You don’t have to be a socialist to appreciate Hugo Chavez’s efforts toward achieving food sovereignty for his country. Though a small country of about 29 million people, the government’s radical stance on agricultural independence outlined in Chavez’s 21st century constitution is finally starting to pay off.
In the 1920’s, when Venezuela struck oil, they gained enough leverage to import food, rather than grow it locally. In turn, farmers lost nearly 75% of their wages, the government neglected the agricultural landscape, and many workers were left jobless.
However, in the last 10 years, the government has struggled to turn a population in mountainside barrios (essentially shanty-towns) into independent workers armed with the means and knowledge to control their food system, in a sustainable and responsible way. Not to mention the most obvious benefit: earning a decent wage that supports families, local communities, and the country as a whole.
The Venezuelan equivalent of the USDA is providing low interest credit, tools and technical assistance to hundreds of thousands of farmers registered with Mission AgroVenezuela in an effort to establish a strategic framework for rural development. The design of this governmental program is vastly better than the agricultural subsidies in the US. Here are a few striking distinctions:
- The U.S. gives about $20 billion to the largest producers in the US annually (aka to those who need money the least). Venezuela is giving about $1 billion in the aforementioned credit only to small to medium sized grain producers.
- The U.S. does not subsidize fruit and vegetable producers. Venezuela is providing $3 billion for fruit, vegetable, coffee, cacao, and sugar cane producers.
Food grown locally will also be locally packaged and sold, creating job opportunities for non-farming laborers. In 2011, Venezuela surpassed Saudi Arabia in proven oil reserves, enabling Venezuela to implement many other social programs (including small manufacturing co-ops, free health care clinics, and education initiatives).
While critics argue that these programs are corrupt and inefficient, I would use those same words to describe the Farm Bill subsidies and the U.S. government. At the very least, Venezuela is a step ahead of us, their progressive policies are still our dreams for the future.