Intervention of the participants of the most recent Ultimo Jueves [program], which dealt with the question of knowing whether we are capable of producing everything we need.
The Panel of Ultimo Jueves conducted via WhatsApp, September 3rd, 2020.
Annia Martínez Massip. Sociologist, Professor at the Universidad Central ‘Marta Abreu’ in Las Villas.
Jorge Ramírez. Small-scale coffee grower. Escambray, Cienfuegos.
Pedro Monreal. Economist. Doctor in Economic Sciences. Specialist in the Social and Human Sciences Program of the UNESCO Program for the Management of Social Transformations (MOST). UNESCO headquarters.
Silvio Gutiérrez Pérez. Assistant Professor. Universidad de la Havana. Specialist in food costs.
Jaime García Ruiz. Professor at the Universidad Central ‘Marta Abreu’ in Las Villas.
Foto: Rafael Hernández/Temas
Rafael Hernández: Good afternoon to all participants in this virtual WhatsApp group of Ultimo Jueves, dedicated to the topic “Can we produce what we eat?” This is the fourth panel that we conduct online this year due to the COVID-19 situation. We are carrying it out with panelists who are in different geographical locations. One is in Havana, another in Santa Clara, another in Sancti Spíritus, another in the Sierra of Escambray—in the area of Cienfuegos, which is where I am—and the fifth is located in Paris, France. So the area that we are covering, including the time zones that are encompassed, are quite broad—as we hope the debate will be.
Although we could collect numerous questions around this vast field of sociological, economic, and political studies, today’s questionnaire does not attempt to cover them all, but rather concentrate on some that we consider critical. I want to take this opportunity to thank Juan Valdés Paz, one of the mentors of contemporary rural Cuban sociology, member of the Editorial Board of Temas, for his most valuable collaboration in the preparation of this questionnaire.
We will begin with the following question: When we think in terms of food sovereignty, to what extent have we reached the capacity to be self-sufficient?
Annia Martínez Massip: We know the answer: we have not reached the capacity to be self-sufficient, especially if this includes the production of food destined for the population, for tourism, export and for import as substitution. These are four areas each with specific and concrete demands regarding the quantity and quality of fresh and processed food. The problem is not the lack of knowledge of the causes, because these have been identified for decades. In early July of this year, during the second meeting with scientists and experts related to the topic of food- and nutritional sovereignty, President Díaz-Canel re-introduced and emphasized the comprehensive treatment of the issue, “which involves the introduction of scientific results, [and] the difficulties of commercialization and distribution are”—among others.
Regarding the link between science and agricultural production I wish to note an interesting fact. As part of a doctoral thesis in the Department of Sociology at the Universidad Central ‘Marta Abreu’ in Las Villas in 2018, the author carried out an exploratory search of statistics by the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations] and the ONEI [National Office of Statistics and Information, Cuba] on agriculture and livestock productivity. It confirmed that Cuba does not exhibit, historically nor regionally, high agricultural productivity according to the scientific standards, in the majority of fruits, garden and root vegetables, grains, and meat, milk and egg production. Other islands like Jamaica, Guadalupe, San Vicente and the Grenadines, Santa Lucia, the Bahamas, Martinique and Barbados repeatedly show higher levels. Undoubtedly, the levels of agricultural production and productivity are influenced by multiple geographic, climatological, economic, financial, political, human, cultural and social factors; as well as by scientific, technological and innovative ones. But I can’t stop thinking of Cuba as a Caribbean archipelago, which must follow insular productive models of high efficiency agriculture with low production costs, and of first-world countries, which are closing the link between science and food-production.
Jorge Ramírez: I think that we have not reached a high level of production of foods, and we still have a long way to go. And when we do speak of food-sovereignty, the term may be endless; many factors depend on it. Because, as the President of the Republic expressed it admirably on one occasion, we have grown accustomed to look towards the harbor instead of towards the field. So, we are dependent on imports.
We are always going to depend on some products. Because of the country’s characteristics—we are a tropical country and so on—there are many products that we cannot grow and that we need to import. For example, wheat. It is better to import it than to produce it—and that is true for a number of other products.
Rafael Hernández: Do you believe that the basic food basket that the Cuban family eats could be produced here entirely?
Jorge Ramírez: For the most part, yes; say 70% of the basic food basket could be grown, but there are products that will still have to be imported, in addition to wheat. For example, chickpeas. It is grown here, but in very low quantities. Bean production could be increased, perhaps enough to cover 70% of the Cuban demands—but not all.
Pedro Monreal: The term ‘food-sovereignty’ needs to be specified when it is used in Cuba because it originated and is used in other parts of the world as a progressive alternative to the term ‘food-security.’ This term is associated with the security of adequate nutrition for all, but does not establish differences between the import and the national or local components, nor does it critically evaluate the social efficiency aspect, nor the use of science and technology. Alternatively, ‘food-sovereignty’ is seen as the right of producers and consumers, to participate in the development of agricultural policies. It is a criticism of the so-called ‘corporate food regimes’, and it highlights local agricultural systems as an option. It situates its perspective on the ‘political economy’ of the food production and consumption: Where does the food come from? How is it produced? By whom and for whom? In this sense, I consider that the term ‘food sovereignty’ could contribute to the analysis and discussion in Cuba because it is applicable to the power factors and to the economic interests that exist in the Cuban agri-food system. It will help to move beyond the extremes between the external and internal. In this sense, it is related to the answers to important questions such as the following: Who decides what Cubans will eat and at what price? Which power relations decide that in a productive system based on private and cooperative players, these have little influence in the organization of the production (quantity, inputs, variety) and in its distribution (types of markets and costs)? There is a recent controversial issue in Cuba—the utilization of transgenic crops—which is a priority question for ‘food-sovereignty’ and which, as far as I understand, has not been studied in Cuba until now from a ‘food-sovereignty’ perspective.
Silvio Gutiérrez Pérez: My intervention in this panel is based on the opportunity I had to participate in establishing the Plan de Soberanía Alimentaria y Educación Nutricional de Cuba [Food Sovereignty and Nutritional Education Plan of Cuba] and my several years of experience in agro-industry activities.
Food sovereignty is the capacity of a country to produce food in a sustainable way, and to give the whole population access to sufficient, diverse, balanced, nutritious, innocuous and healthy foods, reducing the dependence on external means and consumables, with respect to cultural diversity and environmental responsibility.
Article 77 of the Constitution notes that: “All people have the right to healthy and adequate food. The State creates the conditions to strengthen the entire population’s food security.” According to United Nations standards, the Cuban State fulfilled the objectives of social development by eliminating hunger, and it reduced other indicators relating to the quality of life. However, there remain deficiencies that point to health problems which are dependent on dietary quality.
Regarding the average family diet of a Cuban, including all types of provisions:
- There are products like wheat and soy that cannot be produced in the country because it is not efficient;
- Although meat products and eggs are produced in the country, the fundamental alimentary basis is imported animal feed;
- In other foods like rice and corn—for which the seeds, equipment and inputs used have a high import component, and due to financial constraints, the country’s needs are not covered;
- Native productions like root and green vegetables and fruits complement the diet, and their presence in markets depends not only on the seasons, but also on the inputs that exist in the country;
- It is also necessary to note that the country exports more than 600 million dollars in foods like sugar, seafood, fruits, etc.
The food supply of the Cuban people depends on imported foods to the level of 60 to 65% of its total internal consumption.
In summary, the family diet of Cubans is made up of diverse sources. There are foods where home production is not efficient, others where national production can play a greater part, and finally there are those that depend on our own resources and efforts.
Jaime García Ruiz: Cuba cannot ever produce all it needs to eat; I think no economy can do that without relying on the external sector, the import-export of foods and the importation of inputs and advanced technologies. To that we would have to add the economic, commercial and financial blockade that the United States of America exercises on our country, and the current unjust international economic order. This does not mean that we cannot move forward towards achieving Nutritional and Alimentary Security [Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutricional, SAN], a true food-sovereignty, and reducing the current degree of food insecurity.
Today it is widely recognized that SAN includes three dimensions:
- The availability of food, which includes national agricultural production with its food industry, plus the imports, less the exports within the borders (tourism) or abroad,
- Access and equity with respect to food and,
- The biological use of food (consumption).
I think that the availability of food is affected in the three links of the chain, so to speak, both by factors that are the responsibility of food production, of the food industry, and by factors linked to the import-export of foodstuffs, inputs and technologies. Thinking in terms of food sovereignty, all of these, as a system, limit our capacity for self-sufficiency. Which is why we should say that this capacity has not been reached.
Rafael Hernández: In terms of food security, to what point is total demand (not only household) being satisfied by agrarian production ∕ food industry ∕ imports?
Annia Martínez Massip: In the FAO 2016 Report, the region of Latin America and the Caribbean was identified as a region-at-risk, not as related to the agricultural production but with regard to food security, because of lack of accessibility and unequal distribution of food. That means that it is not enough to dream of agricultural surplus if distribution and accessibility present infrastructure problems or problems of territorial and social equity. In my previous answer I touched on the lack of efficiency in agricultural production in Cuba and, unfortunately, distribution and accessibility also present difficulties that harm food security. The ration book is of course one basic distribution and accessibility option which is insufficient given the demand and the consumption of the people, if we take into consideration the permanence of a black, informal, intermediary or private market—whatever you want to call it—with its capricious price hierarchy. This implies that the state-run agricultural market is not able to satisfy all needs, including those of tourism. In its report to the National Assembly in 2019, the Minister of Tourism indicated that more work must be done on the quantities and varieties of foodstuffs to clients. However, efforts are being made. The most recent improvement to the National Agricultural System (2014-2018) calls for enhancing the bureaucratic and structural mechanisms that manage these two areas, the already mentioned Program for Municipal Self-sufficiency, but dissatisfactions remain. Imports have taken root as an easy and expensive solution, while national industrial agricultural production has ceased to be the solution, having been converted into the non-typical alternative. Cuban food security and sovereignty weaken more when there are more imports; hence the pressing need to focus the political agrarian economy on strengthening national food production and its agro-industry.
Jorge Ramírez: I think that in relation to satisfying the total demand, three quarters are being used up by tourism and social consumption, and the other part, the basic basket, by household consumption. I don’t have any idea of how the distribution should be, because I am a grower, and I am largely self-sufficient, thus I don’t know whether things are good or whether modifications need to be made. I only receive the basic basket, by the ration book. If that would be taken away tomorrow, it would affect me in some way because I receive things I do not grow. Rice, for example, which is not grown here in the mountains. And beans, very little. And the same for other products that we do not grow here. And the people that work in government sectors, like tourism and others, need the ration book, since they do not have access to the agricultural crops that I grow.
Pedro Monreal: The most widely used definition of “food security” considers that it exists when “all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient innocuous and nutritional foods to satisfy their alimentary needs and preferences in order to live an active and healthy life.” The concept of ‘food security’ includes at least three dimensions: availability of foodstuffs, access to food, and appropriate use of the foods. With regards to the first two components—stability and access—evident deficiencies exist in Cuba. The current crisis associated with the pandemic has aggravated them and made them very visible, but they were already present before this. The system of distribution by rations at subsidized prices, as well as other mechanisms of social consumption alleviate the problem, but cannot solve them totally. The market is important to satisfy the demand, and that is where the problem lies, both from the side of the supply and of the demand. In general these are segmented and badly organized markets. The third component—appropriate use of the foodstuffs—which includes non-alimentary inputs like medical attention, is relatively less problematic in Cuba. One notable difficulty of food security is the high dependence on the import of some key foods, both those that are directly consumed by the people as well as those that serve as animal food. For example, all the wheat, soy and almost all the chicken meat is imported, while the national production of corn and rice represent only 42% and 64% of imports. This does include the fact there is dependence on the import of many foodstuffs, because in reality imports are mostly centered on six foods (chicken, rice, corn, wheat, soy and milk) that represent 65% of the total food imports of the country, but they are essential foods where national production is inexistent or very low. These are percentages that must be modified, although this will probably be more difficult in cases like wheat and soy, and would take some time to reach adequate national levels.
Silvio Gutiérrez Pérez: The two sides of this coin are supply and demand. Let’s look at them separately:
• The nominal level of income guaranteed by the State through public sector salaries and pensions is lower than it is in many countries of medium or lower income.
• This situation was balanced by the advanced system of social protection that assured the population non-monetary income through free or subsidized goods.
• The surge of the non-state sector, company pay systems and remittances from abroad have contributed to greater disparities related to income, raising vulnerability in some sectors of the population.
• The high prices and insufficient production of the quantities, varieties and quality of national foodstuffs, linked to output and productivity levels below those of the region.
• The limited access to inputs, efficient technologies and credit affect the results of agro-industrial production.
• Trade deficits limit the buying capacity in the international market of inputs and equipment for the sector.
• The financial limitations, increased by COVID 19, which aggravates the scarcity of resources in the country.
As a result of these two tendencies:
• National production does not satisfy the total demand. It only happens for certain products, in seasons with high outputs, and they cannot be industrially processed because of the technological obsolescence of the preservation industry.
• The deficit created by national production is covered by the import of foodstuffs that are fundamental for the diet—basically rice, powdered milk, beans and corn.
• With the decrease of available hard currency, the purchase of inputs and goods in the international market that are destined for national consumption is reduced.
• The allocation of foods becomes independent, with closed systems, as in the tourism sector, which covers its alimentary needs with its own resources.
In summary, the proportions in the distribution of foods at any time are the result of the path imposed by the economic situation of the country.
Jaime García Ruiz: Not only is it important to have the necessary foodstuffs available, but there is also the question of access to them by the consumers. Access to foods is related to the scope of the distribution, and expresses equity, in which the levels of income, monetary circulation and the rates of exchange act on the markets and the prices of the foodstuffs.
If it is difficult to measure the degree to which total demand is met by means of the triad of national agricultural production, the food industry and imports, it is even riskier to estimate the level of access or proportion that is taken up by the different means of distribution of the available foods. Access to foods is achieved through the wide diversity of methods employed by the retail market and by consumption. They are:
1. Social consumption,
2. Rationed market (MR),
3. State Agricultural market (MAE),
4. Free Agricultural Market (MLA, or supply and demand),
5. Points of Sale (PV),
6. Leased Agricultural markets (MAA),
7. Independent Workers (TCP- pushcart sellers [carretilleros]),
8. Self-Supply market (MA) – production for own-consumption,
9. Hard currency shops (TRD),
10. Black market (MN),
11. Market of processed or semi-processed foods (MAES).
Let’s say that the satisfaction based on the triad (the availability of food) fluctuates between 60% and 70%. With regards to the proportion of the different means of distribution, the most certain thing would be to affirm that, with the exception of rice (7 lb total [per person per month] through the Rationed market), in order to gain access to the majority of fresh agricultural products destined for consumption it is necessary to resort to the different market forms previously mentioned.
Studies done in Cuba between 2011 and 2019 show the most significant market forms providing access to fresh foods. In the first place, by volume of sales, is the State Agricultural Market (MAE) (or Market of Capped Prices). In second place are the Points of Sale (PV); third, are the Supply and Demand Markets; fourth, the CNoA [Cooperativas no Agropecuarias –Agricultural Market Cooperatives], and finally, the Leased Agrarian Markets.
Through the value of the sales of agricultural and meat products things change somewhat, because in the first place there are the MAE [State Agricultural Markets], after that, in the following order: the PV, the independent workers (pushcart sellers), the MOD [Markets of Supply and Demand], the marketing CNoAs [Non Agricultural Cooperatives], and finally the Leased Agrarian Markets. (data taken from the Report Ventas de productos agropecuarios. Indicadores seleccionados, [Sales of agricultural products. Selected Indicators] INEI, Cuba).
I think that this proportion—as long as it establishes and maintains an appropriate price policy that is protective of the consumers (prices capped regionally), in harmony with a policy of minimum purchase prices that motivate and protect the growers—should be maintained, with the observation that it would desirable that the “pushcart sellers” be relegated to last place. This, not by reducing their offer in absolute terms, but relatively, that is, where the participation of the rest of the forms grows more, especially those with strong regulation of retail prices, which protects consumers. In addition, it is necessary to note that there is no statistical data on the physical sales volumes of the “pushcart sellers”, and therefore important information related to the availability of foods and average prices—which we know to be the highest—is lost.
Rafael Hernández: What kind of problems affect the availability of foods to satisfy the total demand? Which correspond to each area (agricultural production, industry, imports)?
Annia Martínez Massip: There are as many problems as links in the food chain, such as the factors mentioned in the first question. I dare to only break down some and not necessarily the most important in all cases—if it is advisable to weigh them. Of the geographic and environmental problems, it is enough to identify climate change to exemplify in a general way, but rather than blaming nature it has been our lack of agro-environmental resilience and the low capacity to find scientific, ecological and sustainable solutions that may mitigate the incidence of climate change. The agro-technical, agro-industrial factors and their economic-financial support comprise a wide range of limitations: from the management of seed supply and phytogenetic resources, shortages and ignorance of biological controls, of the mechanization required for irrigation, of the inputs and knowledge required to optimize food production.
Among the organizational factors, bureaucracy and busy-work are flooding the productive processes. In the human factor, much pertinent training is still lacking. In the area of agrarian policies, many issues are still pending, especially if the aim is to strengthen bank credit and innovation. Supported by the history of agricultural processes in Cuba, and from the perspective of agrarian sociology I can identify two great trends of problems that have affected agro-production of foodstuffs—although in their context such problems may be considered necessary evils: the predominance of economic adversities in a centralized state system, and the preponderance of accelerated, hierarchical political and ideological processes of land distribution and of organizational forms of production. It may seem contradictory but reading the enlightening book, The organizational agrarian processes in Cuba, 1959-2006 [Los procesos de organización agraria en Cuba 1959-2006], by Juan Valdés Paz, is painful, because it corroborates with facts and analysis that today’s problems are not very different from those of the last century. It is as if the agricultural system itself had the capacity to bequeath the limitations of one generation to the next, although the people and the social contexts may have changed while the primary objective maintained: to achieve a high and sustainable capitalization of the agricultural production that would allow total demand to be satisfied.
Jorge Ramírez: The problems that affect agricultural production are well-known. The inadequacy of resources is one of the factors. Another is the fact that we need to create a culture that will make us sustainable, i.e. to find the way to produce all the products that can be grown in our country. Sustainability will produce food security.
As a grower, I identify the lack of resources as a problem. For example, we are accustomed to grow with the use of chemical fertilizers, and today we no longer have those. They are in very high demand and at high cost, but because of the limitations the country has, we cannot acquire them. We necessarily have to prepare ourselves to grow organically. Organic production is more sustainable, more profitable.
Rafael Hernández: Do you grow coffee organically? Do you use organic fertilizers and pesticides?
Jorge Ramírez: At this time we don’t have chemicals; that means we have the possibility to grow organically, and in order to achieve our objectives, we necessarily have to create a culture.
Other problems have to do with the economic sustenance of being a grower. Agricultural production and commerce have to go hand in hand; they are two factors that have to be in harmony. When there occurs a lack of equilibrium in one of the two, it affects the other. Sometimes, irregularities occur with the transport, for example, they [the state] don’t pick up what the contract says, and that also discourages the producer.
Rafael Hernández: Are the credits that are granted to the producer generally sufficient? Are there irregularities in the timing of credit payments, or with the availability of financing?
Jorge Ramírez: I think that the grower’s expectations can be fulfilled. But as regards to where there are flaws, sometimes it is in the mechanisms, the obstacles that occur, which are internal irregularities, but which affect the producer on many occasions. Loans are paid out late due to bureaucratic problems, there are delays, and that affects everything.
Agrarian culture must be improved. For example: establish policies that encourage organic agriculture, because I believe that is more sustainable, more secure and the quality improves. There is a popular saying that a bird in the hand is worth more than a hundred in the air. Once we start producing organically, we won’t have to import chemical fertilizers, because we would be able to grow without them—these are resources we already have.
In the short term, chemical and organic fertilizers have their advantages: they ensure a higher yield; but let’s look at it from the medium or long-term perspective. Because, in fact, we are contaminating our soils. We are saturating them with chemical products which, in the long term, are harmful. And that is a mistake, because in the short term it will give a higher yield, but in the long-term we are endangering our soils, and the crops produced with chemical fertilizers, their quality is not the same.
Rafael Hernández: Does it seem to you that all food produced in Cuba could be sustained organically, without recourse to chemical fertilizers?
Jorge Ramírez: Well, a study would have to be done and evaluate to what point this could happen. By the laws of nature, organic is viable. Chemicals are man’s invention. So in my experience, yes, it would be possible.
Another popular saying is “a deer is startled and runs, but it comes back to the source to see what startled it.” Today mankind is at the point where we need to go back to a specific beginning, to then see whether we have the capacity to recognize the errors we have committed. Because mankind is very committed to climate change, to the environment, to protecting biodiversity. But my concern is: are we in a condition to go back to that point of departure? Today, can a man say “I need to dress slowly— ‘cause I’m in a hurry….”?
Pedro Monreal: From the perspective of production there are several problems, all inter-connected. I feel that they are well identified and that there are policies to try and resolve them. It should be clear, though, that there are several ideas regarding the causes of the problems and therefore there are a variety of alternatives towards solving them—which explains the existence of critics of the current policies. I’m referring to those that have been explained or that are perceptible. In other cases we are talking about policies whose details have not been revealed. I believe there are two crucial problems: the first is that the Cuban agricultural system is conceived so as to transfer value from the grower to a low-income consumer, and that creates serious difficulties. The grower receives less value than what is due to him because this value is transferred as “greater purchasing power” to the consumer (institutional or individual). From the moment in which the agricultural system is transformed into a gigantic mechanism of subsidies, its essential function (to produce food) becomes distorted. The second important problem is that an agrarian system in which private and cooperative supply dominates needs to function through markets in their relation to state organizations, and that means taking into account the relation between supply and demand and the function of prices. I’m referring to regulated markets. In fact, in all parts of the world, food markets are among the most regulated. However, in Cuba, neither the prices paid to the grower—which are centrally determined for many products—reflect the reality of the economic conditions, nor do the prices charged to the consumer reflect efficient markets. And if to those two factors are added the lack of inputs, the consequences of the US sanctions, the deficient management of a monopolistic entity like Acopio, the delays in paying producers and the “barriers to entry” that would facilitate greater competition—the magnitude of the problem that needs to be solved can be understood. There are more factors, but I have limited myself to mentioning only those that I consider to be the most important.
Silvio Gutiérrez Pérez: An approach to the main problems that affect the availability of food will allow us to identify those that are general and those that are specific, which in turn correspond to agriculture and to industry.
• The lack of hard currency financial resources, caused primarily by the pressures of the US blockade.
• Internal productive inefficiency, caused by the blockade, and also, in part, by the lack of discipline and rigor in agro-industrial production.
• The deficient economic stimuli to the producers, who feel excessively regulated in various aspects of their activity, as in purchasing inputs, and in sales to obtain the maximum income.
• The lack of priority given to maintenance and investment in the agro-food processes, which lead to progressive decapitalization, and loss of installed capacity.
• The propensity to solve the deficit of national production through imports, as a result of imposing a rate of exchange that overvalues the Cuban peso and makes national production more expensive.
In agriculture: low productive output, originated by various causes:
• Objective: shortage of inputs, obsolete equipment, poor genetics, poor use and excess of idle lands, etc.
• Subjective: a lack of agricultural training for new growers, lack of discipline and productive rigor, insufficient application of science and theory, etc.
• Lack of complementarity between agricultural production and industry, especially for taking advantage of peaks in production.
• Excessive rotation of the workforce, especially of those who are qualified.
• Insufficient inclusion of the mini-industries as intermediate entities that can process products.
• Deficient supply of packaging materials, which are very costly and obsolete.
In summary, the agro-industry subsists in the country thanks to the efforts of thousands of workers, and is facing significant challenges which will have to be confronted with long- and short-term plans to raise the availability of food in a complex and challenging financial picture faced with external threats.
Jaime García Ruiz: The principal internal factors or problems relating to the availability of food and with respect to production are:
1. Agro-productive and climatic conditions which are not really propitious to growing certain agricultural products in sufficient quantity and quality—for example, the case of wheat;
2. We have 6,240 million hectares of agricultural lands, that is, 0.56 ha per person;
3. 76.80% of these lands are of low-productivity or non-productive categories, which means that even if we would put all the idle lands into production, it would still not be enough to satisfy the needs;
4. Competition between agricultural products destined for human consumption and those for animal consumption;
5. Insufficient capacity of the national agro-industry and the systems of marketing and distribution;
6. The circulation of multiple currencies and exchange rates, and
7. The access of growers to foreign markets.
All this means that, in terms of efficiency, certain products should not be grown domestically.
So, what needs to be done to grow and process domestically the greatest possible quantity of agricultural products for human consumption? Establish:
- Policies for prices, taxes and subsidies:
a) Establish a policy of MINIMUM prices (a floor) that serves as a protection and incentive to growers,
b) A policy of MAXIMUM prices that will protect the consumer, in tune with the policy of minimum prices for the grower, and,
c) Provide direct subsidies to the grower.
Given the problem of competition between the factors of agricultural production, and therefore of the agricultural products for human and animal consumption (yucca, banana, sweet potato, rice, beans, chickpeas, sunflower, soy), and the impossibility for the country to import a sufficient quantity of animal—and also human—food, it is necessary to establish minimum and maximum prices for the “typical basket of agricultural products for Cuban consumption” (human consumption). In order to reduce competition, it is necessary to directly subsidize the growers of these products; if not, the producers will be disposed in practice to products for animal consumption, circulating through the informal, speculative and corrupt markets. The minimum prices for the producer of this basket will have to be—and in some cases already are—higher than the capped prices that protect the consumer. This way, the growers will have an incentive to sell to the State and not to the intermediaries, and also to not go themselves to the market.
The question is who will finance and subsidize the growers, protecting them and encouraging them to produce and supply the State, to substitute for imports and generate export markets for the sector. A fund can be established—and actually, these financial resources already exist today—with sales taxes, rents charged for the spaces and facilities in the agricultural markets and the taxes on sales and personal income of the agricultural producers. This is about recirculating these monetary incomes generated by the sector towards subsidizing the growers; natural and legal persons, poor farmers, micro-producers, small and medium private agricultural enterprises. This is about redirecting these funds towards these specific ends.
- Strengthen the growers’ direct access to the foreign hard-currency markets (export-import) once the sales contracts to the State have been met.
Another measure would support the direct access of growers to the foreign hard-currency markets, freeing the State of budget expenditures to import agricultural inputs, food, and to generate income or save currency to be invested by the growers themselves in local food production and processing. The investments would also have an impact on the marketing system—state, cooperative and private—in transportation, storage and conservation of agricultural products, and motivate the creation of public food reserves available during low production periods, in order to sustain prices in the retail markets.
Rafael Hernández: Assuming that there is a certain level of food insecurity, to what extent can the current system of agricultural production and distribution fulfill its roles to face that situation efficiently?
Annia Martínez Massip: Although the problems seem to be congenital, the current agrarian production and distribution system does include potentials that could be strengthened. The handing over of [idle] land in usufruct began a few years ago, so the delays and the bureaucracy that surround this process should decrease. For more than a decade, the CCS [Credit and Service Cooperatives] have received wide social recognition—which was not always the case—because of their high productivity as an organizational form of agricultural production, so the inputs should be distributed according to the production results achieved, and not according to hierarchical political ideologies or personal interests. If Cuba is a pillar of institutional science for the agrarian sciences, then the national agricultural system, and its different levels, should reflect this even more. If Cuba is eminently agricultural, and the production of food is a national emergency, then a set of agricultural laws that consolidate these priorities needs to be considered. Despite all this, I remain optimistic, because options for solutions are being proposed, such as the Program for Municipal Self-sufficiency, the PAIS program, the program of Bio-products for Agricultural Use in Cuba, and policies and legal norms are being drawn for agricultural extension and use of bio-products which, in broad terms intend to offer the population larger quantities of products that will satisfy their nutritional demand, or, to say it another way, achieve the food security and sovereignty that is so desired.
Jorge Ramírez: I think that if the agrarian and product-distribution systems do not satisfy in every way, this is not because of the system that exists, that was instituted. I think that it’s pretty good. The irregularities that we find sometimes are internal problems, not of the mechanism, because everything is done through contracts: Acopio, Frutas Selectas, cooperatives, all contract with the grower. Acopio already knows what quantity of production it has and where to ship it. But sometimes we find irregularities that do not originate there but that are internal problems. So we look at the irregularity that concerns us and it is here that deeper searches are needed to understand where the problem is and how to eradicate it. Right now I don’t know if it is necessary to modify anything. According to me, it is quite good, but the way in which it is practiced is where there are deficiencies; sometimes they are administrative problems in a particular place.
Maybe some things do have to be changed. For example, the payment systems have delays and frequently become a chain of non-payments. That is not exactly a banking problem or an entrepreneurial problem, but internal administrative problems also appear. Although I do think that by studying and analyzing them more thoroughly, they can be solved.
Rafael Hernández: Do you think that the labor of agricultural production should be better paid?
Jorge Ramírez: I think that agriculture is where they pay least; agriculture has always been the least important. And this needs to be reassessed. In the case of coffee, pay is secure and reliable, but there are delays in the payments. At this time, the price of coffee is acceptable, but if we take into account the demand that exists for coffee in the world market, we aspire to a bit more.
Pedro Monreal: The most important measures should be to abandon the current view of the agricultural system as a giant generalized subsidy mechanism for the consumer and the use of the (regulated) market as an effective mechanism in order for the system to function. In Cuba they are usually called “economic” mechanisms, but it is really a question of market mechanisms. This includes markets to assign resources (credit, currency, machinery, inputs, production services), as well as to commercialize the products. It is a view that does not exclude the control of prices for specific products and at certain times. It would be necessary to differentiate between the local systems—which don’t only produce and distribute food, but also produce and reproduce social systems, ways of life and cultures—from the “national” systems of production-distribution-consumption, especially to supply urban centers. In fact, both types of systems should be connected, and therefore markets are important, which implies the existence of multiple agents, the decrease of “entry barriers” and the importance of direct access by the producer to the large consumer markets. A good place to start the overhaul would be the institutional modification of the mechanism under which the “encargo estatal” [state mandate] mechanism works today, specifically suppressing the monopoly held by Acopio (which does not imply eliminating this organism). By the same token, the current perspective of price-formation (based on costs) should be abandoned, and more consideration should be given to the supply and demand conditions, as well as reducing the number of products that have centralized prices, which, moreover, are kept fixed for long periods of time. One critical problem is the allocation of foreign currency in the sector, something that cannot continue to be centralized and operated through “closed circuits” (generating currency that can be retained by the organization). Finally, the possibility that the agricultural industry can be consolidated as a link in many productive chains would require the operation of an official exchange rate that has an economic base, very different from the 1:1 rate that exists today.
Silvio Gutiérrez Pérez: The agro-industrial production in Cuba is facing the immense challenge of first guaranteeing the country’s food security and then its food sovereignty. The most aggressive position of the US policies towards Cuba imposes difficult conditions that must be taken into consideration.
President Díaz-Canel has stated that if things don’t work the traditional way, it is necessary to make changes and find other ways to solve the problems. The measures that have been adopted during the last few months include the improvement of macro-economic policies, such as wholesale and retail prices, taxes, finances, security, food safety, foreign investment, computerization of the society, etc. In addition, the systems of circulation and distribution of goods are being evaluated in order to improve them, with the aim of increasing the diversity and the role of the players in the commercialization of agricultural products.
The Food Security Plan [Plan de Seguridad Alimentaria] which was recently approved, also contributes important concepts in this area, with the integration of all the national programs, among which are:
- The municipal self-sustainment plan, with more advantages for the producers and traders in the area
- Strengthening knowledge management and the contribution of science to agro-industrial production. Greater linkages of academia to food production.
- More support to production that substitutes imported inputs which are not cost-effective to produce in the country, but which can be replaced by local alternatives.
- Strengthening the Plan Turquino as a way to create better conditions for production in mountainous areas.
- Expand the development of mini-industries and their link to wholesale industry and trade.
In summary, only the progressive improvement of the agrarian and circulation systems can contribute to the increase in efficiency aimed at the satisfaction of the food needs of the population.
Jaime García Ruiz: With respect to food and nutritional insecurity, I think that to gradually overcome their current levels, there must be action in all links of the chain, from supplies and access of the producers to the production inputs, to production, distribution, marketing and consumption itself, improving the existing systems and overcoming their contradictions. In line with that, detailed diagnoses are necessary, at regional and local levels, regarding alimentary and nutritional insecurity, making decisions at these levels and giving preference to those groups of producers and consumers that are vulnerable. With this, there would be an impact not only on the chain of production and distribution, but also on those of consumption disadvantages, and contributions would be made to reduce the levels of existing inequities.
Rafael Hernández: I thank the panelists, as they have produced a quantity of knowledge and thought in their responses to these questions. And now I give the word to the participants.
Yuván Contino (Indio Hatuey Experimental Grass and Fodder Station, Matanzas): Has any thought been given to Diversity beyond the quantity and quality of the foodstuffs we can offer? I think this is an important criteria that the panelists could raise, especially centered on sustainable and agro-ecological productivity, crops that exist in our local and regional environments where the seeds are developed, that are then transformed into plantations and, finally, into products.
Arisbel Leyva Remón (University of Granma): I want to offer my greetings to the organizers, panelists and participants in the debate. In the analysis of the problems that affect the availability of food, from our point of view, we need to consider not only the well-known shortage of production inputs, but also the forms and magnitudes that illegal sale of these resources has taken, a phenomenon to which agrarian investigations have barely drawn attention. In case studies that have been done, we have been able to confirm that this type of market constitutes the source of the supply of more than 50% of the annual requirements of farmers. Their high prices generate an increase in the production costs, determine the non-payment on contractual obligations with the State, and contribute to the link that individual growers have with private intermediaries who obtain a significant portion of their products at attractive prices. In a fair number of areas this mercantile relationship is being reinforced by the repeated non-payments by state organizations to the producers, and by economic conflicts that exist between the social organization and the administration in many Credit and Service Cooperatives.
As a consequence of the diversification of economic players, of the expansion of the private sector and the strengthening of mercantile relations in agriculture, practices occur that respond to individual and group interests, and put the social objectives of the agrarian policies at risk.
In the current conditions, the process of the differentiation of farmers, as well as the rise of small agricultural businesses and the discretionary material support that certain growers receive, all highlight the unequal distribution of goods, and contribute to the reproduction of asymmetric power relations in the agrarian sector. Food security and sovereignty in Cuba’s situation therefore require a system of marketing inputs that responds to criteria of equity, efficiency and efficacy. Achieving their goals and objectives would not be possible by ignoring the dynamics and issues typical to the rural areas. That suggests that agro-alimentary changes need to be conceived within regional development programs and rural transformations, supported by multiple sources of financing. Facing this challenge, it is imperative to revert the predominantly urban and construction-related use that up to now has been conferred to these funds conceived for local development.
José Pablo Guerra Melcón (agricultural engineer, retired from MINAGRI): Can we produce everything that we eat? The answer to this question can be simple or everyday: No. It is absolutely impossible in agriculture for one region to produce everything that the population demands, due to substantial differences and needs in climate and soil. Few countries in the world are capable of producing all their food. What is required is to develop a high regional specialization, taking into consideration the growers’ traditions, maintained by the experience of hundreds of locations in thousands of years. There is no better scientific evidence than the accumulation of knowledge corroborated by productive achievements and their transmission from generation to generation. The most valuable agricultural science lives in the farmers of each location. These experiences and practices are the support of scientists and technicians, just as properly qualified directors promote the increase in production. This allows the exchange between regions, or the export to other countries, making it possible to import those varieties that cannot be produced locally. The necessary production plans will have to include the resources required by every crop in order to use them at the right moment. Applying them at the wrong time, or in small quantities, will result in losses and low production levels. In order to be successful it is necessary to eliminate the bureaucratic obstacles and ignorance that so often influence our fields, causing shortages.
Regional specialization, the implementation of good practices and the material security to [inaudible word] on time will mean achieving more and better productivity and will allow the exchange of products in the region. Planting more does not lead to higher production. In order to raise agricultural productivity in Cuba, changes to the administrative structures—as proposed by various accredited professionals recently, and contained, but not implemented, in the approved Conceptualization of the economic model—are essential. Strengthening the State enterprise, as well as liberating the cooperatives are becoming urgent and necessary.
I believe that we have not reached the capacity to be self-sustaining, nor is it possible. Although it is possible to raise the participation of our national production.
The current agricultural system does not come close to fulfilling its role, which is clearly shown by the low output. With a levels of production, it would be possible for the productive reserves in every region to be developed efficiently, which would, I repeat, allow for greater independence, and with that, develop the exchanges between areas as well as the export of surplus products, as mentioned. The current agricultural system is also burdened by the inadequate system of purchasing-transport-commercialization, that is, the famous Acopio, which the authorities in our country have criticized and tried to modify. This has not been successful, and it continues to be a heavy burden, causing losses of great quantities of goods in the countryside, and for the consumers.
Manuel Alonso: (economic consultant) With respect to the topic that we are working on, and given today’s reality, I think it is necessary to review some of the established norms which limit the production of all we eat.
In the National News [Noticiero Nacional] on TV, they are broadcasting what we might call “The Red Report” [La crónica roja], in which we have seen different kinds of people, from hoarders to queue pros [coleros], even various merchants and producers. Any economist, thinking about why these people show up, would answer: because there is a continuous and unsatisfied demand.
I will take as example the case of a cheese producer who used to supply several restaurants. In order to process some 80 liters of his cows’ milk daily, and complying with the technical and hygienic requirements, he did not need any State technological unit, nor did he receive bank credits or assistance from the State budget. He only omitted those regulations that tied him down, and thus he was able to evade paying electricity and did not fulfill the provisions of his contract with a state enterprise.
So this brings up a question: Why can’t a private entity produce cheese legally? It is a norm contrary to the real possibilities of using an existing and necessary resource for the people’s nourishment. Apparently the afore-mentioned enterprise did not need the milk because it did not establish the corresponding claim—something that was not mentioned in the news report.
We see examples of this kind all the time, everywhere. For many years, our economists have called for the elimination of many of the absurd regulations that limit both state enterprises and private producers. It is the cause of why every year 1,500 million dollars have to be spent on import of foods that could be produced in this country. How much more time will we need to wait?
Joaquín Benavides: My opinion on food sovereignty is related to our national political sovereignty. In order to be able to maintain this political sovereignty for the long term, our country would need to achieve, also, long-term food sovereignty. If this is not attained, it will also have to tolerate political pressures related to the supplies that guarantee food to the entire population.
And in order to achieve this sovereignty today, many changes will have to be made, revolutionary really, in the management of the Cuban agro-industry, which includes the restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture and its relation with cooperatives and the private sector as well as lessees; develop financing for agricultural production cooperatives and credit and service cooperatives, moving rapidly towards the creation of an agricultural development bank and, finally, restructuring the entire system of prices of the agricultural producers, who should no longer be an important element that subsidizes popular consumption.
Lázaro Ramón Sosa Morell (specialist in permaculture systems design): I would like to know how you would assess the possibility that food production might be sustainable. Would it be necessary to consider changes in eating habits, like reducing the consumption of imported rice and flour? To what extent could the agricultural infrastructure sustain the agrarian development projected for 2030? Is it really practical to use genetically modified products?
Juan Triana (economist): I would like to begin by congratulating the organizers for having brought such an important topic up for discussion, and also for selecting and engaging such eminent panelists. I think that I can really add little to what they have expressed in their responses. I agree with what they have said. However, I would like to start by pointing out a first issue, and that is that the bucolic picture of a country that produced everything before 1959 is not very exact. Long before this, Cuba was already a country that had a high dependence on imports of all kinds of food. In the case of oils and proteins, more than 50% came from outside. So Cuba’s dependence is not just a post-1959 effect.
I would like to clarify that it is necessary to distinguish between lands of low fertility and those of low productivity. Fertility depends on the physical, chemical characteristics of the soil, while productivity depends on the combination of technology, productive culture and their application to a specific soil. There are soils that can be of bad quality and yet high productivity can be obtained from them, due to the application of science and technology, and of intense work done on them.
I think no country can produce everything that it needs in terms of food. Because of climate and geography, however, I am also convinced that Cuba could produce a large part, at least of the basic foodstuffs that our citizens consume: grains, some cereals, like rice, meat, milk—it is possible to produce these today, without a doubt. And in this I also include the subject of sea food, which, I think, regretfully, is not exploited in Cuba.
I would like to add something, reiterating one of Peter’s responses, and that is that from the point of view of productive structure and land management, our country lives a great contradiction. 80% of the land more or less, is managed by non-governmental systems. Some as their property and other in usufruct or in other forms. However, agricultural production in Cuba is organized from the perspective of centralized state management, and that, I believe, is one of the biggest contradictions that at some point must be resolved. And I hope this will be sooner rather than later.
From my point of view, the other contradiction is that, despite having enough land, qualified human resources, scientific systems, adequate technology and innovation for agriculture—including having obtained good results from these systems and also having several types of organizations systematically that deal with agriculture—our agricultural production is still completely insufficient. And that logically takes us to question our organization, the ways and policies that have been implemented in Cuba during all these years.
One of the big surprises that is difficult to explain is that, with demand for food, and with an effective demand for food, the Cuban productive system cannot respond in an equally effective manner to this combination of facts that really help to stimulate production. So again, the problems here are fundamentally those of incentives, which are institutionally badly designed.
I want to call attention to a fact that seems interesting to me but that has a double track: on the one hand, without a doubt the US blockade is an obstacle to improving agricultural production in Cuba, because of the lack of access to supplies, to markets, etc. But at the same time, we need to understand as well that the blockade functions in reverse, because it also protects Cuban producers from the tremendous competition of giant North-American food production companies which in different conditions would become strong rivals of the Cuban agricultural producers.
And finally, I would like to bring up a big concern, which I think all Cubans have. It is very difficult to grasp how a thorough structural and organizational reform or transformation of this sector has been delayed for so long—if the highest decision-making levels understand how strategic food production—both the agricultural and the industrial sides—is for the present and the future of Cuba. And this even more so when today it is very evident that one of the biggest hindrances that agro-food production faces in Cuba is exactly that of badly designed institutions, lack of incentives, excessive bureaucracy—all difficulties associated with an organization that manages not to respond to the needs of the country.
Jorge Dávila Miguel (journalist, CNN and El Nuevo Herald, Miami): As the panelists have established, the problems with food production in Cuba have mostly been identified. By the same token, the Cuban State and its current government have taken steps to solve the regrettable situation of food in Cuba, which is nothing new. What would be the metrics—in time or in achievements—needed to evaluate whether or not the measures of the Cuban government are effective? During his intervention in mid-July, President Díaz-Canel himself mentioned the possibility that popular support might be lost if the food scarcity was not corrected—I am quoting from memory, it is not exact. So what would be the way to know whether the government, according to its economic policies to achieve sustainable socialism, is capable of solving this problem or not? What is the index of alimentary well-being to which he alludes and that the Cuban administration seeks so that its effectiveness can be measured? With all due respect, the rhetoric of analyses, studies, commissions, possible measures, etc. to solve the subject of food in Cuba is an old and known predicament in Cuba’s history. But when and how do we know whether the government is doing it right or not?
Osvaldo P. Santana (Center for Psychological and Sociological Research [CIPS]): What role could participation as social empowerment develop in the decentralization for the development of the Cuban economy?
Katia Siberia García (journalist, newspaper Invasor, Ciego de Avila): I want to add some information to the question on the problems that affect the availability of foods. Some reports that were published in the weekly Invasor show some of the difficulties that even today the farmers or growers of this central province suffer through. Let’s concentrate, for example on charcoal, a very important and exportable item. The company that exports it is receiving 345 dollars per tonne, and the producers, that is, the coalmen, are barely receiving 150 CUC when the two currencies are converted at today’s rate of 1 to 24. Obviously, we are saying that not even charcoal constitutes an export with big dividends for the coalman. In the case of lemons, a much debated topic recently, since the norm for sales to the tourism market was readjusted and the rate [of exchange] increased to 1x24, a lemon grower who takes his crop to Cayo Coco will earn 138 CUC for 100 lbs of lemons—very lucrative. This shows every day that it is now more lucrative, more beneficial to sell lemons to the hotels in Cayo than to export them. However, on the other hand, the ruling on the price increase for tourist sales applies to the Ministry of Tourism [MINTUR], but [the] Gaviota [hotel chain] has said that the ruling does not apply to them because Gaviota does not belong to MINTUR. Today Gaviota has large and continued debts—I don’t have the exact amount—owed to these producers, who were selling their products to the tourism sector up until four months ago, due to the increase of the exchange rates. Two or three years ago, barely three agricultural units were selling their products to the Keys north of Ciego de Avila (Cayería Norte). Today that number continues to be around the same, but paradoxically, the ruling has not provided a large incentive, and we can see the same for other products. The list would be almost interminable. For example, sweet potato that is bitten [infested with a borer], as they say in the country, and which serves as animal food, is paid at 50 pesos [a hundredweight], and those destined for human consumption at 60: barely 10 pesos difference defines the fate of a crop. Obviously, all these conditions are limiting not only the supply to the Keys—so important to this sector which earns hard currency – but also the supply to the urban markets, which today are shorted, not only because of the lack of fertilizers and other more agricultural problems, but also because of these issues, which are interfering with the food production and distribution in the country.
Marianela González (journalist): Thank you, panelists and the Temas team for having assembled this panel; they always find a way to continue the debate, beyond the current circumstances. My first question goes to Silvio Gutiérrez. You mentioned that the social protection system in Cuba rebalanced the gap regarding the access to food, and assured some coverage—in the past. Do you believe that the COVID-19 crisis could bring substantial changes in the structure or range of this social protection system, especially as it refers to food and nutritional security? And if so, to what extent?
I have another question, a bit more general, and directed to whoever would like to respond: Do you believe that the self-sufficiency plans, especially the local ones—where they exist—take into consideration what a family needs, not only in terms of caloric requirements but also with respect to the quality of the diet, that is, from the nutritional point of view? What opportunities do you see to try and bring these plans a bit closer to the nutritional needs of these families in Cuba, especially of the more vulnerable people, like pregnant women, seniors, girls and boys under five years of age, people who live with HIV, for example?
Ana Vera (ICIC Juan Marinello): I don’t believe that Cuba, nor any country at this point in the 21st century, is capable of producing everything that it needs for social consumption. The world is interconnected, we are all a result of that and Humanity’s development depends on it, on these interactions between countries and between societies. The pandemic is precisely an example of how interconnected this planet is. For the first time in this century we are in a situation in which we cannot say that the fault lies with socialism, or with capitalism. It is a worldwide problem and it has to do with the conservation of the environment, with the expansion of gases, with the surge in consumption; it is a much more complex problem that eludes the good intentions of the countries—although of course these countries could do more and better things for the benefit of the specific society. But to a great extent, we all depend on each other.
As for agriculture, I don’t share the criteria of those who think that social sciences are not being applied to agriculture. Precisely, I have just read very carefully two books, compilations of university studies which are doing field research in the social sciences with the participation of economists, psychologists, sociologists—a few engineers—and which are addressing a large number of topics that relate to agriculture. So I believe that there are other topics that have to do with the coordination of the human, and the social, with the technological, and that are being left at the margin of the debate. And that is where, it seems to me, perhaps due to some other market factor, things are not being properly studied. The social sciences are still not addressing many issues of food sovereignty.
Rafael Hernández: Having twelve contributions in a good panel of Ultimo Jueves in Fresa y Chocolate in Havana is a lot. To have achieved the same here, and virtually, is really a great achievement, not only because of the quantity but also because of the quality of the remarks. We thank you very much for having contributed in this way to enrich the debate. So now I will give the floor to the panel again, in the same order as they presented earlier, for them to comment on the questions and the observations.
Annia Martínez Massip: I thank the commentators for their profound and broad criteria and questions. The topic of agro-diversity really began to be envisioned since the 90’s, through policies, programs, and several projects. One example is the Proyecto de Innovación Agropecuaria Local (PIAL – Local Agricultural Innovation Project), which has been implemented in Cuba for several years. But the subject does not get resolved through small actions, rather it is backed by a whole infrastructure, a training structure, a logistics support, which still shows some inadequacies in the country. Therefore, I agree with Yuván that this is really important, and one of the last actions that shows this is the Municipal Self-sufficiency Program which, even when there are still issues that can be criticized and need to be resolved, is an example of how diversity within government enterprises can be achieved in Cuba. Arisbel, Manuel and Joaquín have alluded to issues that have affected the question of production, among them the black market and the bureaucracies, the administrative structures, the mechanisms for export. I agree with them. But changes should also be proposed from the perspective of organizational and institutional innovation, which should be accompanied by the social sciences. In this respect I appreciate and support Ana Vera’s intervention when she says that the social sciences indeed can move closer to agriculture, and vice versa. As for Enrique, who asks about the possibility of food security, and where these changes lead, I believe that some have already been commented here: the elimination of bureaucracy, stimulating the small grower much more, because as José Pablo said, farmers have experiences that deserve to be generalized, and much more exchange is needed with the sciences, not only agricultural but also those that relate to the human and social sciences.
I do not have knowledge of the hydraulic infrastructure, but I do know that it is a problem when we have lands and we do not have sufficient water—which is a basic resource. About the functional transgenics there is a broad polemic regarding the ethical question, and during the past months there is much propaganda in Cuba, on television and the media in general, about experiments at the level of enterprises, military farms, with the introduction of transgenics in the country. Yes, the idea is good, but the experts in agronomy and in other agricultural sciences consider that transgenics imply inputs and logistical support which, in many cases, farmers do not have and so we need to see whether these transgenics will succeed in some way when they become available to the growers.
In response to Jorge Dávila: the first thing is that I don’t know of an index of alimentary wellness—although that is not to say there is none; one speaks of quantity of food per capita, per family, and especially the Municipal Self-sufficiency Program is working on that. However, the measures, or let’s say the yardstick of productivity that this program demands is still much higher than the reality, and although the enterprises are making efforts with the UEB (Unidades Empresariales de Base [Basic Enterprise Units]) and the cooperatives, the necessary parameters have not been achieved. There are many indicators that can show whether the changes and actions that are taken by the government are adequate, and one of these is a permanent supply, with quality, in the markets, and a weakening of the black market as relating to agricultural foods. That is a key indicator, but not the only one. However, I do think that actions have been taken, and that, in the long term, the change in people’s well-being will be evident. With respect to the role of participation as empowerment, I agree with Osvaldo in that it is really important, and changes should be made from the bottom up: more participation, more autonomy of the cooperatives. I think this will be of great help in decentralization, which may be one of the solutions to the problems that exist in agriculture.
I thank Katia for the information she provided on the topic of rural production. And regarding Marianela’s question, it is possible that there is still discussion on whether the Municipal Self-sufficiency Program provides all the nutritional requirements of the population, and there is also a debate on the alimentary culture in the countryside, where the soil is just steps away and yet they do not take advantage of it and keep consuming as if they lived in cities or in the municipal capitals.
Jorge Ramírez: After having heard some of the comments on the panelists and the participants, I can say that this is quite a broad topic, and perhaps infinite, because behind all of this are political and social, and therefore personal polemics, on the capacity of each one of us, and considering our sense of belonging. I am referring also to what we have to do.
In my opinion, in order to achieve food sustainability and security, things need to be separated into several branches—as we could call them. We would have to consider the agricultural branch, and specifically we would have to analyze the commercial branch, and also delve into the economic branch. That is, there are various aspects that have an impact, and that need to go hand in hand, in harmony. For me, after listening to you, it turns into a social and political topic. I think that it could be resolved through the policies that the governments could implement, not only ours, but also those in the rest of the world. Because what is happening in Cuba is not only happening here, it also occurs in other latitudes, where there are black markets just like in Cuba, because of the differences in prices and because of the supplies that appear irregularly—and so we logically tend to go the most practical way and the one that produces the most income for us. Sometimes that means committing crimes, or simple infractions, but that is how we do it. This is a very difficult topic to analyze or resolve, because this, as I said, depends on the sense of belonging each of us has, because this not only relates to farmers, it is also about those who work in distribution, for example: everyone has to do what they need to do. That’s it.
Rafael Hernández: Jorge, one commentator referred to the differences between what is paid to the producer and the price that a product shows in the international market. Does that also happen with coffee, or does it not appear in the same way?
Jorge Ramírez: I don’t know to what point this may be the case because we are agricultural producers. Coffee involves an industrial process and I don’t know how much honesty and transparency there is in that process, from when a high-quality coffee leaves our hands and arrives at the international market. It is possible that there is quite a wide margin. And as a grower, I hope for a better price every day. Of course we would have to include in our perspective what the cost is of producing a pound of coffee.
And with respect to inputs, I think the solution is not in the hands of the producer but in the policies implemented by the governments and the enterprises—in brief, of all those factors which in one way or another are implicated in this issue. There are things that escape us and end up turning into production deficits, low yield. I don’t know when, or how we could solve the situation. I hope that the government and other elements involved in this question can arrive at a good solution.
With respect to the polemic re extensive or intensive production, I think that we need to aim for a greater intensive production; that is, the best use of the soil. Moreover, I think that the science and the experience in the field should go hand in hand. Today there are issues we have to battle that need scientific knowledge. And I cannot deny that we have applied methodologies that were wrong. They were not badly conceived, but badly applied by specialists, technicians, and, of course, also by producers.
Pedro Monreal: Thank you for the comments. In reality, many subjects have been discussed and people have participated who have direct experience with the topics of food and agriculture, from different perspectives. I will limit myself to three points that I think are important. In the first place, the topic related to the market; in the second, the indicators that measure the effectiveness of the policies being implemented; and the third will refer to the investments in the agricultural lands.
Regarding the markets, I think it is important, because I think that the first, basic thing is to speak clearly. Normally in Cuba, when we speak of using economic mechanisms, we sometimes say economic-financial mechanisms to contrast them with economic-administrative mechanisms, but in reality we are dealing with market mechanisms. So I think the first thing is to do it directly, so as to know what we are talking about and to be able to visualize the consequences of what we are doing and not doing. The case of Cuban agriculture, the agro-cattle sector is very interesting because, with some distinctions, that is where the greatest diversity of economic players converge, with the presence of the state, cooperatives, private—in different versions, and also including foreign capital. And, it is the only large sector of the Cuban economy in which the presence and the support of private production is important. It is essential in a specific group of foods, and that requires that the market be the mechanism to connect these different forms. Because of this diversity, the administrative methods that are being used intensely, sometimes even when they are called non-administrative, do not solve the problem. That is the first topic, and it has to do with the issues of price, competition, and the asymmetry between the players. The price of agriculture cannot be divorced from supply and demand. And here I am referring to the price paid to the producer, as mentioned by Benavides, Katia and Manuel.
The second issue has to do with the indicators. An economic program is not really operative if there are no indicators that allow for measuring the course of that program, to know whether it is doing well or not. Dávila mentioned this and I think it is important, because when we really observe the current discussions, or at least the public ones, that are happening in Cuba, there is no definition as to what the specific indicators are that would allow us to know whether things are going well, whether there was success or failure. On this I only point to two issues: indicators of nutritional category are needed, also averages, and others that are not much used in Cuba but that are important for the topic under discussion, and could shed light on the effect of the distribution of policies that are being undertaken. In other words, knowing, for example, if the policy—re alimentation in this case—benefits or harms one social group more than another. Indicators should be established that measure how much benefit accrued to those that earn the highest 10% of income, and how much to those that earn the lowest 40%.
And finally, the topic of investments. It is not possible to solve the food problems in Cuba and those of the Cuban agricultural sector if only 5% of the total national budget is invested in the agricultural sector. Nothing justifies this extremely low investment rate; it is the sector that employs the highest number of people in Cuba, and yet the one with the lowest productivity, taking into consideration that it produces a key element of national security and social well-being which is food.
Jaime García Ruiz: I would like to insist on the question of mechanisms, specifically those of the market, and the prices, on which I agree with the opinion of Pedro Monreal. He said that the market of the agricultural prices is conceived for the transfer from the producers to the consumers. That is, that the producer receives less than what he is really entitled to. And in another point he insisted that we should abandon the focus—as primary—on agricultural systems as a huge system of generalized subsidies to the consumer and use regulated markets as effective mechanisms. What I mean is that the question of wholesale and retail prices is an old issue, even going back to the times of capitalism, the times of shortages, but also in times of abundance, when producers cannot recover their costs. In the case of Cuba specifically, it seems to me that the system of prices, wholesale prices, of stimulus or incentive for the products, like regulated prices, is inverted because the transfer is produced forward, towards the consumers and the intermediaries, and not backwards, towards the producer. So therefore I propose that the prices to the producer should be higher than the prices of retail, the prices for the consumers.
In the second place, in addition to what is incorrectly, and from the official point of view, called wholesale prices referring to the prices established for the producers, we need to subsidize the producer directly, but we are stuck with the prices without subsidies. This policy needs to be changed, at least for a typical basked of products, which affect the rest of the prices of the products consumed by Cubans.
In third place, we are treating the agricultural products market in the same way as the rest of the markets—including the food market, where there are foodstuffs of the agro-industry—as a whole, without distinguishing it from the fresh agricultural products for consumption. And, finally, it is necessary to have the direct external link with the producers, as the journalist from Ciego de Avila said, which are not entirely encouraging to the producer in some cases. But I would also have to add that there are many rates of exchange for the products and producers in the agricultural sector, which would therefore change into a lever that does not stimulate production and export of agricultural goods.
Silvio Gutiérrez Pérez: Three observations on the topic: first, the Acopio Enterprise in Cuba is not a monopoly. The analysis is simple: of the total production, only 70% is marketed. Of this share, Acopio only commercializes 45%, so therefore it is not a monopoly. It does occupy the dominant position in the Cuban market of agricultural produces, but it is not a monopoly. Second observation: the agricultural products intended for the consumption of the people are not completely subsidized; those that are sold in state agricultural markets, as well as those in supply and demand markets, do not receive subsidies from the government budget. Third observation: generally speaking, the quality of the soil is not decisive to the yields; what is decisive are the inputs, the fertilizers, the pesticides, the genetically strong seeds. They are the ones that, at this time, and with the development of science and technology, have guaranteed high yields in the whole world. Because of this I think it is important to stress the importance of the lack of inputs due to the lack of financial resources that the country has available.
Rafael Hernández: My deep thanks to all the panelists who have participated in this discussion, this debate, this dialogue, on a topic that, obviously, goes beyond the space we have been able to devote to it. We had 25 persons registered, and we wish to thank them all, those who posed questions and made comments and those who were listening, for having been present and having contributed to the production of this virtual Ultimo Jueves.
For us, to be able to maintain the continuity of the Ultimo Jueves programs, to succeed in producing them, with topics that we scheduled in 2019 and that have coincided with critical problems and very difficult moments in our national reality, has been a learning and cooperative experience. In this sense, I would like to especially thank all of you for having contributed to the wealth of this discussion, and of course thank those who have been a part of our team dedicated to its preparation and to disseminating it in real time through the social media. We are committed to publish the transcript and audio messages of all those who have participated in this panel. In a few days we will post it on Catalejo, as we have done with the three previous panels so that they will be available to all those who are interested. Very many thanks to all.
Translation: Catharina Vallejo
Foto: Temas/Rafael Hernández
 N.E. State agency in charge of purchasing and marketing agricultural products.
 N.E. All agricultural production units sign a contract with Acopio, the state agricultural marketing enterprise, that sets out the quantities, qualities and prices of products that they must deliver destined for social consumption (schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) and state markets. They can sell any surplus to other (non-state) buyers at market prices.