Cuban sugar harvest starts after Sandy’s damage

The first of Cuba’s 50 sugar mills started to work on the harvest this week, the official government media said on Wednesday, as the industry struggled to overcome damage brought by Hurricane Sandy in late October.

“The Jesus Rabi mill ? Began crunching cane yesterday to initiate the 2012-13 harvest,” Granma, the Communist Party daily, reported on Wednesday. AZCUBA, the state-run holding company that replaced the Sugar Ministry two years ago, announced in October that it would produce about 1.68 million tonnes of raw sugar this season, 20 percent more than last season’s estimated 1.4 million tonnes.

But that was before Sandy ripped across eastern Cuba on Oct. 25, damaging mills, plantations and infrastructure. The damage was particularly heavy in Santiago and Holguin provinces, which were responsible for 15 percent of last season’s tonnage.

Isabel Chader, head of AZCUBA in Santiago de Cuba, was quoted this week by official media as stating 24 percent of the cane crop was seriously damaged in her province, while no recent estimate from Holguin was available.

Official media in Holguin reported earlier this month that “around 50 percent of standing cane was affected to one degree or another”. Holguin province produced 150,000 tonnes of raw sugar during the last harvest and had forecast near 200,000 tonnes this season.

Santiago produced 86,000 tonnes of raw sugar during the previous harvest and planned to produce more than 100,000 tonnes during this harvest. The harvest typically runs from December through April. This year, however, a few mills are scheduled to open in late November.

Granma said on Wednesday that 24 mills would open in December, 21 in January and three in February. Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar and has a 400,000 tonne toll agreement with China.

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