Hurricane Sandy entered through the coasts of eastern Cuba at dawn of Wednesday October 24, 2012 and punished that region of the country a month before the start of the Cuban sugar harvest. The hurricane ruined sugar fields and the optimistic forecasts of the AzCuba Business Group published by the daily Granma nine days before Sandy crossed the island. But the cyclone was not the only cause of the non-fulfilment of the plan, nor the most important, judging by the recent balance of the sector’s authorities.
Cuban sugar production during the 2012-2013 harvest was 11 percent below the planned amount, a blow that clouded the calculations. The non-fulfilment was compensated for by the 8 percent growth in crude sugar production as compared to the previous harvest and the good performance in other economic and productive indicators, but the passivity to adjust plans in the end claimed its toll.
The hurricane vented its anger especially on the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Holguín. Between both they stopped producing several dozens of thousands of tons of sugar, though the final report of the business group directly blames the hurricane for the loss of 50,000 tons.
However, data published by the Cuban press indicate that some 195,000 tons were not produced. After Sandy’s punished these provinces days before the start of the harvest, nature went back to its old ways at the close of the harvest, with strong rains in the months of April and May, inopportune for the performance of the cane harvesters in the fields and for the efficiency in extracting the sugar from the cane.
Even so, everything indicates that other factory and agricultural deficiencies have greater responsibility than nature. According to a report by the business group, around 100,000 tons were not produced due to problems with agribusiness efficiency.
During the balance meeting on the harvest, Orlando Celso García, the president of AzCuba, attributed the major part of the faults to “subjective factors” of technical discipline. Proof of this was the delay and bad planning in the repair of sugar factories which prevented a great many of them from starting their grinding on the previewed date.
While there are sugar mills that do their work efficiently and meet the plan every year, in others this is not the case, the president of AzCuba said.
Adding those faults to the years of deterioration of the industrial machinery and the wearing out of the agricultural equipment, like the harvesters, the productive growth of some factories or meeting the plan on time in others was almost a miracle. Out of the 50 mills that should have participated in the harvest, one never started operating, the Brasil, and another 17 had delays.
As a result, only 19 sugar factories and three provinces met the plan: Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Avila and Artemisa.
After a 15 percent growth in the previous harvest, the most recent data indicates a slowing down. With the advance of the 8 percent in the 2012-2013 harvest, total production was a bit more than 1.5 million tons of sugar.
Despite the recent mistakes, the official report indicates that 97 percent of the plan was met during the triennium, which represented a growth in sugar production of 37 percent at an annual rate of 12 percent.
While five years ago the factor that most affected the industry was the lack of raw material, the panorama tends to change. Sugarcane production has increased and now that expansion represents a big challenge for the industry, mainly undercapitalised. Boosted by better pay for farmers, the planted areas have increased. The harvested sugarcane grew by 15.6 percent during the year and by 45 percent throughout the last three years.
The production of by-products, like alcohol and cattle feed, also improved in the 2012-2013 harvest, and power generation increased. The quality of sugar indicators also grew and the production costs were lower, resulting in an increase in the contribution in hard currency derived from both tendencies.
Though far from recovering the mission of being the almost absolute support of the economy it once held, the sugar agribusiness is expanding year by year, though still with its problems, its space in the Cuban export portfolio. (2013)
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