June 27, 2016
Thinking that stockbreeding could be recovered after receiving investments and through the appropriate use of resources that are expected to be allocated, although the results in this branch of the agriculture has been in question during recent years because of the high bovine mortality, mainly from malnutrition, is not unreasonable or an excess of optimism.
More than 25 years of shortages, associated with the economic and financial blockade imposed on Cuba, the special period and terrible management of the herds, could be dilemmas of the past if synergies demanded by livestock are established. The certainty that it can in that way, arises from the interview carried out by JR with the Director of Livestock of the Ministry of Agriculture Aldaín García Rodríguez.
Director of Livestock of the Ministry of Agriculture Aldaín García Rodríguez. Photo: Roberto Morejón
This man, who has more than a half century of experience in this activity, said that a better future for stockbreeders is in sight, a better future than what until now they have been living, thanks to the credits granted to Cuba, and some credits of a very high value have been allocated for this branch.
According to the director, stockbreeding counts on the Sace exporter credit, of Italian origin, which amounts to 80 million euros (nearly 90 million dollars)
The activity is also supported with funding from the Brazilian program Más alimento (More food) and the credit granted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), amounting to 12 million euros, which is expected to rise to 27 million. Belarus also contributes loans, and the People’s Republic of China and Sweden SKN provide capital for the purchase of mechanized milking equipment.
However, there are urgencies which must be resolved in the shortest time possible, as the official said, because otherwise resources will be squandered. «a lot of technique has been lost and people work with routine, and development does not accept that, » he noted.
Aldaín assured that the 33 companies or production centers with the higher production volumes of meat and milk were benefitting from the entrance and running of the equipment obtained from the Sace credit.
«With that amount of resources we can place stockbreeding almost up to the 80s in those 33 companies, of which ten are devoted to the development of genetics.
«A total of 678 productive bases will be benefit from this capital. From those bases, 272 are Base Business Units (UEB), 138 Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC), 65 Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA) and 203 Credits and Services Cooperatives (CCS)
«We need the working staff to assure that such equipment that we are now ordering and which will be in Cuba at the end of this year and in early 2017, makes the multiplier effect we need and contributes to the takeoff and recovery of stockbreeding. In these years, there has been a considerable exodus of technicians, engineers, veterinarians and workers. That forces us to prepare, find and update those who work with the new technology that will be introduced.
«We are now engaged in organizing everything concerning the production flow in these companies, because it’s not only with regard to the arriving of such important resources like tractors, silo harvesters, trailers, brigades of bulldozers and for road arrangements. Technological discipline is as important as resources.
«With the SKN credit we are benefitting by five million dollars a year to purchase mechanized milking equipment. This, obviously, brings us back to having the knowledge of a technology that we have lost during the last 25 years.
«Our units will be equipped with new equipment, with refrigerated tanks. It’s necessary to quickly recover the facilities that have deteriorated, to be able to place the equipment. We must roof the premises and recover farms. Doing a job like that requires assuming that technology. But it is not only the installment of the equipment, it’s necessary to prepare the cow hand who will work with the equipment, it’s necessary to prepare all the staff for assuming those technologies that they have never seen before.
«When we have those resources, we will be moving toward a stage where production levels of meat and milk will increase and improve the wellbeing of the stockbreeders. We must then direct universities and technological centers toward the countryside, so they can start preparing their students and assimilating the new technologies. »
— Have you enough time to prepare the staff?
— This is an emergency. It will be a very fast training, because we have to recover an average of 300 typical dairy farms annually, which could be completed and could incorporate new production levels.
«More than 100,000 hectares of food for these animals should be planted annually. This year, 80,000 hectares will already be planted, and the equipment has not yet come into the country.
«After the resources enter, there will be a higher capacity of bulldozing and land preparation. However, we haven’t been waiting the equipment with arms crossed. We have prepared 80,000 hectares for sowing, together with other companies, using the means we have.
«In addition, credits were given to the stockbreeders by decision of the Government, after the statements made by producers. These credits have been granted for bulldozing activity, manual mowers, repair and construction of agricultural and livestock facilities, building fences and herbicide application.
«Some of these credits will be paid after 20 years, others after 15 or ten years, and they are granted for the recovery of facilities, fattening of cattle, mowers, in equal conditions for all existing production forms. »
— Besides the lack of qualified personnel, professionals and workers, what other weakness has been diagnosed with view to the challenges that arise with the injection of capital into stockbreeding?
—There's a climate factor involved; and it’s influential and decisive at present for the Tropics, and especially for Cuba, though we don’t believe so. It rains when it should not rain.
«This year, October to January were rainy months. Very favorable for stockbreeding, and the results prove it. But we must be prepared for several things. First, to improve the genetic policy of the cattle, both in the state and cooperative sector. That step will not be possible without the application of artificial insemination, because it is the fastest method to achieve that goal.
«To achieve this aim, the business units in the base, veterinary, insemination and reproduction must be comprehensively organized. From this year on, we have to face up to a new campaign having more technicians. We have the resources to achieve insemination. Investments have been made in thermos for ensuring that process, with the quality required by the semen. This will help to increase as quickly as possible this method in all stockbreeding sectors.
«Another important issue is the training of the producers, mainly in the cooperative and country sector, which also requires that genetic improvement for increasing the production levels.
«It is also necessary to mow more paddocks manually. We have to save water. They are buying a thousand pumps with solar panels to improve the supply of the vital liquid to the animals, especially in places where there is no electricity. Today, water shortages are as dangerous for stock breeding as food.
«We have three brigades motor-scrapers —in Villa Clara, Camagüey and Granma—, for cleaning the reservoirs. More than 400 dams, micro dams and reservoirs have been cleared. Drought forces us to make efficient saving of water, both that for animal drinking as that for irrigation.
«When drought arrives we have to be prepared for it, knowing how much food might be needed. There is some equipment for the storage and preservation of food like silage among the equipment we are acquiring. Thus, we can take advantage of every remainder from the spring time, and thereby alleviate the plight of food during the dry period.
«The sugar industry has also increased its investments in plants of bagacillo-honey of urea, we are providing annually more than 70,000 tons of these products and cachaza (a product from sugar cane.) In addition, 42 centers have been activated for collection and cleaning of cane, where we take animals to eat the residues generated in these areas. There, they eat products of this industry and they go through drought without food problems. »
—There are stockbreeders who are sometimes separated by a fence, and some of the animals die while others are very prosperous. That means that subjectivity influences livestock management. What measures have been taken to curb mortality due to irresponsibility?
—There are two problems regarding this issue. One is the income of the producers, with the delivery of land by the two decrees that were established —259 and 300—, who do not know about stockbreeding. They believe that producing and having cows they are already considered stockbreeders.
«The result of this is that they are not well trained for exploiting a farm seriously. We have taken decisions, like handing the land, but we are not authorizing the sale of cattle until conditions have been created, like mowing the farm, sowing the food, to have a well for water, and at least a roof in the place for milking. Those determinations have to be fulfilled, and to ensure that we have the comrades of the State Management of Veterinary and the Management for Genetics and Livestock Registration.
«Specialists and executives from these institutions also have the authority of fining and closing facilities that do not have the conditions for raising animals.
«Some people believe that being a stockbreeder is to have some land and place four cows and milk them whenever they want. In order to have an adequate preparation, and avoid these situations, we have prepared a manual that explains the technology of stockbreeding, which has been distributed in the UBPCs, CPA and CCS. »
—How is mortality behaving, an indicator widely criticized in other years?
—Mortality is a factor directly linked to the lack of food. That is the main cause, though there could be other reasons that influence.
«It is important to understand that this is not only about the volume of food that is supplied to the cattle, but the quality of it. Cattle, like all living beings, need a balance of protein, energy and minerals. Sometimes we believe that by giving a volume of anything to the animals, we solve the problem.
Cattle, like all living things, need a balance of protein, energy and minerals. Photo: Roberto Morejón
"For two years they have been working to balance the diet of cattle. The dilemma is not resolved just with feed. We will be able to solve the problem if we make efficient use of pasture and forage with suitable stockyards for rotation of animals, and we use the products we have, and protein plants.
"We have 52 feed factories in livestock companies to produce Creole feed from by-products of rice and food and sugar industries, but farmers still do not exploit them efficiently.
"They believe that producing feed is just grinding soybeans and corn. To improve the food we must also plant protein crops. This year about 7,000 hectares of mulberry trees, moringa and titonia are being planted for that goal, but even that is insufficient. We will have to continue to increase each year the areas with these crops.
"There should also be a more efficient use of urea, which was scarce in previous years, but there are levels available to alleviate the problem of protein in livestock feed.
"Mortality levels are well above what they should be for livestock. There is carelessness and inattention for the animals. We have weak service technicians and veterinarians in many municipalities and our companies.
"Up to April mortality took between 10,000 and 11,000 animals compared with the first quarter of last year. That is not an achievement to be satisfied with, and the reason is that 2015 was extremely critical in this indicator. They killed more than 200,000 cattle across the country. About four percent of the total mass. This indicator should not exceed 1.5 per cent to be acceptable.
"The calf mortality was above ten and 11 per cent in some places, when it should not exceed five or seven per cent. There is another factor prevalent, mainly in the private sector. The cows are milked thoroughly and they do not leave the calf the little milk needed to feed. For that reason most die in the infant stage. When that happens the farmers call it "throwing the calf a bucket". A calf requires at least four litres of milk a day.
"There are bad practices used by many producers. For example, they let the calf walk behind the mother the whole day. That results in, if they do not drink milk, losing energy and dying.
"Inattention to the calf is more recurrent in the cooperative sector, including UBPCs. In the state sector it is a little better, but it is also inefficient. That's one of the worst scourges that livestock has in Cuba.
"The State Veterinary Directorate is taking disciplinary action against those who do not care for their animals, including fines.
"To improve health in livestock they are increasing the epizootic attention, which has to do with programs to combat various diseases to which they are prone, such as brucellosis, tuberculosis and others. However, they have have to go much deeper into these strategies.
"There is a working system that includes controls o businesses and production bases. Also it provides bimonthly offices with those who run livestock in the provinces, to monitor programs fighting disease, especially to see what is being done to reduce outbreaks of brucellosis and tuberculosis in cattle. It is a challenge to continue investigating the cattle in order to improve their health. "
'What accomplishments of livestock can be noted in recent years?
Although there are discrete results that are not to boast about, it is good that the work being done in refrigerated storage centers throughout the country milk is known. That has brought about a result that is rising every day. The milk quality has been improving. Some 53 per cent of that delivered to the industry is cold. Only 23 per cent is mixed, and that which is delivered warm is negligible.
"The price of milk for producers has gradually improved. They are being paid on average 4.50 pesos per litre. The reorganization of the milk collection was conducted from refrigerated collection centres, it has helped to gradually improve the quality and production levels.
"However, still of the 321 million litres of milk that were contracted for the current year, nine million are missing. The province of Camagüey has the largest debt, down four million. However, they report 18 million litres of overachievement of the plan for delivery to industry.
"Despite this over fulfilment, there have been deep discussions, because this indicator manifests a job sometimes flippant in some places. This shows that all the milk contracted could have been supplied by the state commission.
"We will face a spring period with better conditions than in previous years. We must be more disciplined and organize the harvest of milk. On that we are working together with the Food Industry. The production peak should occur in the months of August and September.
"We are working closely with the food industry, both for the marketing of milk and meat. All indications are that this year will be better than others.
"So far in 2016, farmers have offered 4,000 tons of meat above planned. Also the average weight of the animals slaughtered for consumption has improved. That means we have sacrificed less heads and have delivered more flesh. "
- Each year Cuba expects more tourists. Does the livestock strategy take into account this possibility?
'We are preparing for that time. We are discussing a program part of which analyses tourist increases. This is done with the participation of specialists from the tourism industry and ours. We want the projections to be made objectively.
"We have 17 plants that process meat for tourism and sell directly to hotels, plus we deliver to the Food Industry. We are even selecting a group of cows to inseminate with specialized breeds in meat, towards improving the quality of this.
"We are also repairing our plants and providing them with means of transport and better equipment for slaughter and to obtain special cuts.
"According to the conditions we have, we are delivering the meat volumes tourism is asking of us; and each day that product is being delivered with greater quality because we have been preparing slowly. The average weight delivered for slaughter and meat prices have been incentives for producers.
"What we cannot allow is a plane load of tourists above, a boatload of food below."
Has there been any benefit in livestock led by foreign investment?
There are intentions for foreign investment. Some of our companies have ended their development programs for this purpose, as well as feasibility studies. These companies are in the portfolio. There is also interest by some firms to do business and working on their part. But none have yet materialized.
Translated by ESTI