Irregular take off of root vegetable harvest

The first reports note a more than 10 per cent increase in the production of foods located among the most demanded by Cuban consumers.

The production of root vegetables grew in 2014, despite the poor performance of potatoes and bananas.

Cuba closed 2014 with the highest production of root vegetables in several years, though agriculture is still one of the sectors that remain far from meeting the expectations of consumers and of decision makers of the country’s policy of economic changes.

After a stage of irregular productivity, experts estimate a hike in the harvest of root vegetables of up to 1.941 million tons in the recently concluded year, according to data given in December to the National Assembly of People’s Power by the director of the National Institute of Research on Tropical Tubers (INIVIT), Dr. Sergio Rodríguez Morales.

The previewed volume would surpass by 10.9 per cent the 1.750 million tons registered in 2013 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), a production that on that occasion represented a 3.7 per cent decrease compared to the previous year.

A recent tour by the National Root Vegetable Group, attached to the Agriculture Ministry, last year witnessed an improvement in the general yields, a performance that compensated for one of the sector’s weaknesses: the sustained annual reduction of the areas planted since 2011. According to Rodríguez Morales, “the competition with other crops like grains” has had an influence in that contraction and, in particular cases, the low availability of seeds.

The most recent official data registered by ONEI until the close of the third trimester confirm the persistent drop in the potato harvest. At the close of September, the harvest had decreased by 51 per cent, a performance that should not change in the final report of the year since these months constitute a season for sowing and development of the plants.

When commenting to the deputies the causes for the poor evolution of this tuber, one of the root vegetables most demanded by the population, the director of the INIVIT pointed to the rise in prices for the technological supplies required for its cultivation. In particular, he insisted on the high prices for imported seeds. In his opinion, the hopes for potatoes depend on the approval of the National Potato Seed Programme, which previews obtaining seeds through biotechnological methods.

Other important productions in the final accounts, bananas, experienced a low due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the plantations in eastern Cuba. At the end of the third trimester, the harvest had dropped by a fourth compared to a similar stage in 2013.

Despite the recent weak points in some crops, the technological supplies and nature’s punishment, the good results in other root vegetables, like taro, cassava and sweet potato, have had a sustained average annual increase of 600,000 tons from 2008 to 2014 in the total production of that food group, Rodríguez Morales reported.

That evolution joins the better performance shown for several years by other food products, like garden vegetables and grains. Beans and rice, prioritised in the government programmes because of the major weight they represent for import spending by the State, are basic foodstuffs in the usual diet of Cubans, while maize guarantees the production of animal feed for livestock production.

The government’s investments in machinery and other resources, together with improvements in the prices paid to producers, the handing over of land and a reorganisation in the enterprise structures, have lent weight to sustained increases in rice production, though that cereal is still hindered by the limited availability of technology for its agribusiness processing and the obsolesce of harvesters and other equipment.

According to Cuban press reports, the government has undertaken an investment programme in irrigation systems, the import or national production of equipment for planting and harvesting, the supply of fertilisers, herbicides and other resources, with the open aim of betting on the development of yields as a key factor to increase national food production, including root vegetables. (2015)

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