27th February 2023
Cuba is struggling to produce the 0.4mn tons of sugar it needs from its 2022-23 campaign needed to deliver the quantities required for domestic consumption and export.
A report in Granma quoted Ángel Ríos, the General Director of Azcuba’s Productive Chain as saying that as of mid-February that there was a deficit of 95,000 tons against what was forecast. No figure was cited as to the overall production level to date.
The shortfall he said was a consequence of manufacturing delays caused in part by power plant breakdowns, a lack of fuel, tires, batteries and spares for transportation and cane cutting, an inability to prepare mills to start grinding on time, and financing difficulties arising from US sanctions. Unusually, Granma quoted him as indicating that migration, inflation, poor wages, and criminality were also taking their toll on the sector’s capacity to deliver.
Granma reported that of the just 23 mills involved in this year’s campaign (Background Cuba Briefing 7 November 2022) seven were experiencing problems. Two of the largest and most significant in terms of overall production, Urbano Noris in Holguin and the Antonio Guiteras plant in Las Tunas, were specifically reported to be facing labour shortages because of migration and an aging labour force.
The official publication quoted Ríos as saying that Cuba’s overall economic situation “marked by inflation” was also having an influence and that “production problems …. prevented workers from receiving decent wages and many leave.” In addition, he said “the lack of a qualified workforce, especially intermediate managers, has had a negative impact, which had caused a lack of discipline and rigor. A group of important breakdowns, he noted, were associated with bad operating practices, while production “had been affected by fires in cane fields and sugar thefts committed by criminals.”
Asked about the problem of theft, he said that such incidents had “forced the directors of the centrals (mills) to concentrate on confronting criminal acts” in collaboration with law enforcement and local communist party militants. “The criminals have violated fences and warehouses, they have threatened the custodians and workers of the power plants, as well as the families of those who oppose them”, he told Granma, naming five mills in different provinces to have suffered in this way.
More positively, Ríos confirmed that some mills as planned will operate all year to make molasses to produce alcohol and spirits, offering workers “considerable income” benefitting the economy through tax contributions. This he said was enabling the mills to use the income obtained from alcohol production to pay off debts contracted with cane producers, in order to encourage an increase in acreages. He also confirmed that some mills had associated plant producing animal feed from the residues of alcohol production.
Although the report provided few figures as to likely outcomes, Granma quoted the Azcuba Director as saying; “as the harvest is still young, we believe that we will be able to guarantee what is scheduled” although this may mean, he added, that the present harvest is extended to April or into May depending on weather conditions.
Last year Government took the decision to utilise fewer mills to grind cane, reducing the number from 36 and concentrating resources in fewer plants with the objective of obtaining greater efficiency. In 2022 just 0.47mn tons of sugar were produced. The 0.45mn tons planned for this year is divided between the family food basket, tourism, manufacturing, and export.
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