Sunday, November 20, 2011

Co-ops to engage in food distribution

In a partial step to unclog the food distribution bottleneck in Cuba, the government is preparing cooperatives to participate in an activity that has been a state monopoly for more than four decades, according to a Cuban expert on cooperatives.

The expansion of cooperatives beyond farming, into food distribution, gastronomic services, transportation, production of construction materials, art, trades and fishing is in a phase of “analysis, planning and training,” Alberto Rivera Rodríguez, an economist and director of a center for the study of cooperatives at the University of Pinar del Río, told Prensa Latina. ”Currently, we are creating the necessary framework.”

As part of a large economic reform package, the Communist Party Congress in April decided the government ought to promote the expansion of member-owned cooperatives beyond agriculture, but no framework regulations have been published yet. Under the outline of reform agreed by the Party, “secondary cooperatives” — subsidiaries of member-owned primary cooperatives — will be allowed to perform activities related to their original activity.

Meanwhile, the Party document passed in April only talked in broad terms about “transforming” food distribution.

Jumping into the breach, the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) — the Communist Party-affiliated private farmers’ association which also represents member-owned cooperatives — has been advocating a breakup of Acopio, the state food distribution monopoly.

Acopio remains an “unresolved topic,” ANAP President Orlando Lugo Fonte said in May. “If in Cuba there is private and diversified production, you can’t have monopolized distribution. We have to look for many ways of buying and selling.”

“If a cooperative wants to sell products and wants a sales point, let them have it,” Lugo said in May, referring to the state quota. “If a hotel wants to buy a product from a cooperative, why can’t it do so? Why do they have to do it forcedly through a company?”

Acopio, the state monopoly that buys and distributes food, is increasingly being blamed for the spotty recovery of Cuba’s food production after the government boosted the role of private farmers in production. Last year, the government rescued the organization from technical default with a cash infusion. Even so, farmers have been complaining about Acopio’s continued shortcomings, including late payments, and persistent lack of containers, trucks and fuel.

Farmers must sell their state quota — the bulk of their production — to Acopio. Producers can sell the crops they produce in excess of the state quota directly at roadside stands and on state markets; selling to private middlemen is not allowed, but the practice is widespread.

“The cooperative, as a form of socialist social property, together with state-owned enterprises, must turn into an element that speeds up the Cuban economic model,” Rivera, the economist, said. “It will contribute to reduce government expenses and increase the life quality of the population.”

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