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New Agriculture Minister Launches Bid to Cut Import Dependency

Caracas, January 11th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s new Agriculture and Land Minister, Wilmar Castro Soteldo, launched a string of measures this past Saturday in a bid to get the country’s national food production back on track.

At least 19 different points of action were put forward by Soteldo, including providing increased technical and financial assistance to campesinos, increasing urban agriculture and planting 50,000 hectares of soya. 

He also took the unprecedented move of decentralising some of the country’s most important agrarian institutes such as the National Land Institute (INTI) and the National Institute of Rural Development (INDER). 

Both bodies will be transferred from the capital to the rural states of Cojedes and Portuguesa respectively. Four Agropatria regional support offices will also be opened in Merida, Portuguesa, Guarico and Zulia to promote and finance small scale agricultural products amongst citizens.

The former insurrectionary soldier and longtime Chavista - who was appointed to the post by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a cabinet reshuffle last week - said the measures were aimed at eliminating the country’s longstanding reliance on imports and ensuring the availability of “fair priced food” for the most vulnerable.

He explained that the government hoped to eventually begin exporting its produce abroad.

“We are prepared not only to satisfy the per capita demands of bodies in Venezuela, but our medium term goal is to export what we produce,” he stated. 

According to Soteldo, the ministry’s goal for 2016 is to harvest nearly 2.5 million hectares of the nation’s countryside and produce 19.5 million tonnes of food. The move will involve a 7 billion Bolivar investment and the creation of the mission “My Well Equipped Farm” to provide financing to farmers in a number of areas. 

State-level authorities will be created in order to ensure that these goals are being met, alongside state governors. 

“May the people decide what to do with those who fail to fulfil our harvest goals,” stated Soteldo, who invited grassroots Campesino Councils and the national Presidential Campesino Council to help with the supervision of the measures and the 2016 harvest.

In other comments Soteldo revealed that an immediate ministry-led investigation into the costs of national meat, milk and sugar production will begin this week. He said his ministry will also intervene to lower production costs in a bid to incentivise producers.

“Producers have been teaching me, because at times we have to be humble in these issues, to be able to learn about the reality of our people,” commented the minister, who explained that he had been in the field with producers since he took office. 

To date the Chavista government has repeatedly attempted to build a fledgling national state food production and distribution network. But the importation, production and distribution of food is still largely controlled by the private market and particularly by the Polar conglomerate in Venezuela. 

In 2011, the government countered spiralling inflation and “speculative” pricing on consumer products by legislating a maximum selling price on a number of essential goods.

While a whole host of products are affected by the law, regulated agricultural products include milk, coffee, sugar, meat and chicken. 

Some producers argue that they have been hurt by the price control policy - despite some receiving state subsidised land, seeds, fertilisers and other products from the government. Nonetheless, they say that they are forced to pay uncontrolled production costs at market price - expenses which they maintain are not factored into the end-selling price of their products. 

In some cases, producers have halted production in protest, while stockists have consistently hoarded goods in order hike prices and force the government to return to “free” market measures. 

Many producers have also responded by avoiding selling to the state in favour of the more profitable private market - which often violates the government imposed price controls - hurting ordinary Venezuelans who face astronomical prices for basic goods. 

The situation has played a part in creating ongoing shortages and hugely fluctuating prices in staple goods over the past few years.

Published on Jan 12th 2016 at 1.57pm