“With These Prices You Can’t Do Anything” Protest the Tenants of Rice Land

Rice cultivation in Los Palacios, Pinar del Río. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 November 2022 — Ten days have been enough for the pinareños [people of Pinar del Río] who requested idle land to grow rice, encouraged by the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Jorge Luis Tapia Fonseca, to be disappointed. “If I knew it was going to be like that, I wouldn’t have requested land. They gave me two caballerías* and I’m grateful because before it was difficult to get any area. But with these prices I can’t do anything,” Yoserky López Llobera tells the provincial newspaper Guerrillero.

The young man worked at the Jorge González Ulloa cooperative, one of the largest grain producers in the country, until a few years ago, with about 100,000 quintales** according to the newspaper, but its harvest has plummeted. Coming from the outskirts of Sierra Maestra, where 800 of the more than 1,000 hectares ceded in usufruct by the Agroindustrial Grain Company of Los Palacios are located, the boy was one of the 200 employees who were left without work due to the decrease in production.

Ariel García Pérez, director of the company, said that the delivery of land that was no longer used due to lack of resources would be beneficial, although the transfer was barely 10% of the total available. “They provided me with two caballerías of land, which were broken up according to the old cost sheet,” says Loivan Hano Abrahantes, who already had land and requested more. “The rice needs no less than four cultivations, which amounts to about 5,000 pesos. It costs 10,800 just for preparation, not counting the rest of what needs to be invested.”

Hano, who belonged to the cooperative, had his land broken up as of November 22, like Yoserky López, but they still haven’t signed the invoice for the change in the cost sheet.

“What the deputy prime minister explained during his visit was that the minimum per hectare*** was about 13,000 pesos of profit, but now they changed the price of everything: water, seed, transport, and if there is no technological package (kit of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals that has been distributed for years), we practically sow at our own risk. That was not what they said at the beginning,” protests Hano Abrahantes, who adds other problems.

To the expenses are added obstacles from the municipality, which requires him to harvest rice in a month but still won’t give him  credit. In addition, he claims that there is a five-month delay in payment.

“This is new. No one ever thought that agriculture could be done without a technological package. Today the technology package is the land, man, water, and fuel that can be acquired,” says Yoannis Campos Segura, president of the cooperative.

Another of the producers consulted, Agustín Echeverría, has found replacements for the technological package, and his rice is doing better, but he doesn’t stop complaining either. “Here they haven’t come to explain anything, neither from the Bank, nor from the CAI (Agroindustrial Azucarero Complex, which delivers fertilizers), nor from transport. Meanwhile the rice continues without sowing, and the farmer without work.”

According to him, since Tapia Fonseca passed through the area, about 50 producers have joined, but he wonders how they will be able to sow, if they can’t make a profit with the increase in prices.

The price of the quintal of wet rice husk, when sold to the company, rises between 1,000 and 1,300 pesos depending on the cost sheet. “There are many producers who have to apply for a credit, and 53 of them are cut off. First they must become customers of the Bank, and according to their policy, they must present a co-debtor with no less than 35,000 pesos,” adds Campos Segura.

In his opinion, along with the technical and chemical limitations, there is the money: “The most effective way for there to be production is through approving credit for the certain, effective producer so that, even if the Company can’t provide help, the farmer can can hire individuals, either through SMEs**** or through a contract in the cooperative, with the prices set by mutual agreement.”

The official points out an additional problem: there are those who have applied for a loan from the bank and, once granted, leave the country. Agustín Echeverría, along that line, accuses young people of a lack of commitment to the land. “What the young people  do is come for a year, harvest a small amount, collect the money and leave. That way we can’t raise production either.”

Since the lands in Pinar del Río were ceded in usufruct, a process that was — they explain — fast, because the land will also be used for livestock, 70 people, most of them unemployed, are in the process of joining the cooperative, and there are 27 farmers who have expanded their area.

The Jorge González Ulloa groups together 320 associates, of which 290 are rice farmers and, according to Campos Segura, “a wooden housing module will be assigned, with a solar panel, so that the farmer can remain on his lot and give it the attention that cultivation requires. This would also help the family’s connection to the field.”

Translator’s notes:
*Caballeríasare an ancient Spanish land measure of varying size, about 33 acres in Cuba.
** Quintales are a unit of mass, typically 100 pounds.
*** One hectare equals 2.5 acres.
**** SMEs are small and medium-size enterprises.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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