Cuba's sugar industry hit by low productivity

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HAVANA (AP) -- Production at Cuba's sugar plants has been hit hard this year by inefficiency, a spate of breakdowns and other technical problems, state-media reported Wednesday, adding to sobering news for the Communist-run island's crisis-addled economy.

Breakdowns and other interruptions have idled plants nearly 19 percent of the time so far in 2010, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said. A further 11 percent of production reportedly has been lost due to a lack of sugar cane.

The paper said problems were worst in the key sugar-growing region of Las Tunas, 360 miles (600 kilometers) east of the capital.

It also blamed poor planning and "a lack of discipline."

"Overcoming delays and meeting our goals require that those production centers in crisis eradicate their deficiencies and that the rest maintain their production levels or increase them," the paper said. "We must defeat a powerful enemy: lost industrial time."

The harvest and milling season begins each year in January and usually ends around April or May.

Sugar -- once the be-all and end-all of Cuba's economy -- now ranks no higher than third behind nickel production and tourism, contributing about $600 million a year.

Cuba reports low sugar industry productivity, adding to bad economic news

Never a juggernaut, Cuba's economy has been battered by the global economic crisis, a dip in world nickel prices and the effects of three devastating hurricanes that hit in 2008. The government controls 90 percent of the economy, paying low wages but heavily subsidizing education, housing, food and health care.

President Raul Castro has warned that the government will no longer be able to sustain such subsidies unless production increases dramatically.

Non-sugar agricultural production has also failed to meet targets this year in many parts of the country. In January and February, production around the capital was 40 percent below target, despite a major drive by the government to put more fallow land in the hands of individual farmers.

The tourism industry held up reasonably well in 2009 despite the economic crisis, with the number of visitors rising slightly but revenues falling 11 percent.

But 2010 has gotten off to a poor start: About 5 percent fewer tourists came to Cuba in January than during the same month last year.

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