By Marc Frank | Reuters

Cuba has taken a step toward recovering its once robust coffee crop, with local media and industry sources indicating this week that the crop is nearing the plan of 6,700 tonnes of semi-processed beans, 20 percent more than the previous harvest’s record low output.

Santiago de Cuba, the country’s largest producer, reported a successful harvest was all but over.

“Santiago met its plan with 1,485,000 cans collected,” the eastern province’s Communist party weekly, Sierra Maestra, reported this week.

“Rolando Ramos, in charge of the province’s harvest, said output amounted to the equivalent to 2,697 tonnes, an increase of 5 percent over the previous season,” the paper said.

Cuba reports output in cans, with 550.6 cans equivalent to 1 tonne

Picking begins in August and ends in March, though most beans are harvested from October into January.

An industry source in eastern Guantanamo, the second most important province with a plan of 1,100,000 cans, said it would be short around 10 percent due to problems related to hurricanes in 2008 that destroyed shading and uprooted plants.

The eastern provinces of Granma and Holguin were expected to weigh in just a bit under their combined 600,000-can target, with the remainder of the country producing around 500,000 cans, according to local media reports and industry sources.

That would bring total output this season to 3,580,000 cans, equivalent to around 6,500 tonnes of semi-processed beans.

Communist Cuba’s 35,000 growers, in exchange for low-interest government credits and subsidized supplies, must sell all of their coffee to the state at prices that historically have been below what the beans fetch on the black market.

Local analysts said 10 to 20 percent of the crop was diverted, though recent increases in state prices may have lessened the flow.

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

REFORMS KICK IN

The state has leased abandoned coffee plantations to hundreds of individuals to grow coffee as part of reforms initiated by President Raul Castro over the past few years. And local agriculture committees, granted more powers under the reforms, have worked to better prepare the crop.

The state also has nearly tripled the price it pays farmers for their beans.

“I stopped working the plantation. It wasn’t worth the effort for almost nothing in return,” Santiago de Cuba farmer Alberto Gonzales said in a telephone interview.

“But since they began paying better it’s become worth it. Now it’s a good business to plant coffee,” he added, saying he received 50 pesos per can, compared to 15 to 20 pesos a few years ago.

The government says long-term plans aim at eventually producing 28,000 to 30,000 tonnes a year, equal to levels in the 1970s.

“Next year we cannot afford to spend around $50 million to import coffee, which has so far been distributed in rations to all consumers, including newborn children,” Castro told the National Assembly in December, announcing it would be diluted with split peas in the future.

“If we want to keep on drinking pure, un-rationed coffee, the only solution is to produce it in Cuba, where it has been proven that all the required conditions for its cultivation exist,” he said.

Cuban farmers are now growing coffee in the low lands with the aim of selling to the state and directly to consumers, according to local media.

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