An Unprecedented Mango Harvest but…
It can’t be fully exploited
Even though humans can’t live off mangos alone, we have to admit that many Cubans – mainly in rural areas and small cities where inflation doesn’t come between the delicious fruit and consumers -, have managed not to go hungry or resist it in recent weeks.
Making three meals a day has become a pipe dream, a thing of the past, for many families who depend on their wages and pensions. Even more so ever since the Tarea Ordenamiento (economic reforms process) widening the hole in the bottom of the damaged ship, with nothing to row with, that is Cuba. A few mangos have helped with that.
This year, the harvest has been a bumper crop. It’s never been seen before. Mango tree branches are breaking into segments because they can’t carry the weight and the ground below is full of rotten fruit and mangos that have just fallen off, while people walk by, almost indifferently. Others pick up only what they can consume.
Neither the State, nor private businesses, have the conditions needed to make the most of them. The lack of economic freedom, bureaucracy, and incompetence have done away with these conditions. At some point, the private sector will take advantage of these opportunities, as soon as it gets a little stronger and has greater means and safeguards. Plus, capital.
Up until the Special Period in the 1990s, Mayari had a small state-led (of course) industry that was popularly known as “the pickling place”. It not only pickled fruit and salad, but it also made sweet things and fruit jams. It disappeared that same decade and the wooden building was demolished. It never crossed anybody’s mind that we needed another one. Tons of fruit are lost, year after year.
The mango tree always produces lots of flowers, which are then fertilized, and over half are never pollinated. Pollination is carried out by different kinds of insects. I’m sure the long drought that lasted over eight months in this region had something to do with better pollination. This happens quite a lot, almost every year because January and February are quite dry, which is when the trees come into bloom.
But wind is the key factor, which makes most of the mangos fall down before they weigh too much and they themselves bring down the tree. There weren’t very strong winds in February and March this year, like there normally is, just some gusts. It’s what kids call “kite season”.
So, the trees were weighed down with too much fruit. So many, that when they began to ripen they were “tasteless”. It seems the plant’s ability to make sugar isn’t enough for so many mangoes, it has a limit.
They already begin to ripen here in April, but they were literally bland. It wasn’t until mid-May, when the trees already had less fruit and the rain helped to sweeten them. A huge number of mangoes have been lost and they are still overflowing.
It’s sad that Cubans in the capital, for example, are paying exorbitant prices for mangoes when they are rotting in rural areas. Due to the crisis, fuel prices have made transport very expensive, and it costs more to move the cargo than the merchandise itself. Nor is there any refrigeration or sugar available on the market for the private sector to make jam. The State’s factories are very limited.
Cuba has huge potential in the mango industry, just like other countries in our geographical area. Not only for domestic consumption, but also as a product for export. The US imports mangos worth over 500 million USD per year and the European Union imports approximately 150 million Euros worth. It’s also a growing market in Europe.
The Dominican Republic, for example, has already ventured out into this sector of the international market and exported mangos worth 30 million in 2022. Meanwhile, Mexico is the leading exporter in the world and one of the greatest producers, with a business moving 500 million USD worth.