Mérida, April 22nd 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Over the past ten ten years, Venezuelans’ average daily caloric intake surpassed United Nations standards, and the rate of malnutrition dropped by more than two thirds, according to the National Nutrition Institute.
Average daily consumption increased from 2,200 calories in 1998, the year President Hugo Chavez was elected to his first term, to more than 2,700 calories in 2008, exceeding than the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recommendation of 2,300 calories per day, government figures show.
Also, the state-run Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) reported that Venezuela’s rate of malnutrition dropped from 21% in 1998 to 6% in 2007, a time period during which poverty and extreme poverty decreased by half.
Government officials attribute these achievements to the Chavez administration’s efforts to turn the oil-exporting nation into a food producer, and make food affordable to the poor.
The Chavez administration has drastically expanded state-owned food production, increased credits to small-scale producers, re-distributed millions of hectares of idyle lands, and established price controls on essential food items. To increase access to food, it started two nation-wide food distribution networks to sell at subsidized and controlled prices, and maintains more than 6,000 public cafeterias. Recently, the government inaugurated a subsidized restaurant chain to sell the country’s basic national food item, the arepa, at a third of the market price, starting in the capital city, Caracas.
Government opponents blame the government for periodic shortages of milk, rice, and sugar, as well as the high inflation of food prices over the past three years. However the government says that private companies which hoard food and speculate on prices are responsible for the shortages.
This week, Venezuela’s head of silos and agrictultural storage, Carlos Osorio, announced that reserves of sugar, powdered milk, corn, and coffee are sufficient to last the country at least four and a half months, and rice reserves are projected to last two and a half months.
Osorio also said the government is in the processs of setting up state-owned food distribution services for each food production, processing, and storage facility. The reason, said Osorio, is that private distributors have been caught buying at controlled prices, but selling it at inflated prices across the Colombian border or to unregistered sellers domestically.
“What we want is to assure that the distribution of food is not the private domain of the owners of industries,” Osorio told news reporters yesterday. He added that it is important to maintain a positive relationship between the state-owned and the privately-owned sectors in order to correctly determine the needs of producers and consumers.
“We are guaranteeing that the distribution of food in Venezuela is done in a balanced, equitative, just manner, in accordance with the size of the population in each region, so that everybody may have the right and the opportunity to access food at the established prices,” he said.