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U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Says Venezuela Prepared for World Food Crisis

Mérida, February 27th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- The representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Venezuela, Francisco Arias Milla, said the Venezuelan government’s investment in domestic food production and regional food security will strengthen its ability and that of its neighbors to withstand the worsening global food crisis.

“The FAO recognizes the efforts of the national government [of Venezuela] to introduce policies, strategies, and programs to confront the global economic crisis and the volatility of food prices, and at the same time to protect the food and nutritional security of the Venezuelan people,” Arias told the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) on Thursday.  

Arias specified Venezuela’s national subsidized food market, Mercal, its growing system of public cafeterias, and the state-run Venezuelan Food Production and Distribution company (PDVAL), which sells food at regulated prices, as examples of policies which “permit greater access to food for the most vulnerable strata of society.”

Venezuela has implemented several policies that the FAO recommends, including the fomenting of local food production through the strengthening of social networks, Arias pointed out.

Arias also praised the increase of state investment in the agricultural sector, efforts to organize producers, the expansion of citizen access to arable land through land reform, and the promotion of family farms under the administration of President Hugo Chávez.

Venezuela has also reached out to other Latin American countries to prepare joint strategies to deal with the food crisis. The trade bloc called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which is based on principles of mutual benefit and includes Venezuela and six other countries, has created a joint food company with funds pooled in a joint food security fund.

Arias said these efforts have paid off for the countries involved. “We believe there is a group of countries, including Venezuela, that is better prepared to confront this crisis and whatever other crisis that may come,” he said. “This is due to the institutionalization of food security in the region,” he added.

According to Venezuela’s Agriculture and Land Ministry, agricultural production in Venezuela rose by 3% last year, bringing the total increase in agricultural production to 24% since Chávez took office a decade ago. Specifically, corn production has increased by 205%, rice by 94%, sugar by 13%, and milk by 11% over the last decade, reducing Venezuela’s dependency on food imports.

In 2007, Venezuela became the first Latin American country to help the FAO finance agricultural production projects in third countries when it contributed $4.6 million to FAO small scale irrigation and water conservation projects in Mali and Burkina Faso.    

The FAO predicts that the world food crisis will get worse over the next two years. The financial crisis is expected to push down food prices, providing a disincentive for farmers to plant. This will result in a decrease in the food supply and increase in prices in 2009 and 2010, further victimizing the world’s most vulnerable populations, according to Graziano da Silva, an FAO representative in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Moreover, the global economic crisis will continue to pressure states to contribute less to eradicating hunger worldwide, according to FAO General Director Jacques Diouf. The FAO says $30 billion is necessary for this task, and that so far member countries have contributed a total of $22 billion, only 10% of which has actually been deposited.

Although 2008 statistics on hunger are still being processed, many FAO officials predicted that in 2008 the number of people suffering hunger in the world has risen above the record 923 million who suffered hunger in 2007, which was an increase of 75 million over 2006.

Published on Feb 27th 2009 at 11.10pm