Circumventing the Blockade: Pueblo a Pueblo Builds Grassroots Food Sovereignty (Part II)

An organization that brings together rural producers with urban consumers breaks with the dictates of the market.

Pueblo a Pueblo [People to People] is a grassroots plan for organizing the production, distribution, and consumption of food, which connects agricultural producers with urban dwellers. In so doing, the project breaks with the despotic dictates of the capitalist market. In Part I of this three-part piece in the Communal Resistance Series, Pueblo a Pueblo’s spokespeople talk about their organization’s history and its objectives. Here, in Part II, associate producers and spokespeople talk about the “Double Participation Ladder” method and about the impact of the US blockade.


Double Participation Ladder

The ladder image reflects Pueblo a Pueblo’s method for ensuring that rural producers and urban consumers are linked, thus breaking away from the centrifugal forces of the market.

Ricardo Miranda: The “Double Participation Ladder” is a method that interlinks and integrates rural producers and working-class city dwellers. By applying it, we are taking food outside of the market and put use-values – thus life – centerstage.

Ana Daniela Dávila: The Double Participation Ladder is about the integration of city people and campesinos, it’s about production, distribution, and consumption not being mediated by third parties, by capitalist interests, but being driven by the needs of organized communities.

In the Double Participation Ladder, production is planned on the basis of both the consumption needs in the city and the crop cycles in the campo. But the Double Participation Ladder is also about changing consumption patterns and about shifting away from conventional, toxic-based agriculture. That is why education is an important component of it.

Now, you may be asking, how do people move away from market consumption patterns that have been hammered into their heads generation after generation? How do campesinos shift away from the market-driven agricultural practices that have been hailed as the solution to all their problems for decades?

When Pueblo a Pueblo goes to a community, we talk with the people and hold assemblies. We also organize workshops on vermicompost [composting with worms], crop diversification, seed selection and care, crop rotation, food preservation, etc.

Rural producers won’t shift to organic production if they’re not offered an alternative to the corporate propaganda that Monsanto and other corporations spew out. It’s the same in the city: consumers will not shift away from processed foods if they are not offered an alternative, through education, to ever-present advertising.

However, it’s also very important that people get to know each other’s respective worlds, that producers and consumers know who is on the other end.

When Pueblo a Pueblo got started, people on the “consumption” end – for instance from San Agustín [a Caracas barrio] – would come to Carache to learn with the campesinos while campesinos would go to San Agustín to learn about the organizational processes there.

Pueblo a Pueblo is about organizing social production rationally, based on human needs.

Gabriel Gil: Planning is key for the Double Participation Ladder to work, and it has to happen on both ends: in the barrio, where the pueblo receives the produce, and in the campo, where the producers plans their production.

Also, we promote diversification of crops. This means that each producer should have four or more crops going at a time to reduce risks – risks that are both environmental and market-related.

We are committed to promoting an agroecological shift, which is in the interest of both the producer and the consumer, but not the market. That is why we organize workshops about seed production and organic fertilizers.

Finally – and this is key when it comes to the Ladder methodology – the “Consumers Network” organizes the distribution of the produce and processes payments in a swift manner. This is very important because the capitalist middleman can take a long time to pay the campesinos, which puts them in a very difficult situation.

Ricardo Miranda: The Double Participation Ladder breaks down the contradiction between the campo and the city that is prevalent in modern societies. The Ladder brings producers and city consumers close together. But, how does it do this exactly? The analysis that people carry out in their barrios and in their rural communities generates a “virtuous” circle that allows for the needs on both ends to be satisfied in human-based terms.

The process allows the campesino to farm based on people’s needs; he or she is not left at the whims of the market’s “invisible hand.” For us, food is not a commodity: it’s a fundamental human right. That’s why the price-setting processes in Pueblo a Pueblo are transparent ones and based on sustaining campesino life.

The concept of transparent prices is not to be confused with “fair” or “solidarious” prices, which are fuzzy concepts. When we talk about transparent prices, it’s because we know how much the campesino had to pay for seeds and inputs, what their overall expenses were, how much transportation costs, and how much will remain in the campesino’s hands after the sale. This is possible because our model is self-organized and there are no intermediaries or store owners involved.

The Double Participation Ladder is based on ethical principles, not on exploitation. Interestingly, when it comes to the plan’s ethical component, in the 260 or so food distribution operations that we have carried out since 2015, transactions have not been mediated by written documents and purchase orders. Instead, the exchanges are agreed upon through mutual trust.

Laura Lorenzo: In real terms, this is how the Ladder works: over the years we have worked with El Panal Commune in 23 de Enero [Caracas]. There, some 3000 families have participated in the Pueblo a Pueblo Plan by determining their own real needs collectively. Then the producers can in turn decide what is required in terms of land, seed, inputs, production cycles, etc. Simultaneously, we also have to plan how many silos will be needed, what will be the transportion requirements, how much fuel will be needed, and so on.

Food distribution has been a business for as long as we can remember. However, using our methodology, the four million kilos that we distributed between 2015 and 2020 got to the homes of working-class Venezuelans without passing through the market. The Double Participation Ladder is what allows for this to happen.


Pueblo a Pueblo in Carache

The founders of Pueblo a Pueblo made the small town of Carache in Trujillo state into their home base. Here Carache’s producers tell their stories.


María Godoy: When Pueblo a Pueblo made Carache its epicenter, the first thing they did was talk to the people and organize assemblies, but they also worked with the national government to repair the roads, which were in bad shape. Needless to say, having the roads well taken care of is critical for maintaining production.

Pueblo a Pueblo works with small to mid-size producers: they provide a positive distribution mechanism, seeds and inputs, and, importantly, they carry out workshops to shift away from commercial agricultural methods, which are harmful to the earth, to the producers, and to the consumers.

Josefa Zapata: As an associate producer with Pueblo a Pueblo, the main thing is to work responsibly. I am a single campesino woman, and I had to learn the trade on my own. In fact, I had to win the “right” to produce on my own land. Machismo is deeply ingrained here, so commanding respect from other producers didn’t happen overnight. I did this on my own, but I also had support from Pueblo a Pueblo.

When I became associated with Pueblo a Pueblo, my capacity to sell what I produce increased rapidly. They also taught me about producing seeds, and now my output is diversified: I produce celery, black beans, corn, tomato, spring onions, and broccoli. I also maintain a seedbed that has become an important part of my income. I produce both seeds and seedlings.

Returning to the issue of organization: producers associated with Pueblo a Pueblo meet every two weeks. In those meetings, we plan according to the requests made by our brothers and sisters in the city and the demand for food coming from schools, which we also provide through Pueblo a Pueblo.

Antonio Bracamonte: Pueblo a Pueblo established itself in Carache in the early days of the economic war, when obtaining seeds was beginning to be difficult. Pueblo a Pueblo helped us come together and break our dependency on the intermediary, who is the one who makes profits off of the campesino work. The practices of capitalist intermediaries are vicious. To give you an example, they may pay two bolívares per kilo for a truckload of celery, but when they get to Caracas the price tag is now 30 bolivars per kilo!

However, it is not possible to break away from depending on the intermediaries on one’s own. That’s where Pueblo a Pueblo enters the picture. As we say, a tree alone doesn’t make a forest. If we don’t organize, the market will swallow us up.

Chávez’s project is about empowering the pueblo. That is why organization is so important. When it comes to the rural areas, Chávez talked about campesinos having control of the land and of what they produce, but also about overcoming the logic of the market. Pueblo a Pueblo does precisely that – and not just with words! It does so with a method that works and that has grassroots organization as its cornerstone.

Luis Velázquez: Argimiro Gabaldón [guerrillero commander in the 1960s] and his front came through here: They walked this path [pointing at the road in front of his plot of land] and found much sympathy among the campesinos of Carache. Decades later, when Pueblo a Pueblo arrived, we were better able to collectively care for the “seeds” that Argimiro – and later Chávez – planted in this fertile ground.

Pueblo a Pueblo’s workshops helped us to shift away from harmful agricultural methods, promoted the organization of the communal councils and the commune, and radically improved the situation of producers by working with the government to fix the roads.


Laura Lorenzo: We who are organizers of the Pueblo a Pueblo project have our roots in the campesino struggle, but we come from the flatlands of Yaracuy, not from these mountains.

When we arrived here, we knew that we had to work hard to win the campesinos’ trust, so we talked to them about our dream of bringing down the wall that capitalism has built between the campo and the city to plunder the pueblo. Of course, the idea of doing away with the intermediary caught people’s imaginations, but we also had to show that it was not just empty talk.

The main thing about building trust is to honor agreements. In Pueblo a Pueblo, our “word” is sacred. When a truck departs loaded with produce, the campesinos know that they will be paid swiftly and fully. They also know that they can count on Pueblo a Pueblo if they have a problem, or that they can use one of the organization’s two tractors, and pay us back with seeds.

But Pueblo a Pueblo is not just about satisfying basic or elementary needs. Shortly after we arrived we discovered that people in Carache are really into poetry, theater, and music, so we began to build bridges through culture, organizing joropo dance workshops and other cultural events.


The impact of the blockade

The impact of the sanctions and the crisis has been devastating. Campesinos from Carache explain the damage produced by the US-led policies.


Josefa Zapata: Campesino life has never been easy, but the blockade made our lives even harder. For many of us, the two main bottlenecks have been getting agricultural inputs and transporting our produce. This means that over the past few years, production has dropped steeply. In my case, I lost a whole crop of spring onions.

However, the fact that we work with Pueblo a Pueblo has made us more resilient. On the one hand, I produce my own seeds. This is something that I learned with Gabriel Gil, who taught many of us how to care for seeds and how to build a nursery. On the other hand, he also taught us how to make organic fertilizers. That is one of the strengths of our organization: shifting away from commercial practices that make us dependent.

Laura Lorenzo: The crisis, the pandemic, and the blockade have hurt us a great deal in Pueblo a Pueblo. However, we have also learned that our model is a viable one, that it offers solutions for people, and it points in the right direction: food sovereignty.

The problems began around 2017, when the country’s fascist right wing set the east of Caracas on fire. At that time we were working with La Hidrológica de Chacao, a commune surrounded by guarimbas. That meant that we couldn’t get the produce to the commune. Then prices began to spiral up, including the prices of agricultural inputs, some of them were simply not to be found. Finally, fuel became scarce.

Fuel shortages are devastating for food production. Even though much of the work in the fields in Carache is done with animal traction, many crops were lost at the worst of the crisis. The situation is still serious. That’s why campesinos are demanding that the Venezuelan state assign them a special fuel quota. It is a just demand, but it’s also necessary to promote food sovereignty, which is all the more important in times of blockade.

Luis Velázquez: The sanctions caused a great deal of human devastation. For us, getting agricultural inputs and getting our produce to the market are the two key issues. At first, the inputs were nowhere to be found. Then, they began to pop up on the black market. Now, they are widely available, but at prices that are nearly inaccessible. For example, the production costs for a tomato crop could reach two to three-thousand-dollars, when you add up the costs of seeds, inputs, and work.

We do have one advantage, however: Pueblo a Pueblo. Without that organization, our roads would be in terrible shape, which would reduce our production significantly. Pueblo a Pueblo also accompanies producers in shifting away from commercial, toxic agricultural practices.

These years have been harrowing, but Venezuela is a rich country. If we work hard and organize, we’ll be able to get out of the hole. But there is something else that is required. While we cannot expect the imperialist enemy to lighten the blockade, we should expect the government to promote campesino production.

We are the ones – and not the big food conglomerates – who feed the Venezuelan pueblo. What does this actually mean? The state should develop policies so that campesinos can get inputs and fuel. Also, the government should help Pueblo a Pueblo and other organizations that work with small and mid-size producers so that our crops can reach the homes of working-class people.

For a campesino, there is no satisfaction greater than producing good, healthy food, and that it gets to families that – rain or shine – have decided to stay here in Venezuela.

Antonio Bracamonte: The blockade has put us to ”work with our nails” [with nothing]. For example, I used to plant 10,000 heads of celery, but now we are down to 1,000. Overall, I am at 25% of my productive capacity, but there were times when production dropped down to zero. It was tragic. At those times, it was the conuco [subsistence farming plot] that kept us alive.

Operating costs are too high. That, in turn, has social costs for my family, my community, and the country as a whole.

The blockade is cruel and the Venezuelan opposition is heartless. Of course, the United States wanted to topple our government and to apply sanctions, but they couldn’t have done so without a puppet like [former self-appointed “President” Juán] Guaidó and his mafia. They were the ones who requested the blockade from the White House. We’ll never forget that!

The United States is a decadent empire and, as such, it will do anything to maintain its political, economic, and military hegemony. That is why its policies are so brutal. However, we are a strong people, and we are committed to staying here – in the country of Bolívar and Chávez – even if we have to eat tree roots!

Ana Daniela Dávila: The blockade and the pandemic had a devastating impact on production, but in Pueblo a Pueblo we are always optimistic.

The crisis also has a positive side: the fact that purchasing agrochemical packages is really difficult has generated great interest in agroecological practices, and Pueblo a Pueblo has made headway with its workshops teaching such methods.

Then, there are ancestral practices such as the conuco, which saved many lives in rural areas.

Carmen Marquina: They [the US] attacked where it hurts most: limiting the country’s capacity to produce its own food. You might say: campesinos in Carache have their own land and they plow the fields with horses or oxen, so the fact that Venezuela can’t sell oil shouldn’t affect them. However, that’s not true! Campesino production doesn’t happen in a bubble. We are here in El Potrero, a small community kilometers away from Carache. If there is no fuel, we can’t take our produce to town or go to the doctor.

But then, there is also the problem of dollarization, which hits small producers like a meteor. Production costs skyrocketed. We grow onions here, and our output dropped to about half of what it was. Since the war began, we have had many losses.

Then there are the social aspects of the crisis. We keep the school open through sheer willpower: the communal council helps the teacher. This is very important because teachers’ wages are not living wages. There is also a problem with keeping the kids schooled through high school. The high school is far away and, at a time when fuel is unavailable, youths end up dropping out.

Nadia Linares: When people ask us about the impact of the blockade, we often talk about the dollarization of inputs and about gas prices, which have risen sometimes to two and three dollars per liter [the official price is 50 cents]. All that made production drop drastically, but we seldom talk about other aspects of life.

The blockade has caused many kids to drop out of school, because getting to the educational centers is harder and many teaching posts are vacant. Access to healthcare and medical treatment is also very difficult because of high costs. Things as common as giving birth become an ordeal with the hospital being kilometers away. Recently, for example, a compañera who had begun labor had to go to the hospital on a motorcycle.

For these reasons, many have left Carache. They migrate to Colombia or to other countries where they think their conditions will improve. Of course, it’s understandable, but we are staying here. Cahingó [in the Carache municipality] is a beautiful valley, and this is where we want to raise our children.

Ronald Moreno: People live humbly but with dignity here. While the life of the campesino is not easy, it’s worth the hardship. In fact, my story goes against the grain, but it’s not the only one.

I was living in Barquisimeto [a city four hours away from Carache], and I decided to retrace my steps back here to farm with my parents a few years ago. At the end of the day, we may not eat as much meat as we would like to, but we aren’t going to die of starvation if we live here in the campo.