The transcendental changes that Cuba experienced as of 1959 began with agriculture. Two profound agrarian reforms that, on the one hand, meant the expropriation of large extensions of land from nationals and foreigners and the creation of more than 120,000 private agricultural owners seemed to be the necessary push for a process in which a growing internal market would serve as one of the motors behind the new economic and social development project. With all this, food dependency could be reduced, as well as poly-import genetics that has been with us almost since Columbus discovered this island. But it was not like that.
It is true that today the scarcity of resources has become one of the most powerful weights pulling down the sector as a whole, but it is also true that in times when resources (people, oil, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, agricultural machinery, animal feed, research institutes, agricultural scientists and technicians) were relatively abundant and relatively inexpensive, the Cuban agricultural sector didn’t achieve the yields that this endowment of resources would have allowed. It was always far from its productivity frontier and even less was it able to satisfy the growing food needs of our population, neither the demand nor the effective demand.
The agricultural and livestock sector continues to be the one that directly employs the largest number of people in Cuba. It is also the one that probably achieves the lowest productivity and may have been the first to face this phenomenon of emptiness, emigration and aging of the labor force that all sectors of the national economy suffer today, from education and health to tourism, once an “attractor” of a qualified labor force.
It is also one of the goods-producing sectors and a direct contributor to the supply of essential products. But at the same time it is one of those that has received the least investment in the last five years (5.1%). Meanwhile, real estate, a generator of high demand for goods whose satisfaction can only be achieved through imports — due to the weakness of our goods-producing sector — received in that same period (48%) of all investment in the country.
Those five years, from 2017 to 2021, are not just any period in the life of our country. By 2017, a radical change in relations with the United States was already a reality, which materialized in 2018 with the measures of the Trump administration, to which should be added the Covid-19 pandemic and its demand for increasing resources to reduce its impact.
Now, and partly as a result of these investment decisions, we have almost 20,000 more 4- and 5-star rooms, a linear occupancy rate that does not exceed 25%, and a lack of supplies — food in the first place — that makes the recovery of the tourism sector even more difficult.
Some data can help us understand the problem. Assuming that 30% of all this real estate investment is in foreign currency, we would then have it that in that period 10.344.8 million dollars would have been invested in hotels. During that same period, the value of herbicide imports fell from 39.9 million dollars in 2018 to 7.9 million in 2021, which in turn meant a reduction of 84% in the availability of this input. For the same period, the value of imports of insecticides and fungicides decreased from 22.5 million to 13.8 million (39%), reducing the availability of the product by 56%.
Today we import 100% of the basic food basket, because without pesticides and herbicides it is very difficult to reach the production volumes necessary to supply, at least in part, that basket, even if we plant all the pots on the balconies of Centro Habana with beans. In economics we call it “opportunity cost” and today all the people is paying for it.
The value of imports of unground maize, for the same period, decreased by 16% (from 193.8 million to 164.3 million) and the availability of the product decreased from 812.3 tons to 509.4 tons (37.3%).
Maintaining the same value of imports of animal feed meant allocating some 145 million dollars in the three years between 2019 and 2021. Those 145 million dollars is much less than 2% of those other 10 billion that we assume were allocated to the construction of hotels. The same similarly occurs in the case of preparations for animal feed. With 125 million, it would have been possible to maintain a volume of products close to 128.2 tons in 2018. (All the data come from the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba 2021, 2022 edition. Tables 8.12 and 12.6.)
By allocating 10% of those 10 billion that we have assumed is the foreign currency component of all the investment made from 2017 to 2021 in the “real estate sector,” to the purchase of inputs to ensure some strategic products, it would have been practically possible to sustain a volume of critical inputs similar to that of 2018.
Today, due to lack of food, the reduction in the production of pigs, eggs, and milk puts each family in a critical situation, opens the doors to speculation and the rise in prices that fuel inflation and leaves a space open for the import of these basic end products, almost the only way to increase the offer. We can open holes in our patios, or in our living rooms, or buy plastic pools to raise tilapia, which may be an emergency option, but without animal feed we will not be able to massively produce the protein that our population needs.
By the way, it may surprise us, but when those investment decisions were made, THE MSMES WERE NOT YET BORN.
But it is true that it is not enough to invest a lot in a sector like agriculture in Cuba, which for a little over six decades has shown that it is not only suffering from a lack of resources.
It is likely that no country on this planet has as many people as in Cuba dedicated to trying to make the agricultural and livestock sector have results. I don’t think there is another country that dedicates more hours, more measures, more controls, more visits from different levels and organizations, more training and education courses, probably more international projects, more scientific events, more square meters of offices, more kilowatt/hours, more liters of fuel, more cars, SUVs and other types of transportation than in the Cuban agricultural and livestock sector.
Any relationship indicator that you want to implement, for example: hours of meetings/total production of agricultural products; number of control/yield visits per hectare; number of measures/increase in production, would make it possible to verify that bureaucratic actions do not have a decisive impact on the results of the sector or, even, that their impact is sometimes negative.
This idea, repeated several times in the recent regular session of the National Assembly on the need to revolutionize the agricultural and livestock sector, goes through the need to promote a deep process of creative destruction that makes it possible to get rid of organizations and structures that for decades have shown that they do not give result.
It is necessary to give the place due to the campesino; definitively solve the land problem; introduce and properly regulate competition; reduce state agricultural and livestock enterprises and keep only those that demonstrate their ability to compete.
It should be understood that the productive chains require successful closures to make them sustainable. It is essential to create the necessary incentives; finish creating once and for all a true Agricultural and Livestock Development Bank; open the sector to national and foreign private investment and many other proposals with which dozens of pages have been filled and which have been delayed over and over again despite the fact that today the sustained rise in food prices is one of the main factors in the increase in inflation.
You don’t move into the future by repeating failed schemes and hoping they give a different result.
Let’s look at the facts: you have the case of our sugar industry, which this year has managed to produce just over 350,000 tons of sugar, almost the same as that produced back in 1850. Except that in that century, that production was achieved without a huge building on 23rd Street in Vedado, without “modern” factories, without railways, without a crew of trucks, sugarcane combines, tractors, without irrigation machines, and without sugar engineers and technicians and various research institutes, and without 93 measures and a huge bureaucratic apparatus to supposedly control their execution. Sugar is also expensive in the markets, but MSMEs have not had anything to do with the productive results of what was once the most powerful agro-industrial sector in the country.
In general, what is sown is reaped and properly cared for. We are reaping what economic decisions have “sowed” in Cuba for a few years.