Agricultural market clients are still waiting

Food production in Cuba is making a slower than the wished for progress, while the prices continue at similar or higher levels in some production lines.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños/ IPS-Cuba

In agricultural markets prices remain at levels similar to those of previous years, with a tendency to grow.

In view of the agricultural sector’s inability to raise food production in Cuba to the expected levels, the government is incorporating this year new transformations in that sector. Some of the most recent steps point to the restructuring, decentralisation and debureaucratisation of a domestic trade sector whose prices refuse to go down, as was confirmed by a recent report of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The expansion of new actors in that sphere seems to encourage an increase in trade but is also putting a brake on possible depreciations.

In the first quarter of 2014, Cuban producers sold 773 million pesos in the agricultural markets and other forms of domestic marketing, almost 21 percent more than in the first three months of last year. The analysis by product line shows irregularities in the supply and also that the largest takings essentially responded to a moderate increase in physical sales, without an influence in sought-after reduction in prices which consumers have dreamed of for decades.

The sale of agricultural products, the bulk in those retail markets, amounted to 666.3 million pesos from January to March, 23.5 percent more than the same period last year. The prices, meanwhile, in general practically remained unchanged, if we take into account that the physical sales (155,000 tons) also increased 23 percent between both periods.

However, in the outlets with greater commercial flow, the state-run agricultural markets, the selling of agricultural products does indicate a tendency toward an increase. The amount sold (74,000 tons) barely grew 0.6 percent, but favoured 11 percent higher takings (344.5 million pesos). The difference between physical sales and values can only respond to higher prices.

The relation is confirmed in the supply and demand markets, which support a tenth of the agricultural trade.

The sale of sweet potatoes, cassava, taro, plantain and other root vegetables in the state-run stands grew 44 percent from January to March to more than 77 million pesos, but the billed physical amount only increased 29 percent as compared to the first quarter of 2013, another sign of the price hike.

Despite the takeoff of the year with a favourable climate for the planting of garden produce, the physical selling of those products this time dropped 18 percent in the state-run markets; it practically remained at levels similar to those of the period mentioned for 2013.

The tons sold in the supply and demand markets dropped with greater strength: the amount of root and garden vegetables and grains they were able to sell decreased by more than two thirds. In general, these markets have been depressed by the competition, also private, of numerous small outlets opened in the barrios and that of the street vendors, one of the formulas introduced or accepted recently by the government to revitalise agricultural trade, under the label of self-employment.The expansion of street vendors and outlets in the barrios bring the product closer to consumers but increases the pressure on Cubans’ pockets.

According to the ONEI report, the outlets were responsible for 29 percent of the total marketing and left 13 percent to the street vendors. Both of their takings represented almost as much as that of the agricultural markets, which absorb 45 percent of the distribution of agricultural products.

Grain and fruit production, basic in the Cuban diet but essentially supported by imports, suffered better luck. The reports of the ONEI as well as those of the Agriculture Ministry mention a sustained increase of those productions in recent years.

The official statistics indicate that the growths in the selling and takings of tons fall more on the new outlets in expansion than the state-run agricultural markets or the bled dry supply and demand markets. These traders have become one more link in the commercial chain of agricultural products. They take the supply closer to consumers, but with the inevitable added value or tax for the Cubans’ pockets. (2014)

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