Ray Sanchez | Direct from Havana
8:24 AM EDT, May 29, 2008
At a time of worldwide food shortages and soaring prices, Cuba has
enough rice supplies to meet the population's food subsidies for the
remainder of 2008, a Cuban official said Wednesday night.
Pedro Alvarez, president of the socialist island's food import company
Alimport, told state television news that 18 ships, stocked mostly with
Vietnamese rice, were in Cuban ports, waiting to be unloaded.
The price of a ton of rice has tripled in recent months, Alvarez said.
The ton sitting in Cuban ports cost the state about $1,250.
Rice is a staple of the island diet, with each Cuban consuming an
average of 132 pounds a year.
Trade agreements with Vietnam assured a steady supply of rice for the
next few years, Alvarez said.
Cuba spent $1.7 billion on food imports in 2007 and that figure is
expected to jump to $2 billion this year. The island is looking to
increase domestic food production .
"All imports that could be substituted at acceptable prices should be
substituted," Alvarez said.
Cubans receive seven pounds of rice as part of their monthly food ration.
Alvarez said the state has initiated a program, lasting through 2015, to
increase domestic rice production. The goal is to reach the production
levels of the 1980s when 8,648 acres of rice were planted every year and
nearly half of the rice consumed was grown on the island. Cuba now
produces about four tons of rice per 2.5 acres.