Cursed blessing

Intense precipitations are mitigating in Cuba the effects of the strong drought in 2015, but they are due to a climate alteration that has damaged the tuber and vegetable crops.

The new year received Cubans with intense precipitations, confirming the climate alterations in these usually dry months.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños

After a year of severe drought it seems difficult that the rains are being cursed, but the intense precipitations with which 2016 began in Cuba have gotten here at an extremely untimely moment for agriculture. Recent press reports confirm damages in important crops for the Cuban families’ table as well as for the sugar agribusiness.

 

The rains have increased since November to date, during the usual dry season of the Cuban climate. To highlight the paradox, they had almost disappeared in the humid months, from May to October, to the point of comparing the year’s drought, dragged on since 2014, with the worst in a century. The damages in the water reserves were not only felt in the agricultural and livestock sector. They also generated tension in the supply of potable water for the population.

 

The reserve of the 242 reservoirs managed by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) decreased to critical levels: 36 per cent of their capacity in mid-2015.

 

A report presented to the MPs at the end of the year by the INRH said that up to December 137 of the country’s 168 municipalities had been declared in a state of drought: 37 in moderate drought, 50 in severe drought and 50 in extreme drought. Productions like rice, a basic cereal in the Cuban diet, registered strong losses.

 

However, the precipitations gradually increased starting November. At the end of the year the reservoirs were storing 4.810 million cubic metres, 53 per cent of the total capacity. They brought a respite that with the start of 2016 has turned into an increasingly contradictory blessing for several crops.

 

Climate alterations associated to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation meteorological phenomenonhave been felt in a very diverse manner in the Caribbean. In Cuba they have generated a warm and humid winter, which delayed actions like the planting of tomato and potatoes – that usually begin between November and December -, they damaged vegetable seedbeds and are threatening with rendering uselessthe sowing of beans, another basic food among Cubans.

 

Before the unleashing of the start of the year’s strongest rains, Osmar Méndez, head of Vegetables of the Agriculture Ministry (MINAG), reported that the December precipitations had caused losses. In the last month of 2015 farmers had planned to collect close to 35,000 tons of tomato, but due to bad weather conditions they only harvested some 20,000. On a similar date in 2014 they had collected 50,000 tons of that vegetable, Méndez compared.

 The recent rains have affected the yields of crops much awaited by Cuban consumers, like potato and tomato.

The recent rains have affected the yields of crops much awaited by Cuban consumers, like potato and tomato.

 

The damages were perceived in the shortage of tomatoes in the agricultural and livestock markets and the high prices. The effects were also felt in other products, seasoned by the intense popular debates about the causes of the poor supply and the measures that the government, with President Raúl Castro heading them in person, promised to study to face the prices higher than the mean incomes of Cubans.

 

According to the MINAG head of Vegetables, the yields also dropped in the early sowing of beans in September. The development of the pods was affected by excess humidity and high temperatures, two factors that also favoured the attack by plagues.

 

Ministry experts commented to the press before 2015 closed that the farming of another highly demanded foodstuff, potato, could withstand and meet the plans despite the delay in the planting previewed for November because of the rains, but the most recent TV newscasts reported damages in the planting of potatoes, due to excess humidity, in leading provinces in the production of the tuber: Mayabeque and Artemisa, located to the south of the capital.

 

The sugar harvest joined the crops suffering damages. After the cane fields were affected by the previous drought, the excess humidity now, during the harvesting months, is hindering the cutting of cane and reducing its sugar yields. Several sugar factories that were expected to join the campaign in December postponed their entering the harvest awaiting more favourable conditions, which January has still not provided.

 

The horizon shows no signs of clearing up, according to the meteorologists, who forecast repeated intense rains until March. They have come to put out a drought that was becoming dangerous, but the excess humidity also has its cost. (2016)

 

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