The Minister of Agriculture’s Magical Recipes to Put Food on Cuban Tables

Pork production has plummeted in the last 6 years. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 27 October 2023 —  The Minister of Agriculture, Ydael Jesús Pérez Brito, gave a new recital of magical thinking on national television this Thursday, where he insisted on the power of Cubans to achieve the impossible without offering a single proposal. “We ourselves have to be able to produce and satisfy food demands. We can achieve it, it has been proven that this is the case, even with fewer inputs. It is true that we have fewer chemicals, but at the same time we have healthier products.”

Perhaps by that moment, right at the end of State TV’s  Roundtable, program the viewers would have already wondered too many times where those healthy products were, since the first third of his speech was dedicated to the minister outdoing himself with some data that would be surprising, but was not because Cubans know what is not on their plates.

In 2022, Pérez Brito said, the quantity of pork was reduced to 16,500 tons, almost 92% less than five years ago

In 2017, 199,700 tons of pork were produced. It was not that it was easy (and cheap) to find it then, but looking back from today it could be considered a boom time. In 2022, Pérez Brito said, the quantity was reduced to 16,500 tons, almost 92% less than five years prior. Behind this poor data is, it was argued, was the collapse of pork — only 14% of the plan was delivered — which in turn led to the drop in the ’reproductive mass’, from 96,200 tons in 2018 to 35,892 tons last year.

The minister affirmed that work is being done to recover pig feed, but, without going any further, the large factory that began to be built in Santiago de Cuba six years ago still does not have a start date and the delivery of land to produce pig feed is still progressing slowly; of the 50,430 hectares required, 31,507 have been provided.

Perez Brito also referred to eggs, a product that has been on the lips of the regime for weeks after years of complaints from the population and the independent press. In this case, the loss has been notable in less than three years: from 5 million eggs a day in 2020 it went to 2.2 million. As a result, the number of eggs now included in the monthly ration is five.

The causes have also been explained, the chickens are old and stressed out; that is the chickens that are alive. Because since the good times that the minister cited – without giving a date – when there were eight million chickens, there are now only 2.9 million layers of which the official could only highlight that they are of “very good breed.”

Another food that is scarce and, consequently, more expensive: coffee. A distinguishing product of the Island and one whose best varieties are exported in gourmet quality, is experiencing more than low moments. By the end of the year, it is estimated that about 9,000 tons of beans will have been obtained, only 38% of the demand, which is 24,000 tons. With such a scenario, the minister began to predict that in 2030 it is expected to reach 30,000 tons through optimistic “technological innovation.”

The data on rice and beans were also devastating, even more so taking into account their importance in the Cuban diet and the caloric contribution they could provide compared to the tiny amount of animal protein available

The data on rice and beans beans were also devastating, even more so taking into account their importance in the Cuban diet and the caloric contribution they could provide compared to the tiny amount of animal protein available. Rice fell by 10% and it is increasingly more expensive to import – “families must be supported with popular planting practices,” the minister encouraged.

Beans have fallen by 9% compared to 2016, their best year, although it was possible cover the basic family basket, and corn, which exhibits the worst situation, totalled 30% less than seven years ago. For this section, Pérez Brito proposed increasing the area under irrigation for the cultivation of grains, diversifying the seed and promoting investments foreign investments and cooperation projects, in addition to “productive linkages” with private companies.

The minister attributed all this bad news, as expected, to international inflation, the pandemic, wars and the embargo. In the words of Cuban economist Pedro Monreal: “Self-criticism? Very good, thank you…”

Pérez Brito also regretted that the population lives in the cities and not in the countryside, where only 15% of Cubans reside. The explanation, in itself, sounded poor: they are barely 5% less than in the United States and 0.9% less than in Spain. The last usual suspects were fuel, of which 40% of needs could be purchased, and the lack of financing for raw materials, he specified.

The second half of the presentation was dedicated by Pérez Brito to a type of coaching for farmers. He asked them to get more involved, encourage local production, “improve themselves,” and unite and cooperate between the public and private sectors. He urged the officials of the area to make changes in management, encourage the guajiros, give them credits and change their mentality.

“We will only achieve food sovereignty and security if we advance the nation’s capacity to produce food sustainably and give the entire population access to sufficient, diverse, balanced, nutritious, safe and healthy food, reducing dependence on means and external inputs, with respect for cultural diversity and environmental responsibility,” he blurted out, probably leaving the spectators perplexed because everyone understands the lack of food.

“There has been a lost decade” – the economist Pedro Monreal said a few minutes before the start of the program. “With the exception of the food category, the production of seven important foods was lower in 2022 than the level recorded ten years ago. The crisis began before the pandemic and agricultural policy has been incapable of resolving it,” he advanced.

At the close of the Roundtable, the expert lamented the uselessness of the explanations. “Three comments: a) as if the ’63 measures’ had never been implemented, b) strange notion that ’the plan is the demand’, and c) a localist utopia of optimizing the food supply.”


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.