Cuba aims higher for coming sugar harvest

 

Marc Frank, Reuters

 

HAVANA.- A senior Cuban official has urged sugar workers to produce more than 1.7 million metric tons of raw sugar during the coming 2018-2019 harvest, state-run television reported, following the island's disastrous crop the previous season.

 

"The last harvest was difficult. It failed to produce 300,000 metric tons of sugar that was already sold," state-run media quoted Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, second secretary of ruling Communist Party, as saying on Thursday. He urged the sector to meet this season´s goal.

 

Cuba rarely meets its harvest target, but the need is especially pressing this year after the poor 2017-2018 harvest. For the first time in nearly a decade, the country has been importing some refined sugar from France to be able to provide the sugar component of the basic food rations allocated to every family.

 

The Caribbean island, once a major sugar exporter, produced 1.8 million metric tons of raw sugar in 2016-2017 and exported 1.1 million metric tons, according to the International Sugar Organization.

 

But a prolonged drought, Hurricane Irma last September and out-of-season rainfall devastated the next crop. Official figures have not been released, but based on state-run media reports and sector sources, Reuters estimates the 2017-2018 harvest weighed in at just over a million metric tons, similar to harvests of more than a century ago.

 

Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 metric tons of sugar a year and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 metric tons annually. It sells the rest on the open market.

 

Machado Ventura was speaking to a sugar workers conference in Havana. He and other leaders called for increased discipline and for workers and farmers to work harder and overcome problems with outdated equipment, decrepit infrastructure and labor shortages.

 

The leaders were quoted by state media as saying the country, hit by the economic crisis in ally Venezuela, increased hostility from the United States and lower export earnings, desperately needed to export more sugar.

 

The harvest usually begins with a few mills operating in late November, and about 50 crunching cane by mid-January as dry and cool weather set in. Most mills close by May.

 

This year 20 mills are scheduled to operate in November, with the first opening next week, and all but two are scheduled to open before the end of the year, to halt further sugar imports.

 

Sugar was long Cuba´s most important industry and export, with output reaching 8 million metric tons in 1991. It now ranks behind sectors such as tourism, tobacco, nickel and pharmaceuticals.

 

 

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