14ymedio, Havana, 1 March 2023 — Cuba is scheduled to receive a new donation of rice in May. The five thousand tons being provided by Vietnam is intended to help relieve a shortage affecting almost half the island. Do Viet Duc, general director of State Reserves of Vietnam, said that it will consist of white rice, 15% of which is broken, as defined by the government standards.
The donation was agreed upon during a meeting at the Cuban Embassy in Vietnam on February 24 according to reports in the Vietnamese press, though neither the government in Havana nor the official media have confirmed it.
Local press outlets have reported that the rice will be shipped in polypropylene bags, stamped “gift of the Vietnamese people to the Cuban people” in red, uppercase letters, and in Vietnamese and Spanish.
The Vietnamese official said that the rice will be processed “as soon as possible” so that the ship transporting it can leave this month. The government of Vietnam will pay for freight and insurance costs while its Cuban counterpart will assume the costs related to delivery, transportation and unloading.
Orlando Hernandez Guillen, Cuba’s ambassador to Vietnam, thanked the Vietnamese government for the “sincere” gift, which he said has “humanitarian significance” for the island.
Compared to other varieties of imported rice, such as that of Uruguay, the Vietnamese rice is not held in high regard by Cuban consumers, who have described it as “muddy” and “foul smelling.”
Cuban families have not seen a grain of it on their tables since the beginning of this year. Last week, the Ministry of Internal Commerce acknowledged that there was not enough rice to be distributed through the nation’s ration system in the provinces of Matanzas, Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo.
The government began its March distribution of rationed rice with only 2,090 tons available, far short of the 36,000 tons it had planned to provide Cuban families.
The reason for the current shortatge is weak domestic production. The latest figures indicate that only 120,000 tons were harvested in 2022, far short of the 700,000 the country needs annually.
The 2023 harvest is not looking good either according to Orlando Linares Morell, director of the Rice Technology Division of state-owned Grupo Empresarial Agricola. In January the state-owned company reported that this year’s production would be 40% of estimates because only 68,000 of the planned 140,000 planned hectares had been planted.
The government estimates that, in order to meet domestic demand, up to 200,000 hectares would have to be planted each year, an increase of 194% of this year’s area, and yields would have increase to six tons per hectare.
Local governments have taken measures to further regulate the supply. In Sancti Spiritus the sale of rice at agricultural fairs has been suspended in favor of diverting it to “popular markets” where families can buy as much as they can afford. The government also decided to concentrate its limited supply to Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad because they are the province’s most populous cities.
The shortage has caused the price to skyrocket to 200 pesos a pound on the informal market, very close to the the price for a pound of pork. Also joining the competition is sugar, which has disappeared from store shelves, something that has never happened before, even during the Special Period.
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