Venezuela Inaugurates Agricultural Bank and Cacao Processing Plant

President Hugo Chavez officially inaugurated the Venezuelan Agricultural Bank and the Oderí Cacao Processing Plant this week. Both are expected to benefit thousands of small agricultural producers

Caracas, October 28, 2006 ( President Hugo Chavez officially inaugurated the Venezuelan Agricultural Bank (Banco Agricola de Venezuela) last Tuesday at an event at the Teresa Carrena Theater in Caracas.  The bank was formed with an initial capital of 700 Billion Bolivares or $326 Million, and is expected to benefit 20,000 small agricultural producers.

“This bank is born to triumph, to create new spaces, methods and procedures in order to make the motor of the revolution of the countryside efficient,” said Chavez.  

During the event in Caracas, more than 2,600 campesinos received the first loans through the bank, totaling just under $8 million.

“We have handed over 16 Billion Bolivares in the first wave of loans,” said Chavez on Tuesday night, “The bank goes to the communities.  This is one of the revolutionary calls of the Agricultural Bank.”

According to the official website of the bank (which due to the lack of information available, appears to have just been launched), the bank’s mission is “to create, promote, and consolidate a system of production of goods and services, combining the abilities and resources at the Bank’s disposal, with the objective of contributing in an efficient way to agricultural development, through financial assistance and integral accompaniment in the framework of governmental policies, with the active participation of the community, to achieve levels of sustainable growth that permit the food security of the population.”

The bank, under the Venezuelan Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAT), and directed by Eduardo Escobar Castellanos, began this week with a national office in Caracas and three regional offices in the Venezuelan states of Barinas, Portuguesa and Falcon.  According to the state news agency, ABN, there are plans to increase the number of local offices to 25 by the end of the year.

According VTV earlier this week, Elías Jaua, Minister of Agriculture, stated that the bank “is born with the values of socialism, of solidarity” and focused on the small producers that only have their word as a guarantee of payment.

Loans through the bank are set to be between $11,000 and $46,000, with annual interest rates of between 1% and 5% and a maximum interest of 12%.

The Agricultural Bank was first announced in January of this year, when the board of directors was sworn in, but it was not officially launched until this week.

Oderí Cacao Processing Plant Inaugurated

In other agriculture news, the Oderí Cacao Processing Plant, located in the Cacao-rich region of Barlovento in Miranda State, was inaugurated this Friday.  According to ABN, the plant took approximately two years to build and will have the capacity to process 500 Kilograms per hour of fermented and dry Cacao, for a total production of close to 2,000 tons per year.

The Barlovento region, through which the historic "chocolate route" runs, has long awaited development of this processing plant.  Venezuelan officials and local producers hope that it will support the growth of the national cacao production by facilitating the local processing of the cacao grown in the region. 

The plant will process primary material for the national and international Chocolate industry such as cacao butter, powder, and paste (which is also used to make cacao liquor).

According to the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication, the plant, which cost close to $10 million to build, will generate nearly 1600 direct and indirect jobs, and will benefit 1300 cacao producers in the region. 

The Venezuela state will have 51% ownership in the plant while the other 49% will belong to the 18,000 agricultural producers in Miranda State organized in to 52 cooperatives under the Federation of Multiple Production Cooperatives of Miranda State (FECOOPROMULMI).

Over 1500 loans were also distributed on Friday to cacao producers in the region, totaling $13.5 million for land formation, maintenance and recuperation projects. 

During the inauguration, President Chavez also announced the approval of nearly $105 million additional for the agriculture sector.  This total will be spent on a number of projects including the instillation of 15 agricultural stores (for the distribution and sale of agricultural machinery and goods), an agro-industrial project with the Brazilian state of Paraná, and the first stage of nearly 20 fish processing plants.