Analysis: Soaring international prices worsen the Cuban food crisis


Soaring international food and shipping prices and low domestic production further reduce the import-dependent capacity of Cuba to feed its people.

Cuba traditionally imports about 70% of the food it consumes by sea, but tough US sanctions and the pandemic, which has ravaged tourism, have severely reduced foreign exchange earnings.

For more than a year, Cubans endured long queues and steep price hikes in their search for everything from milk, butter, chicken and beans to rice, pasta and oil. Cooking. They picked up rare produce from the market and collected fewer and fewer WWII-type food rations.

This month, the Communist government announced that the availability of flour would be reduced by 30% until July.

Diorgys Hernandez, director general of the food processing ministry, said when he announced the wheat shortage that “the financial costs of shipping wheat to the country” were partly to blame.

This was bad news for consumers who had bought more bread to make up for having less rice, pasta and root vegetables on the table.

“People eat a lot of bread and there is concern that there is a shortage of bread because it is what people eat the most,” said Clara Diaz Delgado, retired Havana and cancer survivor, meanwhile. in a queue.

Cuba does not grow wheat due to its subtropical climate. The product price was $ 280 per tonne in April, compared to $ 220 a year earlier.

The government also said the sugar harvest was more than 30% below the planned 1.2 million tonnes, reaching less than one million tonnes for the first time in more than a century.

Cuba will struggle to make up for a shortage of locally produced sugar, as international prices are about 70% higher than a year ago.

SHIPPING COST

In addition to the pain, the cost of international container transport has increased by up to 50% compared to last year and bulk freight more.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said its international food price index was up 30.8 percent through April compared to the same month last year, and the highest since May 2014.

The Cuban state has a monopoly on foreign trade and buys about 15% of the food it imports from the United States for money under a 2000 exception to the trade embargo.

John Kavulich, chairman of the Cuban-American Trade and Economic Council, which monitors the trade, said sales fell 36.6% last year to $ 163.4 million from 2019. They recovered in the first quarter, reaching $ 69.6 million, although that was less food due to higher prices.

Chicken, Cuba’s main US import, is badly affected. An American businessman who sells chicken in Cuba said he shipped drumsticks at 24 cents a pound in January and 48 cents in April. He did not wish to be named.

“Recovering global demand, rising prices for product inputs and labor shortages suggest that commodity prices will not decline anytime soon,” Kavulich said.

The economy shrank 11% last year and, according to local economists, contracted further in the first quarter of 2021, as an outbreak of the novel coronavirus has kept tourism closed and much of the country partially locked.

The government said foreign exchange earnings were only 55 percent of levels forecast last year, while imports fell between 30 percent and 40 percent.

Inbound container traffic fell 20% through April, compared to last year, according to a source with access to the data, who requested anonymity.

The government has not released statistics on the notoriously inefficient and rustic agricultural sector since 2019, but scattered provincial and other reports on specific crops and livestock show substantial declines for rice, beans, pork, produce. dairy and other Cuban dishes.

This was confirmed by a local expert who requested anonymity and said production fell by double digits due to a lack of fuel and imported fertilizers and pesticides.

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