El Niño spoils sugar plans

First the drought and later untimely rains reduced by a fifth the production of the 2015-2016 sugar harvest.

The sugar harvest did not advance at the previewed pace due to rains after the yields were affected by the drought in a first stage.

Adverse weather conditions, combined with industrial faults imposed a strong low in the 2015-2016 sugar harvest. Recent reports by the Azcuba Business Group indicate that it had barely reached 80 per cent of what it had planned. The emergency measures taken during the final stretch of the harvest and the government statement that it would not accept less tons than the previewed were of little use.

The strong drought, identified as the most serious in more than a century and which has devastated a part of Cuban agriculture, also deteriorated the quality of the sugarcane in many provinces. In fact, the harvest started with a lower amount of raw material than the expected due to the lack of rain during previous months. As a consequence, the agricultural yield decreased by three per cent compared to the previous harvest: it ended with 43.3 tons of cane per hectare.


According to the report presented in July by Azcuba to the National Assembly of People’s Power, sugar production witnessed a 19 per cent decrease compared to the level achieved a year before. That implies a low in magnitude almost similar to the increase the country had achieved in the previous harvest, whose level was the highest in 11 years. The 2015-2016 harvest concluded with less than 1.6 million tons of sugar.

Sugar production decreased by 19 per cent in the 2015-2016 harvest, after achieving a year before the largest amount in more than a decade.

Sugar production decreased by 19 per cent in the 2015-2016 harvest, after achieving a year before the largest amount in more than a decade.

Despite the damages caused by the lack of rains in 2015, the government had stated confidence in grinding and producing an amount of sugar similar to the 1.9 million tons of the 2014-2015 harvest. Azcuba reprogrammed the grinding in several sugar factories, but the precipitations appeared in March and other months, at an untimely moment for the cutting of the cane, and spoiled the work in several sugar factories.


First the drought and then the untimely rains for the season are phenomena associated to El Niño event.


Reports from the business group hold responsible those precipitations for 15 per cent of the lost time. The director of informatics, communications and analysis of Azcuba, Dionis Pérez, reported a few day ago to the Agriculture and Food Commission of Parliament that the total damages caused by the climate – to the cane’s sugar content and the sugar factories’ efficiency – were responsible for 71 per cent of the losses.


But that is not the only reason for the strong productive slump. Faults in the industrial preparation and repairs delayed the start of the grinding in 13 sugar factories, while the lost industrial time considerably affected the operations of 12 factories.


Power cuts, lack of water supply to the industry, the breaking down of machinery and delays in transportation services are among other difficulties recognised by Azcuba.


Out of the 50 sugar factories that worked in the 2015-2016 harvest, only 12 produced the planned amounts of raw sugar; and of the 13 sugar-producing provinces, barely two, Sancti Spíritus and Ciego de Avila, in the centre of the island, met their production plans.


As a consequence, sugar exports decreased by 23 per cent compared to the previous year, a considerable blow at a time in which the government is taking urgent measures due to lack of hard currency liquidity.


The business group aims to incorporate 54 sugar factories in the next harvest: 22 will start grinding in November and 28 in December. Only five will be left for January. The incorporation, earlier than usual in past harvests, will make it possible to produce 13 per cent of the previewed sugar for the next harvest before the end of the year. (2016)

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