Cuba loosens state monopoly on food sales amid crisis

Cuba loosens state monopoly on food sales amid crisis

HAVANA, Nov 6 (Reuters)  Cuba will allow farmers, private traders and food processors to engage in direct wholesale and retail trade as long as farmers meet government contracts, state media reported on Friday.The government will also loosen some price controls and delegate others to local officials’ discretion.

The measures do away with the state’s monopoly on product distribution and sales and are part of a series of policy changes in the sector approved by the Council of Ministers amidst a growing food crisis.

Similar market-oriented reforms were adopted by the Communist Party a decade ago after a lengthy popular discussion, then reversed in 2016 with little explanation.

Fierce U.S. sanctions led to a dramatic drop in imports of fuel, fertilizer and other agricultural inputs in 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic has further cut into foreign exchange earnings needed to import food and production inputs.

Foreign and local experts expect economic growth to decline by about 8% this year and trade by 30%.

The country imports more than 60% of the food it consumes and a large percentage of agricultural inputs such as fuel, machinery, fertilizer, pesticides and animal feed.

Production has stagnated in recent years and it declined dramatically in 2020, though the government has yet to publish any data this year.

“In order to guarantee the 30 pounds per capita per month of production, the country needs some 154,000 tons of agricultural products, be they roots, vegetables or fruits,” Agriculture Minister Rodriguez Rollero said Thursday evening on state television upon announcing the measures.

“This month we have 100,000 tons,” he said.

Produce markets are often poorly stocked and have long lines, as do supermarkets and other food outlets.

Viandas, types of starchy vegetables, reached a ceiling of 2.8 million tonnes in 2016 and 2017, mainly on account of bananas, and then they began to decrease through last year, state media commentator Ariel Terrero recently said during one of his weekly television programs.

“And vegetables stagnated at a peak of 2.5 million tonnes harvested six years ago,” he said. (Reporting by Marc Frank Editing by Paul Simao)