Caracas, December 9, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Dozens of Venezuelan corn and rice producers staged a protest in Caracas on Thursday to demand state-led responses to a number of issues.
Small and midsize campesinos have denounced practices from agroindustrial groups and a lack of government policies that endanger their ability to produce.
Organizers reported around 200 participants in the mobilization, mostly coming from the agricultural states of Barinas, Guárico and Portuguesa.
A commission of spokespeople met with officials from the Agriculture Ministry. However, the gathering did not produce an agreement, only a commitment to hold further assemblies and set up working groups with government, campesino and agroindustry representatives to discuss crop prices, fuel subsidies, credit instruments and other matters.
Venezuelan campesinos have repeatedly raised alarm bells in recent weeks and demanded more regulation. Protests have included the blocking of major highways and a symbolic dumping of corn outside the facilities of major food conglomerate Polar.
Thursday’s rally came weeks after a similar march by coffee producers. After two meetings, the campesinos secured a commitment from the government and private sectors to uphold previously agree-do crop prices.
José Betancourt, corn grower from Guárico state, told Venezuelanalysis that the protest’s main goal was to “secure fair prices for crops produced in Venezuela.”
He added that fertilizers such as urea and NPK have more than doubled in price over the past 12 months and called on state laboratories to evaluate the quality of inputs currently being sold in the Venezuelan countryside.
“These are costs that we absolutely cannot afford,” Betancourt went on. “Producing a hectare of corn in Venezuela right now costs some US $1,400, and the combination of our yields and the prices offered by the agroindustry has us operating at a loss.”
He explained that private buyers are currently offering some $360 per tonne without transportation costs, which would require corn yields of at least 5 tonnes per hectare. Venezuelan corn fields, he claimed, rarely exceed 4.5 tonnes per hectare.
Omar Parada, who produces corn in Barinas state, likewise railed against agroindustrial “cartels” that have systematically ignored crop prices agreed to in summits mediated by state institutions.
“We come to Caracas to deliver this complaint and demand that the government enforce the accords we had reached,” he stated to Venezuelanalysis.
A common concern raised by both campesinos was the lack of control over imported cereals during harvest times. As they explained, agribusiness corporations do this to saturate the market and drive down prices for Venezuelan agricultural production.
“We believe there should be a block on imports during harvest times for all foodstuffs,” Betancourt said, adding that the imported food is usually surpluses from rich countries that go through no quality checks.
Another concrete proposal is to peg crop prices to those of the final products. According to the two spokesmen, this would eliminate the need to repeat the struggle for adequate prices every year.
“We have made studies of costs alongside the entire chain and a fair arrangement would see 45-50 percent of the final [market] price paid to the producer,” Parada affirmed. “This way we would be free from agroindustry whims.”
The Nicolás Maduro government has increasingly turned to liberal solutions to jumpstart an economy heavily hit by wide-reaching US sanctions.
In the agriculture sector policies have included a gradual elimination of fuel subsidies and the transfer to private hands of state companies that supplied inputs and access to tractors to campesinos.
“We see the government as an ally, but companies like Pedro Camejo (tractor supplier) need to be reactivated to support small producers. Right now they are at the service of powerful landowners,” Betancourt concluded.