September 13, 2018 / 3:42 PM / in 12 days

Cuba releases agricultural data reversing previous growth claim

HAVANA, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Cuban food production declined slightly in 2017, contrary to a previous government claim it had increased 3 percent, according to final data released this week by the National Statistics Office.

Ricardo Cabrisas, at the time economy minister, reported to the National Assembly in December that agricultural production was up 3 percent, contributing to a 1.6 percent increase in gross domestic product.

The overall economic growth surprised most analysts as Cuba has struggled with a liquidity crisis since 2015 when the economy and oil industry of its main economic partner, Venezuela, imploded.

Since then all imports by Cuba have fallen around 25 percent and the government has delayed payments to some suppliers and joint venture partners, while looking beyond Venezuela for fuel.

The reported increase in food production in 2017 was unexpected in the view of analysts, as the country had been gripped by a serious drought, then devastated by Hurricane Irma in September, and subsequently hit with unseasonable rainfall. The sector is decapitalized and boasts little irrigation and drainage.

“The main agricultural production sectors report favorable results, among them: tobacco, vegetables, beans, meats, beef and pork, except egg and fresh milk production, which decreased mainly due to the impact of the drought and Hurricane Irma,” Cabrisas said in his speech to the Cuban parliament.

However, according to this week’s report, output of roots, vegetables, grains and fruit fell to 7.1 million tonnes last year from 7.2 million tonnes in 2016 (bit.ly/2QsmfxT).

Livestock and milk production were also down, while that of eggs was up slightly.

Communist-run Cuba imports between 60 percent and 70 percent of the food it consumes at a cost of around $2 billion, mainly bulk cereals and grains such as rice, corn, soy and beans, as well as items such as powdered milk and chicken.

Domestic output in all those categories declined last year, according to the report.

Agricultural production, which has stagnated for a decade, was hit hard earlier this year by heavy rains in the growing season even while still recovering from Hurricane Irma. No data has been published on the sector for 2018.

The state owns 80 percent of the land and leases most of that to farmers and cooperatives. The remainder is owned by private farmers and cooperatives. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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