Mérida, January 12, 2009 (venezuelanalysis.com)– President Hugo Chávez, in his weekly Sunday TV show “Alo Presidente,” inaugurated the Agro-industrial complex “Vuelvan Caras” (About Face) in Portugesa state, which aims to be another step towards Venezuela’s food independence.
The agro-industrial complex, according to Chavez, is the first of its type, as it includes all stages of production, processing, and distribution. It has a pasta processing plant, an area for tractor assembly, a sun flower planting area, an agriculture supply shop, a fertilizer warehouse, and corn processing plant that produces material to make corn oil and concentrated food for animals and has a capacity of 46.8 tons daily.
Construction of the plant began in June 2007 and 300 people were employed during the construction, 90% of which were put forward by the local communal councils.
The pasta in the processing plant will be made of rice or corn, and the plant will produce 3 tons daily, making a product of 400 grams that will sell for 1.50 bolivars (US$ 0.70) and will be distributed through the subsidized state-run food distribution networks known as Mercal and Pdval. 9 million bolivars (US$ 4.2 million) have been invested in the pasta plant and 30 million bolivars (US$ 14 million) in the complex overall.
Portuguesa state, where the plant is located, is the main producer of corn and rice in the country, and this complex will produce 41% of the corn and 60% of the rice. Using resources from a China-Venezuela fund, the government will also establish a fish processing plant there.
According to Chavez, when his government arrived in office ten years ago, agricultural and livestock activity was almost non-existent, making the country very dependent on imports. However, he said that corn production has increased by 205% and rice by 94% over the last ten years.
“Between 1988 and 1998 corn production dropped by 23%. The increase between 2007 and 2008 was 17 percent,” he said.
The minister for communal economy, Pedro Morejon, said the aim for the end of the year is to have constructed 10 new corn plants, 11 more milk plants, and a plastics complex.
Developing agricultural production is important for Venezuela’s food sovereignty and its ability to deliver food at lower costs, Chavez explained, adding that the recuperation of land and the struggle against the large land holders is necessary so that Venezuela can continue consolidating its position as an agricultural power.
“We’re taking measures related to projects of economic development, despite the world crisis,” he said.
“Even if petroleum goes down to zero [dollars per barrel], we won’t stop our agricultural plans, it won’t happen, because we already have strong financial resources, moral codes distinct to capitalism, and a commitment to work with the Venezuelan people.”
Chavez estimated that if Venezuela maintains its current pace, it will become a food exporting country in the next 10 years, with the aim of supporting other countries, after it has completely fulfilled national needs.
He said that Venezuela has already started to export coffee to Belarus and the United States.
The minister for agriculture and land, Elias Jaua said that there are currently 26 agriculture shops in the country that provide supplies to producers at discounted rates and with other benefits. This year they are hoping to set up 24 more such shops, bringing the total to 50.
Chavez gave an example of a sack of cement, which these shops sell for 9.10 bolivars (US$ 4.20), including sales tax, whereas in a private company they are sold for as much as 25 bolivars (US$ 11.60).
Chavez reiterated his appreciation of countries like Argentina and China, which have helped with technology transfer for the construction of agricultural machinery as well as training and genetic assistance and he emphasized that the model to follow for the agricultural revolution is the construction of small social units of production, taking advantage of all the fertile land.
“We should take advantage of all the idle land, including if there is just one hectare idle, there we will put a socially owned productive unit… because we can’t allow anyone to own land and to not plant on it,” he said.
He gave the state of Portuguesa as an example. It has 1.5 million hectares of fertile land, but only 500,000 hectares are currently being cultivated.