After reading about the current crisis in the sugar industry in Cuba, I remembered that Cuba had recurring crises in its sugar exports since the fall of the Soviet Union.

At the same time, Cuba has also suffered recurring fuel shortage crises. But they never redirected the excess sugar production to produce bio-ethanol like did Brazil. Contrary to the United States the entire Cuban territory is between the tropic and the equator. It means they have plenty of sun and they could ferment the sugar using solar heat without additional gas heating. They could have produced a lot of bio-ethanol at a low cost even compared to Brazil since sugarcane production was well established and very productive.

I did some research online and did not find any reports about bio-ethanol production in Cuba. Maybe there has been some production that is not reported by online sources, but the situation shows that they never adopted it on a wide scale. Why this lack of interest in a decades-old technology that could have solved a lot of their problems?

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    biofuel burns food and when it doesn't, it promotes destruction of forests to make way for plantations that will be used for biofuel. "excess sugar production" would become "regular fule production". it's not sustainable and should not be used in a large scale. investing in it is the problem.
    – osiris
    Commented May 21 at 11:40
  • @osiris Deforestation is promoted by 1) expansion of the cities. 2) logging for building material and this is caused mostly by the US, Australia and few more small countries. In the rest of the world most of the building are made of concrete or masonry. 3) Slash and burn for cattle or food farming. The wood chips used in biomass generators comes from the waste of the lumber industry or from pruning urban trees. The story that forests are burned for energy is a fake designed not to let people understand the consequences of the expansion of the world population.
    – FluidCode
    Commented May 22 at 18:56
  • @osiris In the case of Cuba the question is not about cutting down forests to grow sugarcane. The plantations existing on the island are centuries old. So it is more about asking why now they are letting them go to waste.
    – FluidCode
    Commented May 22 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


VoA (not exactly a neutral source) says that Fidel Castro was concerned that biofuel production and the conversion of land from producing food to producing fuel would reduce food security worldwide. (Source)

The BBC describes an article in which Castro castigates the idea

Condemned to premature death by hunger and thirst more than 3bn people of the world [...]

[...] the sinister idea of converting food into combustibles was definitively established as the economic line of foreign policy of the United States (source)

So the reason that Cuba has not been more invested in biofuel is the concerns that the former leader had.

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    Might be a partial explanation, but Castro retired 18 years ago. There must be something more.
    – FluidCode
    Commented May 19 at 16:16
  • 21
    Why must there be? Castro is a Giant of Cuban politics. His ideas run deep. It is likely that the current political leadership feel the same way as he did, that biofuels mean sacrificing food for fuel, and that this is a bad idea. Not saying that he was right, but this is the basic reason why the whole world doesn't use biofuel
    – James K
    Commented May 19 at 17:16
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    Of course Castro being Castro painted it in shades of "American Imperialism" which is surely nonsense, but may have played well to the party back in Cuba
    – James K
    Commented May 19 at 17:18
  • 16
    Well, FWIW, the whole stupid corn biofuel mandate is when food inflation really did start to pick up, about 15-20 years back. It was covered in the news: places like Mexico, where corn is a staple crop, saw price increases. Even a seriously broken clock is correct once or twice a day, at least wrt corn, as opposed to sugarcane biofuel. Commented May 19 at 22:04
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    Note that the story that biofuels push up food prices was created in the US as a convenient explanation for the food speculation of the early 2000s. Everything started from a questionable research published on the Scientific American that put on the same level US corn derived ethanol, European rapeseed oil and Brazilian sugarcane ethanol with spurious calculations on the actual energy input and output. Castro might have found the story useful for his own propaganda, but it comes as a post-facto explanation for the inaction of the previous decade.
    – FluidCode
    Commented May 20 at 10:15

Third, the rather small size of the CAC countries deprives them of the advantages provided by economies of scale. Still, many of these islands have more arable land than is currently in use. For example, Cuba utilizes only 700,000 ha of its 6.6 million ha of arable land. Fourth, political instability reduces the appeal of some CAC countries to foreign investors. Finally, natural disasters, such as the recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, and seasonal tropical hurricanes, make foreign investors rather wary about unforeseeable risks to their investments.


Cuba doesn't have enough arable land to provide for food while producing biofuel unlike larger countries like the U.S.

The other reason, political instability means there's not a lot of money available for investment and since the government is poor and cash-stripped, it might not make much sense.

Another reason is natural disasters often occurring in the region means that investment could see major losses.

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