Cuba invests $9.5M in coffee, but still importing

Cuba has spent $9.5 million the past five years to modernize coffee production, but meager harvests mean this java-loving nation must still import to cover domestic consumption, the director of the state-run coffee company said Thursday.

The money went toward improving coffee mills, roasters and packaging in an effort to produce the 18,000 tons needed to meet local demand, said Antonio Aleman, director of the company, Cubacafe.

Cuba's annual coffee harvest currently stands at 6,000 tons, and Aleman confirmed the island is buying 12,000 tons of beans to make up the shortfall.

Some of Cuba's beans go to subsidized coffee sold for $0.20 per 115-gram bag under Cubans' ration cards, and some supplies pricier stores that cater to tourists and others with access to the island's convertible currency. Cuba maintains a dual currency system in which one peso is used for subsidized items available to all Cubans and a convertible peso worth $1 is used for imported goods and some services, plus in the tourism industry.

Like rum and cigars, coffee is an iconic product in Cuba. In the early 1960s, annual production reached 60,000 tons and Cuba was a net exporter.

"Cubans are coffee lovers," Aleman said. "Wherever you go, they greet you with a cup of coffee."

In recent years, however, harvests have fallen off dramatically.

Aleman blamed the drop on abandoned farms due to migration to cities, limited resources and lack of investment.

He repeated that authorities plan to begin mixing coffee with peas to make the domestic supply go further. He did not give a date.

Cubans are accustomed to the coffee-pea blend, which was sold here until 2005. In fact, some complained when they started getting pure coffee five years ago that it tasted funny.

President Raul Castro announced in December that the coffee-pea blend would be making a comeback. At the same time, he said Cuba pays $47 million a year on coffee imports.

Aleman said there is a plan to stimulate coffee farming, but did not give specifics.