In 2002, declining Venezuelan production of Caraota, a staple, traditional black bean, hit the lowest level in many years – 8,234 tonnes – meeting only about 11% of domestic demand.
Since the 1930’s, the agricultural sector had been shrinking, as a result of a dominance by the oil economy; currency policies that promoted imports (of goods and food); and an increasing urban migration.
The local shortfall of Caraota, and other staples such as rice, had to be imported from countries like China – and due to the dynamics of the international food supply chain, their prices were vulnerable to external factors like the price of oil and exchange rate, producing food insecurity to the most vulnerable Venezuelans (in 2002, about 50% of people lived below the poverty line).
In 2002 and 2003, the government introduced new policies and programs to address Food Security, including:- agrarian reform, establishing cooperative farms, new government run food outlets, subsidies for growing food; technical assistance and community owned processing and distribution centers.
From 2002 to 2007, local production of Caraota increased dramatically (from 8,234 tonnes p.a. to 20,492 tonnes p.a.), however these improvements still only resulted in local production satisfying less than 25% of domestic demand for Caraota.
In late 2008, I joined a group of government agricultural workers from a socialist packaging plant in the state of Yaracuy, on a road trip to the nearby state of Guarico, one of the traditional producers of Caraota, as part of a national campaign promoting the farmers of the region to increase the production of Caraota – the “Plan Socialista Para la Produccion de Caraota 2008-2009”. The campaign offered fixed prices paid by the government on harvest of the farmer’s crop, transport to the processing plants and technical and financial assistance.