Last Updated: Monday, 31 August 2015, 07:39 GMT

Failing Farms Force Cuba to Import Food

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Laura Paz
Publication Date 5 March 2013
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Failing Farms Force Cuba to Import Food, 5 March 2013, available at: [accessed 31 August 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Cuba's agricultural sector continues to underperform, and the authorities have acknowledged the heavy cost of importing food to fill the gap. 

Shoppers are only too well aware of the implications, which translate into high retail prices for foodstuffs.

As President Raúl Castro told a cabinet meeting in December, every time the production quota is missed, the cost to the state runs into millions of US dollars.

Official figures show that Cuba spent 1.7 billion dollars on food imports in 2012, up from 1.5 billion in 2010. The projection for 2013 is another 200-million-dollar increase, to 1.9 billion dollars.

In early December, state television reported that annual production of beans – a staple item in Cuba – was running at 20,000 tons a year, when consumption was 100,000 tons.

Despite President Castro's focus on raising farm output since 2008, the sector has consistently failed to fulfil the Communist Party's stated plan of growing enough rice, beans, maize, soya and other crops to allow a "gradual reduction of imports".

Pensioner Adela Sotolongo said she would be left penniless if she bought a small joint of pork – an important meat for Cubans – to celebrate Christmas.

For Christmas, she said, "I only just managed to bring home a cabbage, a pound of tomatoes and kidney beans. Prices were too high for my pension."

The cost came to 35 pesos, which may not seem much at 1.30 dollars, but is a large proportion of her 210 peso monthly pension.

In December, pork cost 28 pesos a pound (just under half a kilogram). But according to Anabel, a private trader who has her own kiosk, prices are now running at 35 to 40 pesos.

Because food is in short supply at the state-run markets, many shoppers have to buy from private sellers like Anabel, who add a mark-up.

Juan Eye, a street trader in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality of the capital Havana, explained the economics, describing how he bought produce from intermediaries who in turn sourced it from farmers.

"I have to work like a mule and sell beans at high prices, because 220 pounds will cost me 1,700 pesos and I'm only making 200 pesos per sack," he said.

Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba.

This article first appeared on IWPR's website.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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