Cuban sugar industry heads for worst season in history as production falters | Investment News

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s sugar industry is once again heading for its worst season ever, according to state media and sources, threatening both national pride and economic growth.

The 2022 harvest is expected to be well below last year’s record, according to official data and two local sugar experts. It is currently at least 30% below the Communist-led government’s target of 900,000 tons.

Last year’s harvest of 800,000 tonnes was the worst since 1908, just 10% from a peak of 8 million tonnes in 1989.

Sugar was once the pride of Cuba, essential to its rum production and a generator of foreign currency and jobs in the island’s vast countryside.

The government has been unable to fund the needs of the sector – including inputs, irrigation and spare parts – due to tough new US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

“The government will have to import and maybe reduce the sugar quota on the monthly food ration. Bakeries will have to scramble to make sweets,” said a sugar expert consulted by Reuters, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak with foreign journalists.

The government had banked on a slight increase in sugar production to meet its growth target of 4% this year after the economy shrank by more than 11% in 2020 and grew by 2% last year, reducing the resources available for factories and plantations.

In a bid to revive this once iconic sector, Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa criss-crossed the country in February, urging labourers, farmers and cane cutters to produce more.

Harvesting usually starts in November and ends in May, but this year most mills opened in December and early January due to a lack of spare parts and cane.

“They won’t recover the lost tonnage and the most likely scenario is that they will fall even further behind as the problems are structural and long-standing,” the local sugar expert said.

Several articles from the official Communist Party daily, Granma, showed that the main sugar-producing provinces, including Villa Clara, Las Tunas and Cienfuegos, were well behind production targets.

Other reports and local sources indicated that the production of Cuba’s 35 sugar mills was behind schedule.

Cuba had reserved 500,000 tons of sugar for domestic consumption this year and planned to sell 400,000 tons to China, under a permanent agreement with the Asian nation.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Dave Sherwood and Lisa Shumaker)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

Rachel J. Bradford