By Marc Frank | Reuters
HAVANA | Cuba’s worst sugar harvest in 70 years appeared all but over this week after gathering around 2 million tonnes of raw sugar, as moderate to heavy rain made cane cutting impossible and closed mills across much of the country, sources said.
Local analysts forecast the harvest would be called off in many areas, as it was too costly to resume for just a few days or weeks.
“The Sugar Ministry will look at the situation on a province to province basis to see if it is worth reopening the mills,” a government economist said. “Ministry officials have told me that in many cases they do not think it will be,” he added, asking that his name not be used. Cuba’s sugar harvest, which normally runs from December through April, can continue into May and sometimes June, when production drops rapidly as heat, humidity and rain lower yields and hamper harvesting.
The Summer rains began late last week and continued off-and-on into Tuesday, covering most of the Caribbean island.
The Sugar Ministry has not commented on the situation. Similar precipitation earlier this year closed mills for a week to 10 days.
Fifteen of 79 mills had already closed for the year before the rain hit, according to state-run radio.
The country’s harvest is extremely vulnerable to rainfall as cutting machines and trucks become bogged down in plantations that lack adequate drainage.
Cuba planned for this year’s harvest to weigh in at between 2.6 million and 2.7 million tonnes, compared with 3.6 million tonnes in 2002 with all but 700,000 tonnes for export.
Reuters estimates the final crop will come in at between 2 million and 2.1 million tonnes, based on official media and source reports.
The government has not said how much sugar was contracted for export this year, though local analysts estimated it was around 2 million tonnes.
The analysts said Cuba would have to import hundreds of thousands of tonnes to meet domestic needs, or not fulfill export commitments, which were mainly to Russia and China.