February 11, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continued to focus his efforts to increase national food production on his Sunday TV and radio program Aló Presidente yesterday. The president visited rice farmers and a rice-processing plant in the central state of Barinas and demanded that idle land be expropriated in order to maximize production in the region.
"The government has begun the year determined to keep increasing food production," said Chavez upon opening his show Sunday morning.
The first minutes of the show were spent conversing with rice farmers on the open savannas of Barinas where he discussed the government's plan for the recuperation of the nation's agricultural sector.
Chavez emphasized that government officials must meet with producers around the country to repair and reconstruct irrigation systems, roads, and food-processing plants.
"We have a really high budget in order to put the agricultural infrastructure in optimum conditions," he said. "We have a lot of work to do."
The president then traveled by helicopter to a nearby agro-industrial complex that has recently been taken over by the government after it was left abandoned. While traveling over the flat lands of the central state, Chavez strongly criticized that there is a large amount of idle land in the area.
"How is it possible that only five kilometers from [the city of] Barinas, where there are paved highways, irrigation systems, electric energy, and good land, that the revolution allows there to be idle land?" Chavez asked his ministers.
In light of this year's promise to "review" and "rectify" the errors of the revolution, Chavez demanded his ministers explain why the land was still not being farmed. In spite of the new agrarian reform law that was passed in 2001, Chavez admitted that there is "still a lot of idle land."
The president called on his ministers, local governments, as well as the president of the National Institute of Land to be more efficient in carrying out their objectives and said there was "no excuse" for the lack of progress in redistributing land.
Upon arriving at the agro-industrial complex, mostly dedicated to the storage and processing of rice from the surrounding areas, President Chavez announced a 44 percent increase in the price of rice, regulated since the implementation of price controls in 2003.
"We are increasing the price of rice to give incentive to rice producers. Its about fairness and incentive," he said.
Chavez toured the newly recovered agro-industrial complex and stated that plants like this one would assure the purchase of the rice production from surrounding farmers. This plant will supply the government-subsidized food markets all across the country, which are now being placed under direct control of the communities through the communal councils.
Chavez said the increased rice production could eventually be used to export to other countries.
"We are only producing a small percentage of Venezuela's rice lands, and we are still producing all the rice we need for domestic consumption," he said. "Now imagine if we double the area. We are going to be rice exporters."
The president also promised to raise milk production through the recently created Fund for National Milk Production (Fonaprole). He stated that the government has designated $500 million from the national development fund Fonden for the development of the dairy industry.
Chavez also emphasized the need to work together with private ranching confederations to carry out joint planning and development of the dairy industry, and he promised a decrease in the interest rates on credits for small producers.
"We have to work with the communities to develop ways to optimize production," he said.