“It seems that every year is the first harvest the country has ever done. Every year we start fresh, even though we’ve been producing sugar for more than 200 years. If we are talking about the need for change, the first thing we have to change is the routine.” So begins, “Attacking the problems and not waiting for the autopsy,” a report by Sheyla Delgado Guerra, published on Monday, May 30th, in the newspaper, Granma.
The Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy, adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party in April last year, set out among the central tasks, to increase the production of sugar and the derivatives of the cane, a branch of the economy where it is assumed Cuba has long experience. However, the results of the 2011-2012 harvest confirmed the failure of that purpose.
The harvest, programmed to produce 1.45 million tons of sugar (a figure that was produced in the late nineteenth century), finish milling on April 30th. There was enough sugar cane and 98% resources needed to produce the programmed amount of sugar but, according to Sheyla, the same problems occurred as in previous years: industrial breakdowns, operational disruptions, difficulties in the supply of cane, unstable grindings, aging of the raw material, poor quality of repairs of agricultural machinery, late harvesting, poor technical skills of staff and poor utilization of potential capacity. As a result the milling did not end on the date set by central planning, not was the programmed figure for tons of sugar achieved.
This was confirmed at the meeting to review the results, held 29 days after all the plants should have completed the milling. Although as in previous years, the amount of sugar produced has not been published, in the meeting it was admitted that the setbacks of this season were higher than results obtained. According to Sheyla’s report, the cane not ground because of the late harvest in 21 of the 46 centers participating, together with the low capacity utilization and failure of planned efficiency are among the main causes of the terrible result.
This time, although all the cane needed was grown, to the point where they could have crushed more than the planned amount, the production of sugar fell short again. In the industrial phase only 60% the capacity is used, a figure even lower than the harvest of 2010-2011, and of course lower than was planned for this crop. While there was a modest over-fulfillment in the production of white sugar, in terms of direct target it barely reached 8%. In addition, seven of the mills which after being inactive for several years, produced 54% of their potential, which is why some 27,500 tons of sugar was not produced.
To this is added the low yields due to weather conditions in May, for 29 days after the scheduled closing several plants were still milling in the rainy season, which accentuates the sugar decline, which is nothing new, the same thing having gone on more than two decades; the 1998-1999 harvest could not exceed 3.8 million tons of sugar, a figure lower than that produced in 1920, when it exceeded 4 million tons.
The failure is higher if one considers that the country has dozens of schools and agricultural research centers throughout the country, which have graduated thousands of engineers and technicians in these fields, and that this time, from the beginning of the harvest, nearly all the resources were available to fulfill the plan, all of which indicates we should look elsewhere for the source of the failures.
Reforms related to sugar production, like the rest of those that have been implemented, do not have the depth required, nor do they move at the speed that the situation demands. Clearly, the lack of interest of the producers — the workers because of low wages and the proprietors because of the constraints imposed on them — is present in the results of the current harvest as in the previous failures.
The essence of the problem is that the reforms introduced by the Cuban government start life subordinated to the ideology and the interests of power, so the proposals therefore perversely preserve an obsolete model that has consistently proven to be nonviable.
Adverse outcomes of central planning, manifested in the 2011-2012 harvest, should be the last call, which will definitely draw attention to the aspects that the reforms have ignored so far. I am referring to the urgent need for profound changes to include, once and for all, the ownership structure. Since half a century seems sufficient to indicate the gap between managers and owners, between command and control and employee participation, aspects which in turn imply reforms in the area of rights and freedoms, to validate the previous.
It would be useful to proceed with these changes and not continue pointing fingers at the “deadbeats” as one of the senior officials did when he appeared on May 29 on Cuban television. Having participated in the meeting to review the harvest, he said, “I’ve told you, they have to change,” something that has become the custom year after year.
Posted in June in Diario de Cuba.
Translated by: Hank Hardisty
June 11 2012