Punto Fijo, January 21st, 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Shortages of certain food items in Venezuela have generated much criticism in recent weeks, yet the National Institute of Statistics and government authorities assure that the country eats better now than before the Chavez government came to power in 1999.
Over the last month, some basic foods such as margarine, corn flour, rice, sugar, and chicken have been hard to find in many parts of Venezuela. A report from Venezuela’s Central Bank for the month of December showed high levels of scarcity for 6 of the 33 basic goods that are measured, and moderate levels of scarcity for 9 others.
Critics point to the shortages as evidence of a major failing in the government’s economic and agricultural policy, yet government officials say consumption has simply outpaced production.
Opposition legislator and head of right-wing political party Primero Justicia Julio Borges lays the blame squarely with the government.
“Why do we have such high levels of scarcity? The answer is very clear. It is the result of the government’s agricultural policy in recent years,” he said at a press conference called on Sunday to focus specifically on the issue of food shortages.
Opposition leaders claim that Venezuela produces less food now than it did a decade ago, due to the price controls, expropriations, and other government interventions in the agricultural sector, and Borges claims the country now imports 70 percent of its food needs.
“This is creating jobs for producers in other countries, instead of creating more jobs by producing food in Venezuela,” he said.
Government statistics, however, contradict these claims. The president of the National Institute of Statistics Elías Eljuri says Borges’ claims are “totally false” and assures that Venezuelans are consuming much more than they were a decade ago.
“When we look at the problem of shortages, we have to also look at consumption. In recent years [consumption] has increased considerably, as has the purchasing power of Venezuelans, so we can say that now people are eating better,” he said.
Eljuri assured that food imports have never surpassed 30 percent of the total, and that consumption has drastically increased due to the fact that under previous governments “many sectors could barely afford to eat, and now they can”.
“Poverty and unemployment have decreased significantly, and formal employment has increased. The opposition bases their argument on the numbers for December, but they ignore the numbers for the last 14 years,” he said.
Government statistics show that Venezuela consumed 26.8 million tons of food last year, almost double the 13.8 million tons consumed in 1999, the year the Chavez government came to power.
In addition, other indicators show significant improvement, with infant malnutrition decreasing by 74 percent, and average caloric intake increasing by more than 50 percent, according to government statistics.
Officials say that overall food production has grown by 71 percent since 1999, yet consumption has grown by 94 percent, causing an increase in imports and shortages, especially during high food consumption months like December.
Statistics show that production of certain goods has increased significantly (corn, beans, soy beans, milk, eggs) whereas other goods have been more sluggish (beef, chicken), or have declined slightly since 1999 (coffee, sugar).
Regardless, officials say basic goods are more available than ever to all sectors of society thanks to food subsidies, price controls, and government-run supermarket chains such as Mercal and Pdval.
According to the latest report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Venezuela is meeting the millennium goals to eradicate hunger and achieve food security.
The local representative of the FAO in Venezuela, Marcelo Resende de Souza, said on Saturday that hunger is non-existent in Venezuela today.
“We analyze hunger statistics all over the world. There are 800 million people in the world who suffer from hunger, 49 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, but not one of them is Venezuelan because here there is food security,” he said.