LOCATED in one of the most fertile areas of Cuba, also one of the island’s main tourist destinations, the Ceballos Agro-industrial Enterprise defines itself as an “organized, diversified, efficient, and sustainable” socialist state enterprise. And not without good reason. The pride of the province of Ciego de Ávila, this entity is one of the most organized, diversified, efficient and sustainable in the country. A brief review of the industry confirms as such.
Without losing sight of the fact that the enterprise is located in an eminently agricultural province, devoted to producing citrus and tropical fruit, tubers, and vegetables; processed products and charcoal for export; and marketing foodstuffs in the domestic market to substitute imports, the Ceballos Agro-industrial Enterprise responds to the national economic reorganization underway, with a special emphasis on increasing its industrial production.
As Rodolfo Morales Pérez, director the Ceballos Industrial Basic Enterprise Unit (UEB), explained to Granma International, investments to renovate, expand, and develop the industrial processing of agricultural produce, increase exports of non-traditional products, allow for the manufacture of products with higher value added, and the acquisition of technologies that facilitate a cleaner production process and the rational and efficient use of energy resources, have not ceased in the last 15 years.
The most recent investments have been focused on increasing the entity’s reception, evaporation, and aseptic processing and packaging capacities for natural juices, tropical fruit puree, and other products; completing the pineapple production line; expanding the range of preserves and fruits in syrup; and constructing the pickled vegetables production line, using the surplus of protected crops.
Since June, an automated processing line of tropical fruits has been in operation, which will allow for the processing of two fruits at the same time, and for an increase of 20 tons in existing capacity. The UEB's head of Production, Israel Sosa Ramos, noted that with this addition, the enterprise now has a total of ten production lines. “Soon, a line will also be launched to extract pineapple juice and obtain rings and segments of this fruit, and a new refrigerated chamber will be built, with storage capacity of about 2,500 tons,” he noted.
According to Pérez, a Chemistry graduate, the Ceballos Industrial UEB emerged as a mega structure devoted purely to citrus fruits, designed by the German Democratic Republic and Cuba in the 1980s. “In the 2000s, citrus production began to fall and we came up a big project to increase the fruit plantations in the province and, at the same time, triple the fruit processing capacity by inserting new production lines. Thus we have been able to employ the surrounding community all year round,” he emphasized.
In 2002, the plant, with about 1,000 covered square meters for production and about 800 square meters of warehouses, set up an aseptic packaging line and another for pre-fried potatoes, the only one that exists on the island. “As the growth of fruit orchards continued, we were overwhelmed and were forced to include a small production line to process four tons of tomatoes per hour, and others for mango, guava, papaya, processing up to eight tons of fruit in the same period of time,” explained Pérez, who also holds a masters in Tropical Fruit Farming.
The Ceballos industry has been modernized with Italian-Brazilian technology, and has signed a ten-year contract for technical supervision and training of Cuban personnel, both inside and outside of the island. The enterprise currently processes all the banana puree used in subsidized compotes provided throughout the country for children up to two years of age; as well as agricultural produce from other central and eastern provinces.
Although the enterprise was initially conceived as a plant to produce raw materials for the canning and juicing industry, marketing concentrated puree, exporting a certain quantity, and selling the rest to other enterprises or to the Ministry of Food Industry, the UEB began to fabricate products with added value, in small formats. Production tripled after considerable investment in 2007. For example, tomato production increased from four tons per hour to 16; mango, from eight to 10 tons, to 30 per hour; and guava from eight to 24 tons per hour.
“We no longer only sell tanks of 200 liters or a ton, but rather have also purchased doypacks (stand-up pouches), in which we package 250 and 500 grams. We fill them with mango, guava, pineapple, papaya, citrus, and mixed flavor juices, as well as tomato derivatives: juice, ketchup, sauce and puree,” Pérez explained.
As citrus production declined, these fruits were replaced by pineapple. Pérez noted: “We started processing pineapple in 2012 and have had years of 3,500 tons. Also, we created a production line for canned goods that we expanded to all types of preserves. Within a year, we filled about 2 million 3.2kg cans, with tomato paste, mango, and guava preserves, using raw materials that come mainly from the enterprise’s plantations. Then two more aseptic packaging lines were added, one for ten and another for 1.5 tons.”
According to the specialist, “aseptic packaging has meant not having to store large quantities of products in freezers, because they are preserved for about twelve months at room temperature. Sometimes, like with tomatoes, they have been stored for 60 days in large quantities, and what we do is put them in tanks that we put on a platform and throughout the year we process them in small containers, according to the demands of the market.
“We make the most of the 70 days of mango production, we produce around 20,000 tanks and the rest of the year we pack juice in ten liter bags, from which all the juice bars of the Cuban hotel industry are supplied. We distribute about 250,000 liters per month across all hotels in the country. We were processing mango from 2016 through June. We try to maintain this; it depends on the quality of the raw material that arrives. The key to success is to start with good fruit.”
In the same way, Ceballos provides all the pre-fried potatoes consumed in the country’s tourist resorts, about 2,500 - 3,000 tons per year. “When we started to produce, the country had about 20 entities importing potatoes, today that hardly occurs. We support the tourism demand in Cuba, with potatoes wholly produced in Ciego de Ávila, and small quantities brought from Matanzas. Only specialized cuts are imported that are required by some luxury hotels. At the beginning of 2017, we collected 9,600 tons of potatoes, which are enough to supply this sector until February 2018,” Pérez explained.
While the growth of tourism means the construction of a second production line for pre-cooked potatoes is planned in Matanzas. May was the second most productive month for potatoes at the Ceballos enterprise, producing 413 tons of pre-fried potatoes, while the tourist sector consumed about 230 tons.
“Our products are well received. Although they do not cover all the demand, if these products were withdrawn from the national market, the country would be left unprotected. Today Cuba imports about 10,000 tons of tomato paste and we produce about 3,000 tons. We mainly export raw material in 200-liter drums to Europe, Japan, and Central America, chiefly organic concentrates of grapefruit, orange, and pineapple juice, as well as mango and guava puree,” the director added.
PACKAGING, WORKERS AND NATURE
Since 30% of the food produced in the world today is canned, and the rest distributed in flexible packaging, which is less expensive, the Ceballos Enterprise is concerned about the serious packaging problem in Cuba, especially with regards to tin cans. “The Cuban tin industry has fallen behind. That reality affects us, but being so diversified has allowed us to advance through the doypack,” clarified Pérez, who has directed the UEB since 2007.
The expert added: “We are going to expand to 2.5kg doypacks, to replace, as much as we can, the use of cans. The aim of the country is to achieve productive chains, and we believe that in the future packaging factories can be created on the island. Although the doypack must also be imported, a container of doypacks contains 600,000 units, while one of cans has 7,000. Thus, we make about 300 deliveries from Havana by air, while we can transport the same capacity in doypacks on 16 trips.”
With sales of about 20 million CUP each month, and one million in CUC, the UEB produces about 20,000 bars of fruit preserves daily and about 80,000 mini-pacs. While, it has a budget of 17 cents per every CUC obtained from exports (about 12 million).
“The bars began to be made by hand in mini industries. In addition to these, today we have a thermal packaging machine, which makes mini versions and bars that we supply to tourism and for sale in national currency,” the interviewee added.
As quality is monitored from the orchards to the finished product, noting customer satisfaction, the Ceballos director stressed that, should he receive a complaint from Europe, he would be able to identify from what plantation the fruit came, or the person involved in the production process. “We are making our projects increasingly reliable. That is what quality management is all about. We have organized the production process and we have it set up on a documented basis, which makes it easier, for example, to draw up the budget, or identify the equipment that breaks most or the bearings that most fluctuate.”
Located in one of the areas most affected by the drought in Ciego de Ávila, the entity has earned great merit for its water saving system. “We have improved water quality. From 30 cubic meters of treated water we have soared to 60, and we have reduced water consumption by almost 30%. We are attempting to reuse the water from vegetable condensation, that is, the water that comes out of the concentrated tomato, for cleaning. Our pumps have smooth or intelligent starters and we set up a line of reverse osmosis, that is, that all our products are made with food quality water, water with zero minerals, zero salt flavors,” Pérez highlighted.
It is worth drawing attention to the Ceballos’ liquid residuals treatment system, which in 2005 received the National Environment Prize. “We recover all our liquid waste and discharge it into an open-air canal. In 2006, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization recognized us for clean production,” the director added.
The Ceballos Enterprise processes about 48,000 tons of fruit per year, and 50% of its waste is solid, which it uses to produce worm castings, an excellent fertilizer, or for animal consumption. “There’s no place to dispose of fruit waste and we close the cycle like this.
“In addition, we are big consumers of electricity. Our production lines only operate when something is going to be produced, and we have LED lighting in most of the plant, which saves us 63 kilowatt hours per day. The water reaches our kitchen and laundry at sixty degrees thanks to solar heaters. We are planning to buy a solar panel battery to put in a (solar) park in order to generate two megawatts per day for the plant, and subtract these from the 24MW that we consume from the national electricity grid,” Pérez explained.
The director assured that “there is good care for our workers. They have a shop, cafeteria, laundry, and an average salary that was 2,100 Cuban pesos in 2016. Although, those directly linked to production could have earned 3,000 or more pesos each month. This guarantees the stability of our 470 workers.”
Meanwhile, quality specialist Yenysi Pérez Rodríguez noted that her department provides a 24-hour production service, performing chemical-physical, microbiological, and sensory analyses, and covers all documentary information. “We have certified management, quality, health and safety, and food safety systems, and the organic productions of mango, orange, and grapefruit. We have also received several awards for our tomato paste and mango puree,” she concluded.