Monday May 26 2008
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, May 26 (Reuters) - Cuba will meet domestic demand for refined
and raw sugar this year, the official media said over the weekend, after
importing 200,000 to 300,000 tonnes of low-grade refined sugar from
Brazil and Colombia in recent years.
"Sugar Ministry specialists assured me all the raw sugar for the
domestic economy, as well as refined, was secure, that it has already
been produced," Cuba's top sugar reporter Juan Varela Perez said at the
weekend on his regular radio spot.
Varela said Cuba had refined much more sugar than during the previous
harvest without giving any figures.
Cuba consumes a minimum 700,000 tonnes of sugar per year, and 400,000
tonnes are destined for China.
Provincial radio reports indicated output this season was around 1.4
million tonnes so far, compared with just under 1.2 million tonnes the
"Cuba has produced more than 200,000 tonnes more than the last harvest,"
Havana radio reported at the end of last week.
Relatively dry May weather has allowed many mills to remain open, with
around 20 still grinding.
May marks the start of the hot and rainy season. Yields drop and
harvesting become more difficult.
The Cuban harvest is more than 80 percent mechanized and rains hamper
cutting machines and trucks entering plantations.
How much more sugar Cuba can produce will depend in large part on the
weather, but local experts said it would be relatively little.
Varela said it would be impossible to meet this year's plan, which he
said was at 86 percent, again without providing figures.
The plan target appears to be around 1.6 million tonnes, based on
Reuters' soundings of local industry sources.
Nevertheless, this year marks the first increase in sugar production
since the industry was downsized in 2003-2005 from 156 to 66 mills and
more than half its plantations put to other uses.
Higher sugar and ethanol prices led to a decision last year to once more
invest in the decapitalized and aging industry where all but eight mills
were built before the 1959 revolution. (Editing by Walker Simon)