HAVANA – Coffee production has fallen by 90 percent in recent years in Cuba, where the government of Gen. Raul Castro is currently spending some $50 million to import the bean to meet domestic demand, the government-run weekly Trabajadores reported Monday.
Cuba once produced 60,000 tons of coffee per year, but “now it scarcely reaches 10 percent of that quantity,” Trabajadores said, citing figures compiled by the Agriculture Ministry.
“Today, the country needs to import 19,000 tons of coffee valued at approximately $50 million to ensure the consumption of this product, which traditionally constituted an important source of foreign currency income,” the weekly said.
Experts cited in the article said that the main causes of the drop in coffee production include prolonged droughts, the hurricanes that have slammed Cuba in recent years and the government’s failure to provide growers with enough fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and tools.
They also mentioned the introduction of plagues “by enemy hands” and the exodus of producers to other crops “seeking greater income.”
The weekly emphasized that the harvest of the bean “touched bottom” in 2005, when coffee growers became the worst-paid peasant farmers within the island’s agricultural system.
“It cannot be a more bitter pill for the Cuban economy,” Trabajadores said, adding – however – that “far from renouncing this crop, present on the island for more than 250 years, the nation has established a development program, which between 2009 and 2015 intends to reverse the deficit.”
The strategy includes a new system of prices to pay coffee growers and a reorganization of production in the areas with the plantations that give the best results.
Cuba spends more than $1.5 billion annually on importing food, and the government feels that increasing production is a matter of “national security” to eliminate the expenditures at times when international prices are high and because the island is suffering from an acute lack of liquidity.
Since he assumed power in July 2006, when his older brother Fidel became ill, Gen. Castro has turned over to family farmers and cooperatives thousands of hectares (acres) of long-idle arable land, among other measures to try and increase production. EFE