During meetings held over the last few days, the President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel, reviewed progress being made in programs addressing the agriculture and livestock sector; food and beverage processing; as well as renewable resources and efficiency in energy use – programs he described as key to the country’s sustainable development.
Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, minister of Agriculture, presented an evaluation of development programs that the ministry has been working on for several years now, including those focused on rice; grains; tobacco; coffee and cacao; bee-keeping; fruit and citrus; root and green vegetables; wholesale purchasing and distribution; and livestock.
First of all, he commented that the success of these programs depends fundamentally on improving agricultural yields, which is possible on the basis of expanding irrigation to a greater portion of the country’s arable land. Therefore, one of the principal lines of work, he said, is transforming this situation, making irrigations systems – especially those manufactured in Cuba – available on usable land.
Progress made by the rice program was recognized, even though pending needs include recovering and modernizing infrastructure and roads in the fields; continuing to improve the varieties of seeds used, which today are all Cuban; and completing investment projects at drying and polishing facilities to produce better quality rice for domestic consumption.
According to the report, rice production should continue to increase at the same rate seen over the last few years.
In terms of the grain program, which includes corn, sorghum, and beans, emphasized was the need to expand mechanized harvesting, as well as the country’s drying and processing capacity. Specifically mentioned was the need to move more quickly in the construction and erection of five plants, equipment for which is already in the country. Another 32 such facilities are projected.
Projected this year is the harvesting of 50,000 tons of beans for the state order, of the 70,000 required to meet this demand. If growth and development of this program is maintained, it should be possible to eliminate the need for imports within two years.
Díaz-Canel Bermúdez commented that other types of beans should be considered in these plans, for example, garbanzos, which do not require large quantities of water. He likewise reiterated the call to take into account research being conducted at the country’s universities and institutes.
Referring to tobacco, the Minister reported that income from exports continues to increase, which reinforces the importance of continuing to strengthen this sector.
Consequently, expanding acreage devoted to this crop is projected, fundamentally in the country’s central and eastern regions, while increasing curing and processing capacity will be needed as planting increases.
During the review meeting, all agreed that one of the programs facing the most difficulties is that focused on coffee and cacao, which is progressing slowly. Among the tasks being undertaken to improve production is increasing the population in mountain coffee growing areas, where only 70% of the bushes projected have been planted because of the limited workforce. Also underway are efforts to increase plantings on the plains, and generalize the application of research findings from the Cuba-Vietnam project.
Youth in the Revolutionary Armed Forces work brigade will continue to participate in coffee and cacao production, where the value of their contribution has been noted, while efforts continue to improve living conditions in the mountains, to stem the exodus to cities.
The apiculture program has shown positive results. The industry’s historical record of 10,000 tons of honey should be surpassed in coming years, with projections set to reach 15,000 tons.
Work is also underway to modernize and complete honey and derivatives processing plants, with a view toward adding value to products, and thus increase hard currency income from exports.
In terms of fruit and citrus, although some lines of production have increased, demand is still not being met, the Minister noted. Other aspects cited include the need to complete plans for nurseries; improve training of producers; continue the construction of mini processing plants; and ensure the availability of packaging and crates to take full advantage of harvested fruit.
Diaz-Canel emphasized the work done by the Ceballos food processing company, a state enterprise in Ciego de Ávila, where they have been able to create a closed cycle operation, flowing from the field to the plant. He likewise advocated recovering the citrus industry in the Isle of Youth Special Municipality, where a long tradition exists, especially in terms of grapefruit.
Highlighted in the root and green vegetable program was work being done to consolidate productive poles, and develop municipal self-sufficiency, with the goal of locally producing 30 pounds of vegetables per capita, on a monthly basis.
The fact that urban and suburban agriculture play a fundamental role in supplying the population with fresh vegetables was reiterated. Also critical is meeting projections to develop 10,000 hectares of community gardens, intensive cultivation fields, and semi-protected areas.
Likewise emphasized was the need to strengthen the state wholesale system (including the Acopio and Frutas Selectas state enterprises) to better supply produce markets and tourist facilities, by contracting as much production as possible from individual farmers and cooperatives.
Regarding this point, Díaz-Canel referred to rising produce prices, a phenomenon created essentially by speculation, he said, noting that there is more agricultural production now than in past years, yet prices continue to increase, and adding that measures to effectively control the situation must be developed.
Analyzed last was the livestock and poultry program. Projections for coming years include the production of 250,000 tons of pork and three billion eggs annually; improving storage capacity in warehouses, refrigerated silos, and feed plants; and rehabilitating facilities created by the Revolution under the guidance of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz to improve dairy and beef production.
FOOD PROCESSING DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
During the review meeting, María del Carmen Concepción González, minister of Food Industry, reported on the development program managed by the Ministry to gradually reestablish the industry, increase exports, reduce imports of processed products, and increasingly meet the population’s demand and that of tourism.
As part of this effort, for example, in 2012 the shrimp farming program was launched, which has shown good results, in terms of production, efficiency, and generating income from exports.
The gradual recovery of capacity in the dairy and meat processing industry has included better water, steam, and refrigeration services, allowing for processing of the greater amounts of raw material arriving, although all facilities have not yet benefitted.
To carry out the development program, the Ministry has established two stages. In the first, key activities include replacing technological equipment and means of transportation; introducing new technology that increases and diversifies industrial production; broadening the participation of Cuban industry; and diversifying offers and exports.
Investment projects are underway in different branches of the industry valued at more than 144 million pesos, fundamentally in dairy, meat, canning, juice, soft drink, and wheat flour facilities.
Issues tied to quality, innocuity, measurement, and reducing contamination are taken into consideration in these projects, and in maintenance efforts which guarantee the sustainability of the food processing industry, the Minister said.
Diaz-Canel commented that this program must be prioritized given its direct impact on the population.
He recalled comments made by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz in previous meetings of this type, when he insisted that the level of deterioration evident in many food processing plants must never again be allowed.
Turning to another issue, the President stated that in an upcoming review school lunch programs would be considered, with a view toward increasing efficiency in this program that is so important to Cuban families.
Also reviewed during the meeting was the national energy program, described by First Party Secretary Raúl Castro as the most important to advancing the economy’s sustainability.
Raúl García Barreiro, deputy minister of Energy and Mining, described tasks being completed to ensure adequate energy generation.
Subsequently, Alfredo López Valdés, minister of Energy and Mining, presented an update on policies directed toward developing renewable energy sources and more efficient use of electricity, approved in 2014, which have among their objectives changing the country’s energy profile; reducing dependence on fossil fuels; increasing efficiency in the generation of electricity; and ensuring environmental protection.
He reported that work is currently underway on the construction of the first three bio-electric plants planned in sugar mills, two new wind farms, 32 solar panel parks, and two small hydroelectric plants, which will all contribute clean energy to the national system.
In agriculture, more than 1,000 solar powered pump stations have been installed, fundamentally to provide livestock with drinking water; as well as 3,000 bio-digestors, to reduce environmental pollution mainly on pig farms.
Among other topics addressed, progress on replacing florescent street lamps with LED fixtures was reported; as well as the promotion of electric stoves using induction as opposed to resistance; and the installation of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.
Referring to these issues, Díaz-Canel Bermúdez called for investigating the possibility of expanding availability of more efficient home appliances, that improve quality of life while at the same time saving energy; and taking advantage of existing buildings across the country where, if feasible, solar panels can be placed on roofs.