Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Decimates Cuban Coffee Crop

Hurricane Sandy Decimates Cuban Coffee Crop
Reuters | Posted: 10/29/2012 10:31 am EDT Updated: 10/29/2012 11:34

HAVANA, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Hurricane Sandy decimated the Cuban coffee
crop and delivered a major setback to renovation of old plantations when
it ripped through the eastern part of the country late last week,
according to scattered media reports.

The storm left between 20 percent and 30 percent of the crop on the
ground, damaged processing centers and roads and felled thousands of
trees upon plantations as it pummeled the Sierra Maestra Mountains,
where 92 percent of the crop is grown.

The coffee harvest runs from September through January, but peaks in
October and November.

Coffee production was already expected to weigh in at some 5,300 tonnes
of semiprocessed beans, compared with 7,100 tonnes in the previous
season and an initial plan of 8,500 tonnes.

Reuters now estimates output will be below 4,000 tonnes, the lowest in
more than a century.

The official Granma newspaper reported on Monday that Guantanamo
province, the country's second producer after Santiago de Cuba, "lost
174,475 cans of beans" and "47 processing centers were damaged".

Cuba often reports coffee output in cans, with 525 cans equal to a tonne.

Still-to-be-quantified losses were also reported in the eastern
provinces of Granma and Holguin, the country's third and fourth producers.

The devastation was far worse in Santiago, which took the brunt of the
storm and where losses were still being tallied.

"Songo-La Maya is an agricultural municipality ... The initial figures
for coffee, its main crop, indicate a loss of 84,000 cans, while 4,500
hectares of plantations and another 650 in development are damaged due
to the trees that fell on them," the province's newspaper, Sierra
Maestra, reported on Sunday.

There are eight coffee-producing municipalities in Santiago de Cuba.

The National Information Agency, reporting from the Cruce de los Banos
municipality on Saturday, said: "Initial estimates by municipal
authorities indicate more than 300 hectares of coffee plantations
damaged by falling trees and dozens of tonnes of mature beans felled and
washed away."

How much of the remaining and now quickly ripening coffee beans could be
picked and processed, given the destruction Sandy left behind, was unclear.

Communist-run Cuba's 35,000 growers, in exchange for low-interest
government credits and subsidized supplies, must sell all of their
coffee to the state.

The country's plantations, which at the time of the 1959 revolution
produced 60,000 tonnes of coffee, have steadily declined ever since.

Cuban President Raul Castro, as part of his efforts to improve food
production and cut imports, has pointed to coffee as a crop ripe for
increased attention and growth.

Cuba imported 18,000 tonnes of semi-processed beans from Vietnam in 2010
at a cost of $38 million, and slightly less in 2011, though no figures
for that year are available.

The state has leased abandoned plantations over the last few years to
hundreds of individuals to grow coffee and has nearly tripled the price
it pays farmers for their beans.

Millions of dollars have been poured into replanting most of the
country's 74,000 hectares (183,000 acres) of plantations, which have
been neglected for decades, and improving processing facilities.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Dale Hudson)


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