Sugarcane cooperatives and their transition to sustainable systems

Sugarcane cooperatives and their transition to sustainable systems

By Dr. Felipe Andrés Hernández Pentón

The sugarcane economy will continue to be an important subsector within Cuban agriculture, despite the notable reduction in the total area dedicated to this crop, and the closure of an important part of the factories. Most of this agriculture is organized in the form of cooperatives, called Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa, or UBPC.


The sugarcane economy will continue to be an important subsector within Cuban agriculture, despite the notable reduction in the total area dedicated to this crop, and the closure of an important part of the factories.

Most of this agriculture is organized in the form of cooperatives, called Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa, or UBPC.

The author carried out his Doctoral Thesis in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development through a joint project between the universities of Girona, Spain, and that of Matanzas, in Cuba. This article and others that will be sent are partial summaries of some chapters and / or epigraphs of said research.

1.- Cooperativism and the socialist model.

It is clearly the confusion, or the narrow interpretation of the late Leninist ideas on cooperation, which led to a practice, in the defunct "socialist camp" of creating cooperatives with small producers to "solve" their contradictions with the socialist social property (or that of the whole town) and in the specific case of agriculture, "solve" the so-called agrarian peasant problem.

This vision of Lenin (1976) advocated cooperativism as a fundamental way for the construction of Socialism, under the Marxist premise of the gradual fusion of the individual as producer and owner. In this case, it would be the collective possession of the assets under the monopoly of the company, represented by the State.

It was already glimpsed (during the New Economic Policy) that the identification of socialist social property with the owner-manager State in the verticalized chain of decisions and the market subject to imprecise fluctuations, lead to a departure from the ideal of the system to be built, with free men and less and less alienated.

The matter seems to have remained unfinished, since these ideas of cooperation in the new society, although they contain new values ​​and processes, must be adjusted to specify what they ultimately lead to.

A recognized authority on the subject, Dr. Víctor Figueroa stated: “The control of the economic surplus and its management by the State for accumulation and consumption is only possible in these circumstances if cooperation and regulation of relations is organized. economic determinants of the economic movement ”(Figueroa, 2001 a, p.9). Later on, the author exemplifies how modern reforms (starting with the Chinese one) with their changes in the state enterprise, etc., are approaching a revaluation of the principles supported by Lenin's New Economic Policy under the current reality.

This can be confusing, and in fact carries over to the same controversy of the 1920s in the Soviet Union when the matter was left ambiguously, or in the best of cases unfinished, because its main architect died at a crucial moment.

If the state enterprise moves (ignoring the stage reached) towards competitiveness in its basic variants, with a level of autonomy appropriate to the moment and the incentives work, then the so-called “real socialization” is strengthened (according to Lenin himself); what together with the opportunities of a social policy impregnated with new values; Ultimately, more progress would be made in creating a different and better society.

This logic, based on efficiency, requires a corresponding development of the mercantile-monetary relations. In the Marxist tradition of thought, even today there is no coherent theoretical line to definitively locate the market and "what to do" with it. It constitutes one of the theoretical knots to be dealt with in the construction and projection of a "Socialism for the XXI century".

However, what is stated in these last two paragraphs does not mean that the company is a Cooperative, as they have been quite consolidated since 1844.

Cooperation as an element to be strengthened in the new spectrum of global relations of production is one thing, and cooperatives, as an organization, scales, and tonality of values, is another.

The post-Soviet official Soviet theoretical model contemplated them as a form of socialist social property, but less socialized, with greater group interest (because it was collective property), such as the small in need of tutelage, since they are formed by more backward allied social classes (peasantry in the variants exposed by Lenin).

Of course, the Soviet case was extreme due to the forced nature of cooperativization, violating the principle of voluntariness, enunciated by Lenin himself.

Without the reflexive course leading to unnecessary speculation, Leninist-style cooperatives, updated to today's world, in their values ​​and principles resemble those held by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), at least with the 1995 Manchester Declaration .

This idea does not mean that everything called cooperative is truly so. It is a complex network of groups, from the already gigantic Mondragon of Spain to any small association of consumers, farmers, etc.

The values ​​and principles, applied in the peculiar conditions of agriculture are especially in line with the paradigm of the sustainable agroecosystem due to the greater man-nature link that operates in this sector. It is necessary to remember them.


* Self help.
* Self-responsibility.
* Democracy.
* Equality.
* Equity.
* Solidarity.
* Honesty.
* Transparency.
* Social responsability.


* Volunteerism and open membership.
* Real democratic control.
* Economic participation.
* Autonomy and self-sufficiency.
* Education and information to members.
* Intercooperative cooperation.
* Community commitment to Sustainable Development.

Cooperative forms of Cuban agriculture can and should promote Sustainable Development due to the potential to promote man's attachment to the land (regardless of the type of cooperative), due to the explicit political will of the State, and because it is simply the agricultural economy dominant today.

2.- The UBPC economy in Sancti Spíritus.

This cooperativization "from above", with government definition and control over the selection of crops and state purchase prices, raises in its founding documents autonomy in management, food self-sufficiency of the group, improvement of the standard of living in general, the rigorous definition of the stimulation by the final results, the link of the man to the land area as an incentive to the interest and responsibility, and the democratic exercise of the members.

The process has been faster in sugarcane agriculture, allowing even the entry of associate owners or possessors of small additional plots (conucos) and also the granting of individual plots in free usufruct to other associates; which must currently have a strong impact on the makeup of income.

The dimensions of these sugarcane subjects are considerable (partly due to fusion processes), observing a high amount of area per man in the face of the grim reality of the chronic deficit of a stable labor force; which leads to the frequent hiring of temporary salaried workers from the zones and even from the eastern provinces. In this sense, additional expenditures are generated for supplies and economic relationships are developed outside the cooperative mode.

Production function and heterogeneous agricultural economy in Sancti Spíritus.

The provincial behavior does not differ much from the national one, dominating the permanent crops, in contrast to the still small temporary crops, essential for the family diet.

To the UBPCs, the production scheme of the former state-owned companies was almost completely transferred, establishing “rigid control measures so that changes in this matter are not promoted at the initiative of the cooperatives that affect the agro-industrial and agri-food proportions established by the plan of the economy ”(Figueroa, 2001 a, p.31).

Currently, the new reform of the sugarcane economy aims to diversify vast areas with the elimination and transformation of sugarcane areas, which does not deny that specialized UBPCs are maintained in order to continue supplying the factories that do not disappear, as is the case in this case the Agroindustrial Complex (CAI) Melanio Hernández, where a Case Study was developed.

Sugarcane UBPCs need to diversify their business portfolio with a production philosophy that contemplates the agro-industrial and agro-commercial combination, services and purely non-agricultural economies, taking advantage of local resources, waste, etc .; where the reserves for rural domestic industry are large and not considered.

The global balance (due to its dimension) of the spectrum of the agricultural economy illustrates the characterization already exposed, highlighting the food burden to be satisfied by the so-called peasant sector (private and Agricultural Production Cooperatives or CPA) and the great specialization of the UBPC and the state.

Although some organizations such as the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) classify producers in this way, the logic behind it is to see the CPAs as "peasant", unlike the UBPC, which are "proletarian."

Theoretically, the UBPCs resemble the CPAs, and the latter are no longer so peasant. In some regions, the lands given in usufruct to the CPAs are greater in quantity than the lands contributed by the former owners. Today the social origin of both is very diverse (Donézteves and Fajardo, 1997). The process of creating the much-touted "owner feeling" is very young and immature, in need of organizational, legal and mental changes.

The cultures of the conservationist practices of the small private producer, ignoring how much has been transformed, is the least achievable for cooperatives to approach the Marxist theory of social property as a new form of individual property.

Table 1. Province of Sancti Spíritus, agricultural area and its use by forms of tenure, end of 2006, in%.
Provincial total100
Called peasant sector (1)32
Credit and Services Cooperatives17
Diverse peasants6
OthersDespicable figure.

Source: Provincial ANAP

Regarding the structure by category, more than 68% of the sugar cane comes from the specialized UBPCs, the rest is mainly from the sugarcane CPAs, since the production of the private ones is insignificant.

Sugarcane yields per area remain low compared to the 1980s, with the reduction of inputs playing the main role; as their scarcity has not yet been replaced by an efficient agroecology. Of course, other phenomena also gravitate to these results, which will be discussed later in other phases of the investigation. Also the yields in many diverse productions are far from the provincial average, evidencing the high relative efficiency of the private sector, and partially the CPA and the State Military Farms.

Table 2: Total UBPC, participation in some productions and in the specific physical yields in relation to the usual provincial average yield of quintals per caballeria of land (all in%).
Sweet potato5.840
Total beans3,322
Total bananas3,722

Source: Calculated from model 0333-06 of the National Statistics Office of Sancti Spíritus.

The six sugarcane UBPCs of the CAI Melanio Hernández (prior to the current Reform) in general do not differ much from the overall behavior for the subsector in recent years. In other words, the improvement has been modest. Worrying phenomena are manifested such as:

* Labor force deficit, with about one partner per ground cavalry.

* High recruitment of salaried workers in numerous entities threatening labor self-sufficiency (sometimes more than 50% of workers).

* Aging of associates without stable substitution security.

* Low productive yields.

* Problems of incentives, participation and management autonomy (excess of tutelage by the Sugar Company).

* Serious supply difficulties.

In the last Land Balance prior to the current changes, the UBPCs cover almost 90% of all the sugarcane areas of the CAI, so that the productive superspecialization does not only occur within them. Calculating from the data in Physical Planning:

Table 3: Use of the agricultural area by type of economy (in% of the agricultural area).
KindCaneOther cropsNatural PasturesIdle
Total UBPC sugarcane87,53,52,66,4
Of it Tuinucú95,23,70,60,5
Total CPA sugarcane77,611,36,84,1
Total Status8,149,942,0—————-
Total CCS16,458,425,2—————-
Total Usufruct————100,0———————————-

The changes have allowed the entry into the orbit of the CAI of two UBPCs (Guayos and Cabaiguán) and the transfer of the UBPC Cartaya and Mercedes to the CAI Uruguay of the Jatibonico municipality.

The "society" of the cooperative society. Economics and sociology.

In another context, the need to strengthen mutual interest, trust, collective commitment and solidarity was mentioned.

Before delving into the Case Study, the interviews and observations themselves reveal facts that violate these basic principles:

* Non-correspondence of results with income.

* A certain excess of paternalism.

* Excessive egalitarianism vs. unjustified inequalities.

The composition and social situation have their known effects on the equity and socioeconomic homogeneity that are sought. Here the existence of additional economies (conucos) in part of the partners and the extra-cooperative employment that becomes practically incompatible with the essence of the entity must be taken into account.

The high wage rate of a portion of the (hired) workforce leads to the intervention of people with probably less propensity for conservation, the application of workerist-industrial methods, a greater rigidity in the division of labor (by not enriching the existing one), the appropriation of surplus value not redistributed in the form of profits (“cooperative exploitation” according to Figueroa, 1997), the preference for productive adjustments oriented towards less labor-consuming tasks and lower productive results by outside forces.

The organized and temporary contractors, although they inefficiently cover the local work deficit, do not enjoy a positive reputation from various administrations, according to several managers.

Food self-sufficiency:

An essential issue of sustainability lies in a correct food balance in its dietary parameters, as in the least possible dependence on sources of supply.

In the Cuban rural conglomerate, “ensuring their own food” had priority; not only in the private peasants, but also in the "workers with land" (conucos) and other intermediate subjects. As is logical, this reality is partially reproduced in both types of cooperatives.

For more than 50% of workers and administrators interviewed during the 2000-2001 harvest, the so-called self-consumption was the first motivation to join the UBPC sugarcane. Its poor performance has also been the cause of frequent disappointments and staff departure. In Villa Clara, for more than 89% of the members, the fundamental problem has been insufficient self-consumption due to the lack of comprehensive schemes adjusted to the specific characteristics of each place and the mentality of the people (Figueroa, 2001 a).

Being self-sustaining as much as possible is a cultural fact and was almost always a necessity, perhaps exceptionally during the 1980s when massive food imports were made. At that time the economy of the small private peasant maintained this philosophy in essence, although it was influenced by the methods of the "Green Revolution."

In the UBPCs (as in the CPAs) the collective mode of producing for self-sustenance with planned land areas predominates. The “family conuco” is also quite widespread. It is necessary to remember that to stimulate the incorporation of members to the sugarcane UBPCs, being a “conuquero” does not constitute an obstacle.

This dichotomous situation of collective areas-individual plot constitutes a strong explanation of what concerns equity and social equality today.

Nor should it be overlooked that the State, by transferring land to private parties (non-associates) in usufruct, exacerbates in non-holders the desire to own a parcel.

Also the so-called "linking man to the area" is hardly applied in many parts and in other cooperatives it has become a form of individual, quasi-family or family subdivision within the cooperative itself. Contradictions appear referring to the different effects of work according to the quality of the land, the recording of costs, the redistributive consequences of self-consumption, personal relationships with those responsible for assigning the land, etc.

“Practice has shown that the collective approach has not always been assimilated, much less that in all circumstances it is the best and most useful. The case studies of the Villa Clara cooperatives demonstrate the fairly generalized presence of the so-called conucos among the members of the CPA and UBPC and the tendency to prefer the individual plot. These are the facts. " (Figueroa, 2001 a, p.32).

At the bottom of these analytical turns is hidden the classic decision of private plot-state company-cooperative. From now on, the viability of the cooperative model that combines the peasant mode of production tending towards sustainability, with the true realization of the principles of cooperativism, is suggested. They are not exclusive. Conversely; the traditional, derived from trial, error, selection and cultural learning, combined with adjusted technologies and the corresponding incentives, should re-launch the productions of the Cuban countryside.

This does not mean that the deliveries of land or the state companies themselves projected to self-management and solvency should be abandoned.

A disorderly boom in minifundization through the current ways (nor do we advocate for great lethargy) to increase the food supply must be a real danger for agroecosystems, since these events have a great bias of provisionality and individuals (largely without peasant worldview ) produce with the temptation of rapid entry by going to the black market for agrochemicals or applying them without rigorous and stable standards.

The political authorities should continue to study the dimensions of the companies, the feasibility of how to apply the Economic Reform in each area and the way that in each cooperative the lands for self-consumption are distributed and organized adapted to their concrete reality, combining collective management internal with the individual or family.

While linking to the area tends to cover the entire surface, extremisms by default or excess should be avoided.

Self-consumption, seen at the provincial level, for some products of plant origin, is characterized by:

* The average cooperative (UBPC) for self-consumption, compared to the province, is almost always higher. So, being insufficient, we are simply in the presence of difficulties with yields and efficiency. In sugarcane areas, the areas are smaller compared to non-sugarcane areas.

* In some typical foods (sweet potato, cassava, corn, beans, among others) the proportion is very high, but in the strategic and daily rice, some fruits and condiments, it is very low. It is urgent to change this circumstance, due to the vital opportunity income of rice at a lower price. Area selection and afforestation with fruit trees are vital.

* Assistant Professor José Martí University Center, Sancti Spíritus, Cuba .


- Donézteves, G and Fajardo, L (1997). Agricultural cooperativism: an option in the solution of the Cuban agrarian crisis. Posted in Participation and organizational forms of agriculture. University of Havana, Havana.
- Figueroa, V (1997). Doctoral Thesis The economic reform in Cuban agriculture. Ministry of Higher Education, Havana, Cuba.
- Figueroa, V (2001). Extraordinary transition from capitalism to socialism in Cuba. Structural vision. Central University of Las Villas, Faculty of Business Sciences, Santa Clara, Cuba.
- Figueroa, V (2001 a). Monograph Structural reform of the agrarian regime. Central University of Las Villas, Faculty of Business Sciences, Santa Clara, Cuba.

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