press.
This shortage coincided with the lack of flour in stores, which caused a fall in the production of sweets in the state and private sectors. With the passage of weeks, the flour shortage has let up slightly, but the egg shortage is unrelieved.
Cubans receive five eggs a month at a rationed price of 0.15 Cuban peso (CUP) each, and they have the right to five more for 0.90 CUP each. On the free market an egg costs 1 CUP, but it has been more than a month since one could be had.
“This month eggs are not in the ration booklet, and anyone who still has one it’s because they kept it since December,” Pascual, an employee of an egg warehouse belonging to the Interior Commerce Ministry, confirms to 14ymedio. “Right now we are waiting for them to arrive, but they have not,” he says.
Added to the deterioration of the poultry infrastructure is the problem of feed for the laying hens. “We haven’t gotten any feed, and we are improvising with the little that is left, trying to stretch it or selling the hens as chickens for consumption,” complains an employee of a state farm near the community of Las Terrazas in Artemisa.
Powdered eggs, a product that a couple of years ago began to enter the country as a substitute for freshly laid eggs, has also disappeared from the market. A kilogram of this product was selling for 65 CUP and came mainly from Brazil.
But last December it was announced that the Government of that nation had stopped exports to Cuba and frozen its credit because, of the 10 million dollars the Island was supposed to pay in June, it only paid 4 million. This measure has already led to a reduction of Brazilian products in national markets.
“With Hurricane Irma we lost the roof, but little by little we were replacing it; what is impeding us right now from establishing production is the lack of food for the birds,” laments the Artemisa worker. “We have had to sacrifice many hens for lack of food, and recovering from that takes time.”
The poultry farms, all under state management, are governed by the traditional concept of keeping the birds caged. An intensive practice that in Latin America is being substituted little by little for another in which the well-being of the animals is taken into account and they are not confined inside of a small space.
The so-called “happy hen egg” is found in Cuba only in domestic production carried out on home patios or on small farms, but all the commercial product in the state network comes from caged hens.
“When our cages or warehouse roofs are damaged we cannot continue producing,” says another employee of a farm in San Antonio de los Banos. “This is very fragile and when the wind blows a little strongly we always have impacts but also when it’s very hot because the interior of the warehouses gets quite hot and many animals die on us.”
Researchers Nadia Baez Quinones and Onailis Oramas Santos, from the Animal Science Institute and the University of Havana School of Economics, respectively, carried out a study of the sector’s problems. The shortage of incubators, deterioration of the refrigeration equipment, deficiencies in the treatment of wastes and constant water pump breakdowns are some of them.
The experts assert that, if there is an investment to air condition the damaged farms and modernize their production, the supply to the population could rise to 39 eggs per month per resident, instead of the ten that they can currently acquire through the ration market.
But some producers, like Ramon Luaces, 72, who worked more than three decades with egg layers, say that more is needed than resources and investments. “We must resume production on a smaller scale, too, and motivate the farmers to produce eggs,” he tells this daily.
“The private egg producer prefers selling them on the black market because they have no incentive to sell to the state,” explains Lucas. “If they would let us sell directly to the people and the hotels, ’another rooster would crow’,” he says, using the Cuban expression equivalent to ’it would be a whole different story.’
Translated by Mary Lou Keel
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