Posted on Wed, Jun. 06, 2007
More imported sugar on Cuba's plate
Preliminary results of Cuba's 2007 sugar harvest signal the island will
continue importing its signature crop.
BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
The sugar consumed in Cuba has an increasingly foreign flavor.
A steep slump in the nation's once-principal industry has forced the
Cuban government to import sugar from Brazil and Colombia for the past
six years. Preliminary results of the 2007 harvest do not indicate a
change in that trend.
Although this year's harvest ended May 23 without any official comment
on its production total, estimates from analysts and industry sources
indicate it totaled 1.1 million metric tons.
If accurate, the 2007 harvest would be the worst in 100 years,
comparable only to those in 1903 and 1904, when production rose just
above one million MTs.
Authorities at the Sugar Ministry had set a goal for 2007 of 1.5-1.6
million MTs, but now acknowledge that barely 17 of the 51 active mills
met their production plans, affected by the bad weather in eastern Cuba.
''The harvest was a disaster, even though it had more resources and 30
percent more cane was available than in the previous period,'' said
dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who every year analyzes the
harvest for foreign publications. “We'll have to continue to import
sugar for a long time.''
OUT OF BRAZIL
In 2001, many Cubans were startled when the government shops that
distribute the food items on ration cards began to sell unrefined sugar
made in Brazil. The card allows each Cuban a monthly quota of five
pounds of sugar. In more recent years, the shops have been selling
increasing amounts of Brazilian and Colombian sugar.
Brazil's Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade has
reported that exports of sugar and sucrose to Cuba in 2006 amounted to
309,659 MTs, with an approximate value of $50.5 million.
The Colombian Association of Sugar Cane Harvesters, known as ASOCANA,
reported that between 2002 and 2006 that country sent 425,609 MTs of
refined sugar to Cuba.
Cuba needs about 700,000 MTs per year to satisfy its domestic demand,
and a smaller amount that will allow it to fulfill its export
commitments. In 2005, the Cuban government signed contracts with Belarus
for the purchase of about 50,000 MTs of beet sugar.
In late 2003, the state-run company Alimport announced it planned to buy
U.S. sugar for domestic consumption, but the deal never materialized.
MILLS SHUT DOWN
During the industrial restructuring decreed by Fidel Castro in 2002,
Cuba shut down 70 of its 155 sugar mills, stopped cultivating sugar cane
in 3.4 million acres of land and reduced the industry's labor force by
25 percent. Sugar has historically been considered the nation's economic
''The situation is chaotic, and I don't see the sun rising any time
soon,'' said a veteran cane worker in Camagüey province. “This industry
was dismantled four years ago and we cannot now expect miracles.''
According to official data, almost 50 percent of the drop in sugar
production was caused by a surplus of rain that reduced output and
limited work on the fields. Only the provinces of Matanzas and
Cienfuegos met their production goals.