14ymedio, Havana, 29 January 2024 — For months, the dairy industry of Sancti Spíritus has not been able to cover the more than 5,280 gallons per day needed by those who require a special diet. This, added to the deficit of 2,900 million gallons with which they closed 2023, affects thousands of patients, pregnant women and parents who get the product from the bodegas (ration stores). This Monday, the official press delivers the culprit on a platter: “the managers of the dairy and commercial companies is where the greatest lack of control is usually manifested.”
According to Escambray, “the debts with deliveries to the State by Agriculture,” the “failures with the distribution of the family basket,” the “distributions at the wrong time and the consequent effects on consumers” are just the tip of the iceberg of the dairy industry in the province, whose authorities fail to “control” the producers. The “effects” already reach more than 70,000 patients, pregnant women and children from six months to seven years old in Trinidad and the provincial capital alone.
Marina, a 61-year-old woman from Sanct Spíritus, who receives milk on a medical diet, tells 14ymedio that the situation is even more serious than the authorities reveal. “I should get milk 10 days a month, but so far in January I have only received it twice. I don’t know what the leaders want me to do with so little,” she says.
“On top of that, the milk is getting more and more watered down. You put it on the stove and it doesn’t boil. It keeps evaporating as if it were water”
“The distributions in the bodega are divided according to the groups of children, the pregnant and the sick – A, B and C – and I belong to C. If the milk arrives only for the A, that means that I don’t get it that day. They also sometimes deliver, for example, only half a gallon instead of a whole gallon. This is how they create the illusion that they are handing out milk when in reality they aren’t. On top of that, the milk is getting more and more watered down. You put it on the stove and it doesn’t boil. It keeps evaporating as if it were water,” says the woman.
“It’s true, as they say, that other provinces have not even had medical diets for a long time and that some distribute half a gallon to children instead of the whole gallon they should get. This happens in a province that, by the figures, is the second highest milk producer in Cuba,” which also exports to three other provinces, reports Escambray.
The solution, according to Escambray, is to treat the farmers better, so they will deliver the milk to the State and not sell it in the informal market. “Yes, there is milk, but we lack follow-up, because a lot of pizza, cheese and yogurt are still marketed and at high prices by the self-employed and on the street, and the milk is not always imported, it comes out of the milk that is not delivered,” Norge Yero, director of the Provincial Delegation of Agriculture, told the newspaper.
In the current situation, Escambray reports, it is evident that “neither the improvement in purchase prices as a result of the 93* measures to enhance production, nor the dozens of meetings that have been held to resolve the matter, nor the knocking on doors asking the producers to deliver milk (to the State), nor the authorization to the owners to sell the over-fulfillments where they want” have given results.
Nor have the penalties that fined the cooperatives 10 pesos for every gallon they do not deliver, a measure that, according to the media, the farmers themselves mock. “Last year about 400 farmers did not deliver what was agreed and did not complain about the fine that comes from private sales, where the gallon is quoted at up to 150 pesos and yogurt and cheese, more.”
Last year about 400 farmers did not deliver what was agreed and did not complain about the fine that comes from private sales
The fines, the ” confiscation of animals” and “rescinding the land from systematic non-compliants also seem to be cosmetic,” the media says. This January, and counting on the delivery of “the overfulfillers,” the industry in the province has only collected 80% of what was planned. If it continues like this, this year’s plan – 9,246 million gallons – seems unattainable.
The authorities, however, have assured that milk deliveries will be maintained according to the capabilities of the province. The sale “has not been suspended nor will it be suspended,” explained Alberto Cañizares, director of the Río Zaza Dairy Company, but “there is no guarantee for the diets, and the milk will be distributed when it arrives.”
The population, however, is tired of excuses and has begun to ask the local authorities for solutions. “Why do they take milk from seven-year-olds to give them yogurt? Now no milk or yogurt. What do those children have for breakfast or for a snack at school?” asked a user in the Comments section.
The answer, Norma, 32, from Las Tunas province, tells 14ymedio, is in the private sellers or “on the left.” “In my house, when no one gets milk from the libreta (ration book), we buy it directly from the farmers. Right now we pay 80 pesos a gallon and 1,000 for a package of milk powder, and it’s cheap because we live in the countryside and buy it first-hand,” she says.
In Havana, Roberto pays almost twice as much for the same amount, if he can find milk with a private individual. “I buy the milk from a woman who sells the one she gets from the libreta for her two children. I’m sorry to think about what those children will be having for breakfast, but if I don’t buy it, she’ll sell it to someone else,” he says.
Buying the product on the street, however, has its down side, says José Luis from Holguín. “We know that when we buy milk from the sellers it will always come with a little water, because that way they ’stretch’ it and sell more, and the last two times it tasted strange.” According to José Luis, the milk that his “usual” suppliers sell has begun to show an irregular consistency that, when boiled, leaves “something like sand” at the bottom of the pot.
“Several people have ventured to say that they are putting cassava starch in the milk. I don’t know what they are mixing it with, but my wife and I decided not to buy it anymore,” says the holguinero, who adds: “As much as we need it, I’m not risking giving it to my children.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
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