Tuesday, September 06, 2011

On the Passing of G. B. Hagelberg--An Important Voice on Cuban Agriculture and Policy

G. B. Hagelberg has recently passed.  He was a long time member of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.  Many of his papers have been published in its proceedings. These included:

The Cutting Edge, Nov. 2, 2009)

G.B. Hagelberg and José Alvarez, Cuban Agriculture: The Return of the Campesinado, Papers and Proceedings of the 19th Annual Meeting of the  Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (2009); 

G.B. Hagelberg and José Alvarez, Cuba's Economic Culture and the Reform Process, Papers and Proceedings of the 18th Annual Meeting of the  Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (2008); 

G.B. Hagelberg and José Alvarez, Cuba's Dysfunctional Agriculture: The Challenge Facing the Government, Papers and Proceedings of the 17th Annual Meeting of the  Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (2007); 

G.B. Hagelberg and José Alvarez, Historical Overview of Cuba's Costs of Sugar Production: Implications for the Future, Papers and Proceedings of the 15th Annual Meeting of the  Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (2005).

Each of these remains timely and worth reading as Cuba continues to consider issues of agriculture and agricultural policy. 

Jerry Hagelberg had an intimate view of Cuba’s sugar industry and economy. He worked as a journalist on the island from 1960 to 1968 and is the author of numerous publications, including a book-length study, The Caribbean Sugar Industry: Constraints and Opportunities (1974). From 1980 to 1986 he served as the resident sugar adviser to the government of Barbados and was decorated for his services with an Honorary Silver Crown of Merit in the Order of Barbados. More recently, he contributed to Reinventing the Cuban Sugar Agroindustry, edited by Jorge Pérez López and José Alvarez (2005). He presented a paper on ¨Cuban Agriculture: Limping Reforms, Lame Results” on August 4 of this year at the 21th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE).  It will be published in the proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting and available in hard copy and on line.

As a tribute I include the introduction and conclusion to that last work here.  Please look for  the full text of the paper as published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

ASCE 2011
AGRICULTURE: policy and performance

G.B. Hagelberg[1]

Despite the acceptable results obtained so far in handing over idle lands in usufruct under Decree-Law No. 259 of 2008, thousands and thousands of hectares of arable land still await hands ready to produce what the population and the national economy so much need and what can be harvested from our fields to replace ever more expensive imports of many products that today benefit foreign suppliers instead of our farmers.
Raúl Castro, 19 April 2011

On 10 July 2008, three weeks short of two years after taking over the government from his incapacitated elder brother and almost a year after saying that “structural and conceptual changes” were needed in agriculture, Raúl Castro signed Decree-Law No. 259, authorizing the mass transfer of idle state lands in usufruct to individuals and corporate bodies “in order to increase the production of food and reduce its importation.” Implementing regulations (Decree No. 282) were issued on 27 August 2008 and local offices to receive requests for land opened three weeks later. By 3 July 2009, 690,000 hectares – 41% of an idle area then put at 1.7 million hectares – had been transferred. Two-thirds of that was infested with marabú (Dichrostachys cinerea), a thorny, fast-growing shrub that forms dense thickets difficult to eradicate. Nevertheless, a quarter of the land under new management was reported to be in production (González, 2009). Two years into the life of Decree-Law No. 259, slightly more than 1 million hectares had been transferred, of which 46% was producing, according to official figures (Lescaille Durand, 2010).

The more accessible locations having been spoken for, the pace has slackened (Varela Pérez, 2011g). In mid-2011, the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, citing a leading official of the National Center of Land Control, reported that 67.7% of an idle land inventory, now put at some 1,868,000 hectares, had been transferred. Of the land that had changed hands, 77.1% was being utilized, more than half for cattle farming. Some 173,000 requests for land had been received – overwhelmingly from individuals, of which 145,684 had been approved, 9,511 denied, and 18,289 were in process (Prensa Latina, 2011).[2]  

Strangely, no reflection of the 71,000 (Pérez Sáez, 2011), or more, new landholders created under Decree-Law No. 259 is discernible in the official employment statistics. Total employment in agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing, not broken down, fell from 945,600 in 2009 to 921,500 in 2010, now only marginally up from 2007-08 levels, but below those in 2005-06 (ONE, 2011b, Table 7.3). Membership in agricultural production cooperatives and basic units of cooperative production has successively declined from 242,100 in 2007 to 217,000 in 2010. Deducting self-employed workers, presumably overwhelmingly urban, from the total number of persons in the private sector leaves 451,100 in 2007, 460,500 in 2008, 447,500 in 2009, and 442,000 in 2010 as the number that must represent private farmers (ONE, 2011b, Table 7.2). A change in reporting practice can perhaps explain this oddity.

Discrepancies in the statistics are a warning not to read agricultural data too closely. In the first place, implementation of Decree-Law No. 259 is a work in progress, on which higher-echelon officials are liable to be less well-informed the farther they are from the field. Aside from applications for land still awaiting local approval, there are cancellations. In one province, for instance, 361 grants had been annulled and the land involved ceded to 118 newcomers (Martínez Molina, 2011). Even without that commotion, statistics of the amount of food produced in a country present recording problems and to a degree are based on guesswork. But in the case of Cuba, analysts are additionally faced with differences between the farm output data in the yearbook of the National Office of Statistics (ONE, 2011b) and in the January-December 2010 issue of its quarterly selected indicators (ONE, 2011d). As expected, the figures in the former, which includes the production of patios and plots, tend to be higher than those in the latter, which does not. But not throughout. For potatoes, a focal point of government food production campaigns, ONE, 2011b, Table 9.9, reports 191,500 metric tons, against 195,200 tons in ONE, 2011d, Tables 1.1, 2.4.[3] The latter publication also has higher 2010 figures for the state sector production of poulty meat and eggs (cf. ONE, 2011b, Tables 9.22 and 9.23, and ONE, 2011d, Table 2.31).

All that notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that Decree-Law No. 259 has brought a big structural change in land tenancy. What is still wholly uncertain is whether the government’s objective of sustainably raising domestic food production is being achieved.

* * * *

  A more exhaustive picture of how the Raúl Castro administration sees the development of agriculture and agroindustry is presented in the “guidelines of the economic and social policy of the party and the revolution” that emerged from the congress – the nearest thing in Cuba to what in other countries is a party election manifesto (VI Congreso, 2011c). As is in the nature of such documents, it is a mixture of broad concepts and detailed commitments. Within a frame of common ownership of the basic means of production and the primacy of planning and not of the market, the key sectoral themes touched on are (bracketed numbers refer to the articles in the guidelines)

* * * *

  With 38 clauses devoted alone to agroindustrial policy and 313, in all, covering the Cuban economy from soup to nuts, the guidelines rather resemble the menu of a restaurant that lists hundreds of dishes. In such eateries, however, there is usually a sheet headed “Today’s Specials” to steer the customer to the half dozen dishes ready to be brought to the table immediately. Here, there is no indication of the order of service. 
* * * *
Analysts can thank Raúl Castro for a semblance of glasnost. Ironically, it reveals the limits of his perestroika. That enterprise is running the danger of unraveling under the weight of its internal contradictions. If this is not to happen, the realization has to gain ground that “concentration of ownership” (Article 3) is as undesirable in the public as in the private sector of the economy and that competition is the mother of efficiency. Non-functional state monopolies and monopsonies have to be dismantled. Also to be unpicked is the conflation of centralization and planning, a fantasy nowhere more counterproductive than in agriculture.  


In a speech to the National Assembly in July 2008, Raúl Castro returned to his oft-quoted 1994 statement that “beans are more important than cannons.” Over 2007-10, the four calendar years in which he has led the government, bean production averaged 96,400 metric tons annually, against an average of 109,175 tons in the previous four years (ONE, 2011a, Table 1.6). Men who have spent a lifetime running the armed forces may believe that making farm policy is not rocket science. It is surely at least that. After all, a centrally managed economy was first to send a man into space; across the world, the track record of centrally managed economies in agriculture has been less glorious. The measures introduced to boost the home-grown food supply and reduce the need for imports have still to pass the beans test, and Cuba’s agricultural malaise rumbles on.


Alvarez, José. 2000. “Differences in agricultural productivity in Cuba’s state and non-state sectors: Further evidence.” Cuba in Transition–Volume 10, pp. 98-107. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Borrego, Juan Antonio. 2011a. “Falta de previsión en el Sur del Jíbaro.” Granma, 9 June.

Borrego, Juan Antonio. 2011b. “Leche con deudas.” Granma, 15 February.

Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe. 1997. La economía cubana: Reformas estructurales y desempeño en los noventa. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

de Jesús, Ventura. 2011. “Lamentables pérdidas en Matanzas: Arroz en saco roto.” Granma, 11 January.

Frank, Marc. 2011a. “Cuban coffee shows first signs of recovery.” Reuters, 15 February.

Frank, Marc. 2011b. “Cuban sugar ministry luring new farmers.” Reuters, 2 June.

González, Ana Margarita. 2009. “Entrega de tierras (I): Realidades y manipulaciones.” Trabajadores, 6 July. “Entrega de tierras (II): Con premura, pero sin chapucerías.” Trabajadores, 13 July.

González, Ana Margarita. 2011. “La contratación no es solo un acto formal.” Trabajadores, 10 January.

Hagelberg, G.B. 2010. “If it were just the marabú . . . Cuba’s agriculture 2009-10.” Cuba in Transition–Volume 20, pp. 32-46. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Hernández Porto, Yahily. 2011.Agua que no cae del cielo.” Juventud Rebelde, 22 May.

International Sugar Organization. 2010. Sugar Year Book. London, ISO.

Lescaille Durand, Lisván. 2010. “Tierra en letra y espíritu.” Juventud Rebelde, 10 October.

Martín González, Marianela. 2008. “Comenzarán este mes solicitudes de tierras en usufructo.” Juventud Rebelde, 6 September.

Martínez Molina, Julio. 2011. “Avanza Decreto-Ley 259 en Cienfuegos.” Granma, 14 May.

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ONE. 2011b. Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2010. Havana: Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas, 2011.

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Pérez Almarales, Eugenio. 2010. “La producción de arroz exige más orden.” Granma, 20 September.

Pérez Sáez, Dora, et al. 2009. “La necesidad no tiene ciclo corto.” Juventud Rebelde, 22 March.

Pérez Sáez, Dora. 2011. “Quién gana la partida en los campos cubanos.” Juventud Rebelde, 15 May.

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Rey Veitia, Lourdes, et al. 2010. “Contrapunteo más allá del marabú.” Trabajadores, 3 May.

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Varela Pérez, Juan. 2010. “Sin esperar a que llueva café.” Granma, 29 September.

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Varela Pérez, Juan. 2011b. “Alentadora recuperación de la zafra.” Granma, 4 May.

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Varela Pérez, Juan. 2011d. “De una experiencia en San José de las Lajas: Evitar violaciones en la ‘vía láctea’.” Granma, 25 February.

Varela Pérez, Juan. 2011e. “Hasta el fondo en las tierras ociosas.Granma, 25 January.

Varela Pérez, Juan. 2011f. “Producción y comercialización agrícolas: La cuerda floja no se estira.” Granma, 27 June.

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[1]  I am grateful to José Alvarez, Marc Frank and John Paul Rathbone for helpful comments on an earlier draft but am solely responsible for remaining deficiencies.

[2]  The figures on land distribution and use by form of tenancy and type of enterprise or entity in the official statistical yearbook for 2010, published in 2011(ONE, 2011b, Table 9.1), are still those as of 31 December 2007, although the figure of 1,232,800 hectares given for the total area of idle agricultural land was subsequently replaced in official discourse by estimates of 1.7 million hectares or more. The reason why more up-to-date information is not published is not known. According to Varela Pérez (2011e), officials of the National Center of Land Control traversed the country every six months in order to observe the situation on the ground and not rely solely on second-hand reports occasionally based on inaccurate information. Periodic updating of the stock of idle land was required owing to the changes that had taken place since Decree-Law No. 259 went into operation.

[3]  Confidence in the reliability of ONE statistics is not enhanced by the repeated solecism of reporting a higher tonnage of sugarcane processed than harvested, as well as other incongruities in the mill performance data (cf. ONE, 2011b, Tables 9.4, 11.3). No figures are given for the 2009/10 grind, a year after its end. 

Dec. 8, 2008)

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