The Government Exports 90 Percent of the Island’s Honey, Which Cubans Must Buy ‘On The Left’

The official press recognizes the collapse of honey production throughout the country

Inside the country, honey can be bought by negotiating directly with the producers / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 May 2024 — “That the honey from the Cuban hives continues to conquer the European market,” is the closing aspiration of an article in the official press this Tuesday. The desire corresponds to reality: the Island exports every year between 80% and 90% of the honey it produces, accessible in markets in Europe and Latin America, while in the country it can only be obtained “on the left” (in the informal market) and by negotiating directly with the producers.

Production, however, is plummeting. Taking care not to offer concrete data, the official press has given indications of the collapse throughout the country and underlines the State’s discontent with beekeepers. The workers of the Occidente Honey Benefit Plant, located in Caimito (Artemisa), which processes the honey of Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Mayabeque and Matanzas, are well aware of it.

Shut down since March 2023, it was not until last December that the factory went into operation, thanks to an unspecified investment that rebuilt part of its structure. “The floor of the technology area had to be dismantled, and the corresponding import was delayed. The roof was also waterproofed, to avoid leaks and moisture, incompatible with the honey process. For that reason, production was stopped, the average salary fell, and we lost valuable specialists and technicians,” Rigoberto Velázquez, director of the industry, told the newspaper El Artemiseño.

Compared to the current situation, in which the average monthly salary for the workers of the plant is 8,333 pesos, the figure of 2023 was poor: barely 2,700 pesos. The increase, the managers say, is not only due to the resumption of work, but also to other internal reforms that they have been able to make thanks to the freedom of management that the authorities have given them. “The Cuban Beekeeping Company granted us autonomy to make our own financial statements, which led to better income,” explains Dania Díaz, a computer specialist.

“Production was stopped, the average salary fell, and we lost valuable specialists and technicians

They have also begun to vary their production, and now they manually bottle the honey, “thanks to an innovation of the workers,” in small jars. They supply the Caimito store and work with private producers who provide them with, for example, tea to sell along with honey as a complementary product.

However, production, for which the managers can’t give concrete numbers, still has not recovered. The damage to the flora left by Hurricane Ian in 2022 still prevents the collection of honey by the beekeepers. Also, the seasonal migration of the bees to the coast, which is undertaken three times a year to take advantage of the flowering of the mangroves, requires 211 gallons of fuel that the company does not have.

The provinces that supply the plant have already begun to send the first batches, says Yordanys Conde, an operator of the company, although receiving the honey is just the start. Given its final destination in European supermarkets, the honey must be of the best quality.

Once the humidity is measured and the product strained and mixed, “samples are taken to send to the laboratories in Germany and Havana, where they certify the quality of the honey. Only then is it marketed, for export,” Conde explains.

Despite the Government’s efforts to revive, or at least maintain, production, honey faces one of its worst years on the Island. An article published last April in the official press reported on the painful situation of beekeeping in Camagüey in 2023, where beekeepers lost 500 hives due to the fuel crisis. As a result, the production of that year (530 tons) was just over half of that of 2019, when 913 tons were exported – the best since 1983.

In January, another article in the local newspaper of Las Tunas described a similar panorama: the 275.7 tons produced accounted for less than half of what was obtained in 2020, and barely 53% of what was planned for the period.

The poor state of the Island’s food industry, which fell by 67% in the last five years according to a recent report by the National Office of Statistics and Information, hardly leaves room to be surprised by the collapse of honey, which is not even a food found frequently on Cuban tables. However, the fall in the production of other products favored by the regime leaves no room for a positive forecast: lobster and shrimp, for which the State allocates more resources than for honey, decreased their production by 49% and 82% respectively.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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