Thursday, May 4, 2017
In Cuba, rice is loved by all

Prior to the Cuban Revolution, in the late 1950s, Cuba was the ninth highest destination for agricultural exports for American farmers, with rice near the top of the list. In return, Cuba provided the United States with sugar, molasses, tobacco and coffee.

During recent years, Cubans have had to rely on countries like Vietnam, Brazil and Japan to keep up with their sizable consumption of rice, estimated at 150 pounds per capita per year.

Between 2013 and 2014, Cuba produced 423,000 tons of rice, but yields vary annually due to weather and other factors. Farmers plant two rice crops per year. The main crop is planted between April and July and is harvested between August and December. The second crop is then planted between December and February and harvested between March and June. 

But despite the farmers’ best efforts, Cuba still imports 70 percent of its rice, which amounts to about 600,000 metric tons of rice annually, valued at more than $300 million. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder American farmers yearn for the days when Cuba was the top destination for U.S.-grown rice.

For a while, in the early 2000s, trade restrictions were loosened, allowing some agricultural and medical sales to resume since the embargo officially began in 1962. But within fewer than five years, the U.S. government began ratcheting up restrictions that included a sixth-month suspension of port rights for any U.S. vessel delivering goods to the island. Naturally, this had the desired effect and dissuaded trade between the two nations despite the obvious benefits.

It is estimated that Cubans are the No. 1 consumers of rice in the Americas and any visitor to the island can expect a healthy portion of the omnipresent grain on nearly every plate. 

But don’t let the fact that at least some of said rice may have been strewn across some dusty asphalt road in the Cuban countryside while being casually driven over by a late-model Chinese car as seen above. It just adds character to a fine meal.

roneal@keysnews.com