HAVANA, Oct. 19th (HT) How much does Cuba lose each year because of the inefficiency of its agricultural bureaucracy? Let’s take a look at some of the hard figures.
The internal marketing of Cuban agricultural products reaches close to 7 billion CUP per year, which is to say around $290 million USD. This figure includes all the State markets and retail stores, supply and demand markets, cooperatives and street cart sellers.
The production that Cuban farmers contribute only constitutes a small part of what the country needs. Cuba imports around 75% of its food, spending 1.9 billion USD per year. The figure could be less but Cuba’s farm bureaucracy loses 57% of harvests because of its inefficiency.
If only 43% of what is being harvested reaches markets and other consumers, the losses due to the incompetence of those responsible for managing food distribution are worth approximately 165 million USD per year, that’s $14 million per month! Almost half a million dollars per day!
You could buy 5,000 tractors per year for that amount or import over 700,000 tons of fertilizer. This would increase food production, reducing imports, which is one of the government’s main objectives.
If Cuba could save the resources that rot in the fields or in warehouses and use them to buy powdered milk, it would be able to buy about 80 million kilos, enough to give every Cuban citizen milk until old age.
If they invested what the farm bureaucracy wastes on public transport, the government could buy about 800 new European buses, whereby there would be more buses in Havana in 10 years than before the crisis in the ‘90s.
Getting ahead of those who will say that these calculations might be over the top, I’ve accepted to halve them and the result would be just as outrageous: losing 400,000 USD per day, the equivalent of 2500 tractors, 500 buses or 40 million kg of milk per year.
The government is constantly talking about saving but it protects one of the country’s greatest squanderers, the farm bureaucracy. The “mechanism” they use to manage work in the fields and to distribute harvests has already proved its incompetence on too many occasions.
Food imports could be reduced by a third if the farm bureaucracy didn’t lose so much of the harvests. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
The official press has tried to hide, justify or sugarcoat their incompetence, but sometimes losses are so great – thousands of tons of tomatoes or rotten mangos – that a journalist or government representative breaks the “pact of silence” and then a scandal breaks out.
The government insists on keeping this “mechanism” without trying alternatives. One would be having the agricultural ministry limit itself to helping farmers including selling them transport vehicles so they could establish their own distribution service, without state or private intermediaries.
Agronomist Fernando Funes is an example that few people want to see: he grows what the market asks him to, he has his own distribution system, he manages to sell over 90% of his harvest, he pays better wages and he earns enough to live a dignified life.
We aren’t talking about Japanese lean production but about a small ranch situated as you leave Havana, with poor soil quality, full of stones and very little water. The country’s agricultural bureaucracy seems to fear that Funes’ example of independent management will spread and take away their power.
Within this context, squandering the financial resources Cuba has available should be considered treason. Leaving food to rot in fields is also very inhumane in a country where ordinary citizens have such a hard time to put food on their tables.
However, there still hasn’t been a public announcement that the government will take action against those managers responsible for harvest losses and the State bodies responsible for collecting and distributing food continue to be the same ones that sabotage the agricultural sector every year.
Speeches and slogans asking workers for greater savings will do little good, as will talk about making the most of resources available, increasing production or reducing imports, while the government isn’t able to lead by example in a country where food is such a sensitive issue for the population.
With the money the farm bureaucracy loses the problem of milk consumption could be resolved.