Food Production on the Rise, Venezuelan Producers and Government Say

The Venezuelan government’s agricultural policies and the efforts of national food producers have significantly increased national food production amidst global shortages, the Venezuelan Agriculture and Land Minister, Elías Jaua, and several food producer federations reported last week.
Agriculture and Land Minister Elías Jaua highlighted a boost in corn production that will eventually "guarantee that the arepas we are going to eat are produced in Venezuela" (ABN)

Mérida, July 21, 2008 (– The Venezuelan government’s agricultural policies and the efforts of national food producers have significantly increased national food production amidst global shortages, the Venezuelan Agriculture and Land Minister, Elías Jaua, and several food producer federations reported last week.

The government “is dedicated to increasing national agricultural production, like it has been doing for 10 years, and particularly during this year, in which we began a great re-energizing,” said Jaua, noting that Venezuela has largely recovered from the national food shortages that occurred earlier this year.

Minister Jaua expressed appreciation for the national food producers and associations who have met with the government in order to coordinate effective financing of production inputs, technology imports, subsidy increases, price adjustments, and food distribution in order to boost production and avoid hoarding, price speculation, and waste.

According to ministry statistics, the production of corn, rice, soy, chicken, pork, beef, eggs, milk, and coffee have all increased in the first half of this year, relative to the first half of 2007.

National demand for both rice and coffee are projected to be totally satisfied this year, allowing a month and a half reserve supply of rice to be stored and coffee to be exported to the Global North.

Likewise, the National Federation of Poultry Farmers (FENAVI) declared, “There is sufficient production of chicken and eggs to cover national demand, reason for which massive imports of those products are not justified.”

FENAVI President Francisco Tagliapietra specified that Colombian poultry should stop “invading” the Venezuelan market, since government price adjustments and financial support “have allowed production to begin to recuperate in the last three months.”

In the case of milk, the Venezuelan Chamber of Lactose Industries (CAVILAC) and Minister Jaua jointly announced after a recent meeting that “the inventory of powdered milk in the country is sufficient, at least until the end of the year.”

However, national production of liquid milk, despite a 17% increase over the first half of last year, still only provides about half of the 3.4 billion liters of milk consumed each year in Venezuela. The government’s goal, according to Jaua, is for national production to fully satisfy this demand by the year 2012.

CAVILAC President Roger Figueroa said the industry has arranged with the government to increase the production of pasteurized milk and to facilitate the import of unmet supply from neighboring countries such as Argentina and Brazil. Figueroa also asked the government to further increase the regulated price of milk, beyond the increase of last February.

The supply of liquid milk has faced consistent irregularities this year, which the Bolivarian Federation of Cattle and Agricultural Farmers (FEGAVEN) says is the result of the profit-driven priorities of private milk processing corporations.

“The national producers have sufficient milk to supply the country. However, the pasteurizing industries are not bringing the milk to the market,” said FEGAVEN President Balsamiro Belandria following the recent CAVILAC declarations.

While turning away nationally produced milk, these companies are obtaining dollars at the government's preferential rates (which are meant to facilitate food imports), and marketing more expensive powdered imitation lactose products rather than milk, the prices of which are not regulated because they are not considered essential food items, FEGAVEN says.

Milk pasteurizers are “taking advantage of the [goverment-issued] dollars, then later asking for price adjustments, cheating the government,” said Belandria, adding that the private companies “are not buying the national production like they should.”

In response to these accusations, Figueroa said that pasteurizers are operating at full capacity and unable to process the increased national milk production, so they have turned to imitation products to satisfy the growing national demand.

The National Cattle Federation (FEDENAGA) deemed the increases in national production seasonal, and advocated that milk imports be temporarily reduced to provide an incentive to process nationally produced milk.

Responding to this controversy and the increase of imitation milk products on store shelves, the National Consumer Defense Institute (INDECU) launched investigations into prominent milk processors last week including Venezuela's largest processor, Parmalat.

According to INDECU President Eduardo Samán, the inspection of a Parmalat warehouse in Caracas showed that the company's milk products are equally divided between pasteurized milk and the non-regulated formulas.

INDECU recently added 65 new inspectors to its ranks to bolster such inspections and to enforce government policy, which is to prioritize the production and importation of essential food items and to de-emphasize non-essential items and bio-fuels such as ethanol.

Minister Jaua said the government's vision is to “guarantee that the arepas we are going to eat,” referring to the most basic and popular national food made from corn flour, “will be produced in Venezuela.”

As a step toward this goal, the ministry reported that 21% more corn has been planted so far this year than in the first half of 2007. The yield is expected to be 4,500 kilos per hectare planted, compared to the 3,800 kilo per hectare yield last year, and the 2,100 kilo per hectare yield when Hugo Chávez was first elected to the presidency ten years ago.

“If we were not producing, like in 1999, we would not be able to confront the world crisis that exists in this item on a worldwide level,” said Jaua.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) declared last week that if governments worldwide do not expand their efforts to boost food production, then the world food crisis will only worsen.

According to the FAO, worldwide investments in agriculture have declined by 14% in the last decade, and rich countries have contributed less than 10% of what they have committed to resolving world food shortages and price inflation which continue to leave 862 million people hungry.

Moreover, the ex-General Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, criticized nations such as the United States and Brazil for producing ethanol, because this product aggravates the world food crisis and global warming.

“If they use the best lands for bio-fuels they will not be able to avoid the accusation that they are taking away food from poor people and giving it to the cars of the rich,” said Annan while visiting Brazil, which has defended its sugar-based ethanol as more efficient than the U.S.'s corn-based ethanol.