Rains Dampen Cuba's Sugar Production
Ray Sanchez | Direct from Havana
7:28 AM EDT, April 10, 2008
Cubans can expect less sugar with that mojito or cup of strong Cuban coffee.
The island's sugar minister, Ulises Rosales del Toro, this week told
state radio that recent downpours could mean another lower-than-expected
sugar harvest. The season runs from January to March but occasionally
stretches into May.
At the start of this season, Rosales said the island planned to process
12 percent more cane than the previous year, which yielded 1.2 million
tons of sugar. The industry had expected up to 1.6 million tons of sugar
in 2007 before inclement weather ruined that goal.
To date, the island has produced between 800,000 and 900,000 tons of
sugar, according to an estimate by Reuters news service.
Last week, Rosales told the state press that this year's harvest had
fallen behind because of transportation problems and shortages of
equipment and spare parts.
Most of the decline in agriculture since 1990 has resulted from the
collapse of the sugar sector, which produced 8.4 tons that year before
the fall of Cuba's Soviet benefactors.
The industry was so heavily subsidized that in 2002 former president
Fidel Castro closed 71 mills and ordered 90,000 sugar workers retrained.
Since then, the island has gone from operating more than 150 mills to
the current 55 now in use in the final weeks of the harvest.
Once a world leader in sugar exports, Cuba now imports between 200,000
and 300,000 tons of sugar each year from Colombia and Brazil. The island
of 11 million inhabitants consumes at least 700,000 tons of sugar each
year. Some 400,000 tons are exported to China.
Rosales said two weeks of heavy rains over the 13 sugar-producing
provinces have hampered the transport of cutting equipment to the mills.