Cuba Rice Output Stagnates, More Imports Expected

Cuba’s production of consumable rice stagnated in 2008 despite plans to increase output, the government said Jan. 7, ensuring the country will import hundreds of thousands of tonnes of its main staple this year.

Cuba’s National Statistics Office reported on its website that rice production was 195,000 tonnes in 2008, similar to the 196,000 tonnes of the previous year.

Cuba consumes a minimum 700,000 tonnes of rice each year. In recent years, it has imported more than 500,000 tonnes of rice annually, mainly from Vietnam’s state-run Northern Food Corp. under preferential financial terms.

It has also imported 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of rice annually from the U. S. in recent years under an exception to sanctions that allows agricultural sales for cash.

Cuba has been working for a number of years with Vietnam and China to develop small-plot rice farms in a so-far futile attempt to reduce imports.

Its Agriculture Ministry announced early last year that it was investing in machinery and other inputs with the goal of producing at least 350,000 tonnes of rice per year.

Agriculture Vice-Minister Juan Perez said the five-year plan involved putting back into production nine large state-run farms with their output reaching 250,000 tonnes of consumable rice within five years.

Before the collapse of Cuba’s former benefactor, the Soviet Union, the rice farms, covering 150,000 hectares, produced up to 260,000 tonnes of consumable rice. Decapitalization, plague and drought followed.

The price and availability of rice is a politically volatile issue in Cuba as it is the main staple, with the government subsidizing the cost through a ration system.

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