HAVANA – Agricultural production in Cuba fell 7.5 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2009, according to a report released on the Web site of the National Statistics Office, or ONE.
Farming output – excluding sugar, which is treated as a separate industry – fell by 9.7 percent on the communist-ruled island, while livestock production was down 4.8 percent, ONE said.
The harvests of tubers, roots, vegetables, beans, rice and citrus declined, and bananas were the only product experiencing a notable increase of 48 percent.
The fall in the broader agricultural sector so far this year comes along with a bad situation in the sugar industry, where the 2009-2010 harvest was called by government-run media the poorest since 1905 although the precise figures have not been made public.
In an Aug. 1 speech to the national legislature, President Raul Castro referred to the “failure” of the sugar sector and other agricultural areas “due to errors of leadership and also ... the effects of the drought.”
Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said that the drop in agricultural and livestock production “shows signs of a continued reduction since 2008” and the results have been “disastrous,” given the hurricanes that severely affected the country in that year and the subsequent drought.
“Consequently, the dependence on abroad in food matters is deepening, just when the nation seems to be lacking financial resources,” according to an analysis released to the foreign press by Espinosa, a former political prisoner paroled on medical grounds in 2004.
In his opinion, Cuba “urgently (needs to make) radical changes in productive areas, in marketing and the acquisition of supplies for agriculture.”
During the first half of this year, the Cuban government put more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of idle lands into the hands of new producers to work as part of its policy to spur food production and reduce imports.
The law for distributing land in this way was approved in 2008, after the announcement that half of Cuba’s arable land was idle.
Raul Castro, who succeeded ailing older brother Fidel in January 2008, has insisted on several occasions that food production is a matter of “national security” and has reiterated his determination to boost the island’s agricultural production.
Cuba has been importing more than 80 percent of the food its 11.2 million citizens consume, and in April it emerged that the country spends more than $1.5 billion each year on food purchases from abroad. EFE