Food Crops

Food Crops

As part of the national dish of rice and beans, rice was the Dominican Republic's most important food crop in the late 1980s.Rice production expanded significantly in the post-Trujillo era, and by late 1979 the country had achieved self-sufficiency for the first time. Rice production, however, waned in the 1980s, forcing renewed imports. In 1987 about 112,000 hectares yielded 320,000 tons of rice, an amount inadequate to meet national demand, but well above the level of 210,000 tons in 1970.

Declines in production were related to a series of economic factors. Rice subsidies to the urban poor, who enjoyed less than two kilograms of rice a week as part of Inespre's food basket, or canasta popular, were generally at odds with the goal of increased output. The government's land reform measures also may have had a negative impact on rice yields; IAD's rice holdings, which rendered 40 percent of the nation's rice, were noticeably less productive than private rice holdings. In the late 1980s, the government continued to involve itself extensively in the rice industry by supplying irrigation systems to over 50 percent of rice farmers as well as technical support through the Rice Research Center in Juma, near Bonao. The government also moved to increase the efficiency of local distribution in 1987, when it transferred rice marketing operations from Inespre to the Agricultural Bank of the Dominican Republic (Banco Agrícola de la República Dominicana--Bagricola) and then to the private sector.

The other principal grains and cereals consumed in the Dominican Republic included corn (or maize), sorghum, and imported wheat. Corn, native to the island, performed better than many food crops in the 1980s because of the robust growth of the poultry industry, which used 95 percent of the corn crop as animal feed. The strong demand for feed notwithstanding, Inespre's low prices for corn and other distortions in the local market caused by donated food from foreign sources decreased incentives for farmers and reduced output during the late 1970s and the early 1980s. As of 1987, corn covered 28,000 hectares, and it supplied 43,000 tons, an amount far below domestic needs. The cultivation of sorghum, a drought-resistant crop also used as a feed, expanded rapidly in the 1980s because of sorghum's suitability as a rotation crop on winter vegetable farms and as a new crop on newly idle cane fields. An estimated 16,000 hectares yielded 49,000 tons of sorghum in 1987, more than double 1980's output of 23,000 tons. Wheat was another increasingly important cereal because Dominicans were consuming ever-greater quantities of the commodity, donated primarily by the United States and France. As a result, the country's two mills were functioning at full capacity in the late 1980s. The government was reluctant to do something about Dominicans' preference for the heavily subsidized wheat over local cereals for fear of violent protests by poorer consumers.

Other major food crops included starchy staples such as plantains and an assortment of tubers. Dominicans consumed large quantities of plantains, usually fried, because of their abundance, sweet taste, and low cost. An estimated 31,000 hectares of trees produced 251,000 tons of plantain in 1987. Peasants routinely cultivated and consumed root crops, such as cassava, taro, sweet potatoes, and yams because they were cheap and easy to cultivate. Production of these basic food crops did not fare well in the late 1970s and the 1980s because of low government prices and the exodus of population to the cities. Some 17,000 hectares sown with cassava, the most common tuber, produced approximately 98,000 tons of that crop in the late 1980s.

Beans, a dietary staple and the chief source of protein for many Dominicans, were grown throughout the countryside. Although the country was generally self-sufficient in the universally popular red bean, shifts in output created the need to import some beans during the 1980s. Red beans covered 57,000 hectares, yielding 39,000 tons, whereas black beans were grown on only 9,000 hectares, yielding only 4,000 tons. Other varieties generated even smaller harvests.

Dominicans also grew an assortment of fruits, vegetables, spices, and other foods. These included bananas, peanuts, guava, tamarind, passion fruit, soursop, coconut, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, scallions, cilantro, onions, and garlic.

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