Cuba’s Agriculture: Relativity and TimeNovember 30, 2012 | Print |
HAVANA TIMES — Administrators of the Ministry of Agriculture say that four years is too little an amount of time for any changes in that area, but I can’t believe they required 48 months to determine that campesinos needed to have their homes located on their farms.
In a recent press conference, these officials announced that they had eliminated the ban on building homes on land distributed in usufruct so that campesinos wouldn’t have to live in the city and commute every morning to work their fields.
That loose concept of time may explain why they’re still continuing to “study” the issue of the distribution and marketing of agricultural products. Notwithstanding, this overly centralized form of production — monopolized by agencies for half a century — has given ample proof of its inefficiency.
The administrators didn’t want to talk about this; they simply repeated over and over again that “it’s not the topic of this press conference.” This came as a great surprise since most farmers believe that to be the main obstacle of Cuban agriculture.
For an example, we foreign journalists explained what’s happening with milk, whose price has been reduced to a third of what’s established by the government. However the officials only talked about the quality of that product using technical arguments that are difficult to confirm.
Nevertheless campesinos are very pragmatic and have years of experience in dealing with bureaucrats; so if they’re not paid what’s agreed on, they’ll sell their milk on the black market, where there’s always someone willing to pay its true value.
Roads are a good barometer of what’s happening. When the government began to pay cheese vendors more, they disappeared from the highways. Now they’re back, and in force, even in places that aren’t traditionally cattle-raising areas.
Nevertheless the administrators of the nation’s agriculture assured us that reform is proceeding smoothly, though they refused to give us figures about how much is being produced by the new farmers – the 150,000 campesinos who have just received land in usufruct.
These specialists say that agricultural development has to be measured qualitatively, not quantitatively; they also talk about “impacts,” gibberish that seems to have the sole purpose of hiding figures that would allow the measurement of the effectiveness of the work of MINAGRI.
The problem is that people don’t eat “impacts” – they eat fruits, vegetables and meat. The only “impact” they experience is that felt by the increasingly higher prices at agricultural markets, where a pound of potatoes now costs $2 USD in some places.
The problem isn’t that there’s no food in the streets; the agro markets are full, fixed-location sales stalls are multiplying and cart-pushing vendors are crisscrossing the neighborhoods touting their products. Never since the time when I first arrived in Cuba have I ever seen so much food – but never has it been so expensive.
Part of the explanation is that many farmers are evading commercialization that goes through the government because of the low prices it pays, in addition to delays and inefficiency when it comes time to for harvesting crops, which can lead to substantial losses.
Because of this, much of the food produced in Cuba moves within a semi-legal spectrum in which intermediaries and the black marketeers jack-up the prices, with these players earning much more than campesinos or bled-dry consumers.
While all of this is being experienced by people on the street, MINAGRI administrators are continuing to “study” the issue of marketing. They may require six or seven years of analysis because it’s an issue that’s even more complex than authorizing the construction of homes on farms.
A person would be led to believe that this ministry is composed of a small group of people over their heads in work, but the truth is that this office has hundreds of thousands of employees. The problem is that most of them are engaged in paper shuffling.
After the press conference, I kept thinking about the theory of relativity. Four years for an ordinary person equals 1,460 days of daily struggle for them to put at plate of food on the table. Obviously administrators see things different from how consumers do.
(*) See Fernando Ravsberg’s blog (in Spanish).