Tuesday, August 4, 2015

More But Still Falling Short

More But Still Falling Short / Dimas Castellano
Posted on August 4, 2015

Dimas Castellano, 25 May 2015 — The goal was to match the results
obtained in 1912. Failure to meet this target is nothing new, nor are
the reasons why.

At the closing session of the XI Congress of the National Association of
Small Farmers (ANAP) on May 17, the second secretary of the Communist
Party of Cuba (PCC) said in reference to the sugar harvest, "We will
produce almost 300,000 tons more than last year, but we did not meet our

Such failures are nothing new. It has happened year after year due to
negative impacts of voluntary work brigades and nationalization of the
economy. In the case of sugar production it fell from 8.2 million tons
in 1989 to 1.1 million tons in the 2009-2010 harvest, the same amount
produced in 1904.

The measures adopted to halt the decline focused on low productivity and
poor organization but sidestepped the root causes. In 2001, a year when
there was less sugar produced than in 1919, a general was appointed to
head the Ministry of Sugar. New measures were adopted which included
plans to produce fifty-four tons of sugar cane per hectare, to extract
eleven tons of sugar for every hundred tons of cane, and to close
"inefficient" factories. Nevertheless, the decline continued its
relentless march. The general was replaced, the Sugar Industry Business
Group (AZCUBA) was created and an annual growth target of 15% was set
for 2016. But again the root causes were ignored.
Faced with the shortfalls of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 harvests and after
taking appropriate measures, AZCUBA announced that the upcoming
2013-2014 harvest would be better than any of the previous decade. The
plan was to produce 1.8 million tons, 200,000 more than the previous
year, which had been 1.6 million tons. The PCC's second secretary,
Machado Ventura, toured a sizable number of sugar mills on the island,
appealing to workers' consciences and urging them to plant more and
better, noting that "the main limitation is insufficient sugar cane and
low agricultural yields." In spite of this effort, "the best harvest of
the last decade" barely surpassed that of the previous year, even though
sugar mills remained in operation until June, when sugar levels in the
cane are considerably less and summer rains halt the harvest.
Once again without seriously addressing what the sugar industry required
or implementing even limited measures, a new goal was set. The 2014-2015
harvest would reach two million tons, 400,000 more than the previous
harvest, the same amount Cuba produced in 1912.
According to official press reports, operations began in July and by
late November producers had completed 80% of the work. Resources arrived
in the country on time. Two more sugar mills went into operation. A
synthetic fertilizer, Fitomas-M, was applied to more than 100,000
hectares, resulting in greater concentrations of sucrose in the cane. A
technological solution was devised to make harvesting feasible and
sustainable under wet conditions. More than 3,400 existing hauling
trailers were refurbished and put into service. Fifteen million dollars
were budgeted for equipment to repair roads and irrigation systems. More
than 90% of the harvesting process was to be mechanized and the amount
of raw cane going directly into the hopper was to increase by 50%.
According to the president of AZCUBA these measures were part of five
key strategies for meeting the goals of the current harvest by 1)
restoring agro-industrial efficiency, 2) streamlining the harvesting and
transportation systems, 3) maximizing capacity, 4) ensuring the quality
and purity of the sugar and 5) working with human capital. Consequently,
plans included a 23% growth in sugar production, a potential capacity
above 70% and sugarcane yields of no less than forty-three tons per
Providing his own distinctive touch, the second secretary of the PCC
resumed his now customary tour of the provinces.

In December he praised the harvest at the Boris Luis Santa Coloma mill
in Madruga, which confirmed the success of its investments and repairs.
On December 25 he chatted with managers and employees of the Antonio
Sanchez mill in Cienfuegos. He did the same on July 14 at Ciudad
Caracas, where he expressed appreciation for its strong performance in
the initial phase of the campaign. He toured cane fields and mills in
Villa Clara and visited the colossal Uruguay mill in Sancti Spiritus. In
Ciego de Avila he spoke with the directors of the Ciro Redondo, Primero
de Enero and Enrique Varona mills. And he did the same in Camagüey at
the Batalla de las Guásimas, Argentina and Brazil mills.

In January he reviewed the results at five mills and plantations in
Granma province. In Satiago de Cuba he visited the America Libre, Julio
Antonio Mella and Dos Rios operations, where he reiterated the need to
produce more cane to ensure sustained growth. In Holguin and Mayabeque
he demanded better results, singling out the poor performance of the
Hector Molina mill, where he noted that "an inability to find solutions
to recognized technical problems persists." But he acknowledged the
strong performances of the Boris Luis Santa Coloma operation in Madruga
and the Manuel Fajardo operation in Quivican.

At the conclusion of the so-called little harvest on December 31, in
which forty-two of the fifty mills completed production, it became clear
that the results were better than those of the previous year, both in
terms of harvesting and processing. Everything pointed to the growth
targets being met. However, there was sugar cane being left unprocessed,
production time was being lost, and problems in harvesting and
transportation remained. At the end of January, milling operations were
already five days behind schedule. At the end of February only 91% of
the harvested cane had been processed. The journalist Ana Margarita
Gonzalez reported in the weekly magazine Trabajadores on Monday, March
23 that, due primarily to equipment failures, production was only at 68%
of capacity. At 6.93%, downtime was also quite high. By the third week
of March the production shortfall was already at 8%.
Faced with impending disaster, officials once again turned to a much
used but ineffective tool: the appeals drive. By the first week of
April, production was at 77.2%, so union organizers and AZCUBA summoned
workers, technicians and managers to a special day-long event intended
to help meet the target. It was dubbed "For a Victorious April." Its
official notice stated that workers "have the responsibility to fulfill
the designated production goals of each plantation and mill. Victory in
the harvest shall be determined by the results we achieve this month."

In spite of these efforts, by April 23 production was off by 9% from
projections. And as is normally the case by this date, the pace was
beginning to slow. For every fourteen operations that had fulfilled
their quotas, three failed to meet their targets. Finally, on May 17
Jose Machado Ventura announced, "We will produce almost 300,000 tons
more than last year but we have still fallen short."
Agricultural and industrial inefficiency is a direct result of the
state's monopoly on property. Contributing to the problem has been the
abolition of the colonato, a system that dating back the 19th century
that ensured an adequate supply of sugarcane without political officials
having to issue appeals or to tell producers what they had to do. Other
factors include inadequate salaries and a loss of interest on the part
of producers. The failures of the last twenty-five years — a period that
spans from 1989 to 2014 — serve as incontrovertible proof of a failed
centralized state planning system. They point to the need for structural
reform of property laws, for salaries that reflect actual living costs
and for lifting bureaucratic impediments that prevent growth.
Instituting these changes is the only way to motivate workers in the
sugar industry, previously the nation's most productive sector and its
chief export earner, which could in turn have a positive impact on GDP
and improve the lives of all Cubans.
Previously published in Diario de Cuba.

Source: More But Still Falling Short / Dimas Castellano | Translating
Cuba -

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