Mérida, January 27th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez this week used his legislative authority to establish the ‘Law of Attention for the Agricultural Sector’ and to create a brand new social mission: Misión Agro-Venezuela.
Chávez announced the new law and what he called one of his “bicentennial missions” on Tuesday during a televised visit to the Unit of Socialized Agricultural Production (USP) ‘La Productora’, in Portuguesa state.
Chávez called ‘La Productora’, “an example of what is to come” as he surveyed the 333 (822 acres) hectares of bean crops, 250 hectares (617 acres) of sunflowers, and 2.5 hectares (6.2) of tomatoes managed under worker-controlled socialized production. Another 46 hectares (114 acres) are managed in cooperation with the ALBA Poultry mixed enterprise.
The objective of the new law, according to Chávez, is to “integrally attend to the producers, campesinos, and fisher peoples negatively affected by the torrential downpours that took place during the final quarter of 2010.” According to Agriculture and Land Minister, Juan Carlos Loyo, over 65,000 hectares (160,550 acres) of farmlands were negatively affected by the rains.
The law stipulates, among other things, the restructuring, that is, the partial or total forgiveness, of debts accrued by the rural producers most affected by last year’s record-setting rains.
“How are they supposed to pay [their debts] if the winter took their harvests or took their little animals, their goats, their cows?” asked Chávez rhetorically.
According to Venezuela’s Ministry of Land and Agriculture, priority for debt restructuring will be given to any and all producers of “crop types [grains, fruits and vegetables] that are of strategic importance to food sovereignty.”
On Wednesday, representatives of Venezuela’s opposition-dominated National Confederation of Agricultural Producer Associations (Fedeagro) and National Federation of Cattle Ranchers (Fedenaga) acknowledged to the media the importance and utility of the new law for agricultural production in the country.
In a report released earlier this month, Fedeagro affirmed that out of a total 21,154 hectares (52,250 acres) planted in basic food crops, 5,723 hectares (14,136 acres) of production were made unharvestable by the rains. According to president of Fedeagro, Pedro Rivas, there are more than 5,000 producers of vegetables and 2,000 producers of plantains and other fruits that lost their harvests as a result.
The national presidents of both Fedeagro and Fedenaga are outspoken critics of the Bolivarian Revolution and its rural policies, and there are some indications that members of these organizations played a role in the recent torching of National Land Institute’s regional offices in Santa Brabara, state of Zulia. Both organizations deny any wrongdoing.
As outlined by Chávez on Tuesday, Mission Agro-Venezuela has three main goals: 1) Increase production of staple crops; 2) increase the amount of land under production; and 3) promote and stimulate urban agriculture.
The goal for this year is to increase production of basic food crops to 12 million tons, or 34%, with priority given to white and yellow corn, rice, beans, legumes, and vegetables. The goal for 2012 is to reach 14 million tons.
“I believe, I want and I am certain that we will be able to convert Venezuela into an agricultural powerhouse,” said Chávez.
According to the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN), the first phase of Mission Agro-Venezuela includes a national agricultural census that will allow the national government “to understand in greater details the situation of all producers in the country, so as to fine tune agricultural policy.”
This first phase of the mission begins on Saturday, January 29, the date on which 347 agricultural census stations will be se-up throughout the country. For a two-week period (January 29 to February 15), producers of all sized landholdings are to voluntarily register with the Mission so as to help the government determine necessary changes in policies. In addition, producers can submit requests for additional lands, credit, and technical support.
These census stations are to operate in all of AgroPatria’s (formerly AgroIsleña) agricultural input distribution centers, numerous offices of Venezuela’s Banco Agrícola, or Agricultural Bank, as well as the Plaza Bolívars of across Venezuela’s most agricultural states. The only requirement for participating in the census is a valid ID.
According to Balsamino Belandrio, president of the Bolivarian Federation of Cattle and Agricultural Farmers (Fegaven), “This Mission is going to do a huge favor to the smallholder farmer, and we hope that these policies are strengthened.” “[These policies] work in favor of the smallholders, and they don’t generate bureaucracy,” he said.
As it relates to urban agriculture, Minister Loyo on Thursday committed the national government to opening over 10,000 “points of urban harvest” in cities throughout Venezuela. These sites will be owned and operated by communal councils, or other forms of social organization, and the national government will provide inputs such as seeds, training and market access to encourage their success.
According to Martha Bolívar, president of Foundation of Capacity-building and Innovation to Support the Agrarian Revolution (CIARA), at the start of 2011 Venezuela had almost 2,860 urban gardens in operation supported by 537 urban agricultural technicians.