Ceres, Please, Come Soon!

Foto: Canal Caribe

by Mario Valdés Navia

The Mesa Redonda (MR) of Monday, March 30, devoted to agriculture and transportation, managed to make me overcome my usual agnosticism and awaken my hidden polytheistic religiousness. I remembered that, in the Roman pantheon, Ceres was the goddess of agriculture, harvests, and fertility. From her offspring –the cereals– came the tasteless energy-giving paste which was the staple food of Latium. Her cult was related to plebeians, who dealt with the production and trading of agricultural products.

Her task was so complex and important that Jupiter assigned her a brigade of twelve minor gods to tend to the specific aspects of agriculture: Vervactor plows the land for sowing; Reparator prepares it; Imporcitor breaks it; Insitor sows; Obarator tills the surface; Occator channels it; Sarritor weeds it out; Subruncinator thins out the seedlings; Messor does the harvesting; Conuector transports the harvest; Conditor stores it; and Promitor distributes it.

Watching that MR I realized that, in Ceres’s last visit to Cuban fields –I am yet to pinpoint when that was– she only left a few to look after them. According to official information regarding sowing and more sowing, you can see Insitor has grown fond of us; while Messor, Conuector, Conditor, and Promitor barely come around. Or maybe they do it incognito, because at least in the TV News Bulletin there’s always produce somewhere in Cuba; you only have to find out when, where and at what price.

In the words by the Minister, centered on the need to substitute imports –of the 2 billion spent on food, it is estimated that between 600 and 800 million can be saved through national production–, there were plenty of directions and promises, and a lack of concrete answers to the uncertainty surrounding the production and marketing of produce. Particularly, I was surprised by two cardinal omissions: the absence of economic-financial indicators in the discourse of such a high authority, and the concealment of the role of private farmers in agricultural results.

The former is an old shortcoming of information and economic decision-making in Cuba. We should remind ourselves that in all guiding documents of the Party/State, since the 1970s until today, there’s an emphasis on the need to apply the economic-financial categories for the analysis of economic matters, yet here there was a distinct lack of them.

Nothing was said of the value and quantities of productions taken to market and their relation to the plans, the volume of needs and the effective demand for each of them –although both ministers repeated that nothing would get to satisfy the apparently insatiable demand/need (?) of the population–; of the amount and effectiveness of investments; and, more importantly, of what to expect specifically at this time regarding controlled or rationed distribution, regardless of the rising prices in the free market.

And nothing was said at all about the use of credit or fiscal mechanisms to help producers. They didn’t even explain why the Cuban agricultural system, with 6.4 million hectares of arable land –it wasn’t specified whether that’s a total figure or what the Ministry of Agriculture controls–, only farms 2.5 million and merely 7% is irrigated. Additionally, if 2.3 million were given to around 250,000 usufructuaries who are exploiting them, or they would lose them, how much is really being exploited by government-run companies and cooperatives?

The most unbelievable part is that the territorial structure of Cuban agriculture was manipulated when they said it’s divided between 4,800 cooperatives, without making the indispensable distinction between them. The truth is that there are three very different kinds in Cuba: credits and services cooperatives (CCS), which gather private farmers for a number of actions and where the land and the produce belong to the farmer; agricultural production cooperatives (CPA), with the classic model of associates and paid workforce; and the basic units of agricultural production (UBPC), public entities subordinated to large companies.

With nearly a million workers (20% of the total), agriculture currently contributes only 3.6% of the GDP.

Although 80% of the land belongs to the State, a large part of it is managed by UBPCs, usufructuaries and about 30,000 individual producers. However, according to official statistics, the majority of the most important productions are made by CCSs, that is, the private sector.

Faced with the current crisis, accented by the pandemic and the intensification of the blockade, which adds to what already existed, there were no proposals made that went beyond meetings with producers (!?), repeated slogans, general commitments and unnecessary appeals to the honor, commitment, and creativity of farmers and workers, who have always given their all to producing and supplying food for the people.

With the repetition of such bureaucratic methods, of proven obsolescence and inefficiency, we can hardly aspire to different results. Ceres, please, come by soon with your entire brigade, or we’ll be no better off in saecula saeculorum!