The idea of creating a
strong but sustainable economy which ploughs the riches of oil
back into the land has been a recurring theme of Venezuelan
political thought. Writer and essayist Arturo Uslar Pietri, one
of Venezuela's most well-respected intellectuals, was
already developing his own theories on the matter in 1936 when
he published a famous essay entitled: "Sowing
His idea was to exploit the
country's rich non-renewable resources to develop an
economy that was not dependent on hydro-carbons, with
agriculture and industry as the basis for development.
Time has passed since the essay was
published and Venezuela's oil has continued to fuel the
economy, accounting for 90 percent of the country's
national income and an enviable set of macro-economic figures.
But today, Venezuela's rural areas and
the people who live there are hungry for help.
For the Venezuelan government the time has come to
change this trend.
An ambitious program of
technical cooperation with FAO has begun, designed to enhance
the rural population's access to food through agricultural
and rural development in selected areas of the country.
Gambling on Food
Since the end of the
1950s the wealth and prosperity created by oil has lured people
away from the land and towards the cities.
Today, 92 percent of Venezuelans live and work in
urban centres and a mere 8 percent in rural areas.
Although oil's riches have meant that the average
Venezuelan has a per capita Gross Domestic Product of US$4,063
dollars a year (1999 figures), food insecurity has soared in the
last decade, due to rising costs and a lack of access to basic
goods. Venezuela currently imports some 80 percent of the food
products it consumes. The poorest sections of society, and in
particular, thousands of small farmers, have suffered most from
The Venezuelan government
has turned to FAO for technical assistance in drawing up a
wide-ranging plan aimed at fostering rural development and
improving food security. The ambitious programme is called the
Program for Food Security and Rural
Development for Venezuela. The program has a
time-frame of three years and a budget of 34.4 million dollars,
32.5 million of which have been provided by the Venezuelan
government, 1.6 million dollars by FAO and the remaining 35,000
dollars by the Cuban government.
program is structured within the Special Program for Food
Security (SPFS) which includes an initiative called South-South
Cooperation to promote close working relationships with other
developing countries; a project to manage land and natural
resources; a national agricultural information system and a
technology transfer project.
Special Program for Food Security
The Special Program for Food Security was created by
FAO in 1994 and ratified by heads of state and government during
the World Food Summit in 1996. Its aim is to support countries
to improve their national food security, to offer alternative
food sources during inter-harvest periods and to improve public
access to food.
Some 71 countries take part
in the Special Programme for Food Security across the world. In
Latin America Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras,
Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela all have active SPFS programs.
In Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Peru the organization
has worked closely with the country's governments and has
already set up broad programs while preparations are underway
for programs in three other countries - Cuba, Dominica and
Venezuela's SPFS is
nationally owned and is one of the largest in Latin America. It
has been designed, planned and implemented by the Venezuelan
government and the country's rural communities. The four
key elements of the program are: management of water resources;
intensification of crop production; production diversification
and analysis of the practical and economic constraints faced by
South-South Cooperation was set up by FAO
as part of the Special Program for Food Security in 1996. Its
main objective is to foster active solidarity among developing
countries, enabling recipient countries to benefit from the
experience and expertise of more advanced developing countries.
As part of the SPFS Venezuela will receive
technical support from Cuban experts who will work together with
local experts on water management, increasing crop production
and diversification. The cost of the technical support will be
shared between FAO and Venezuela.
Management of Land and Natural
Venezuela has some 35
million hectares of land suitable for agriculture. Some 7.3
million hectares are used for arable farming, 18.4 million
hectares are used for livestock grazing and the remainder, 9.3
million hectares, for combined arable and livestock farming. In
practice however, less than 30 percent of arable agricultural
land is used to its maximum potential and 40 percent of land
used for livestock raising.
Most land is
used for grazing as cattle-raising represents around half of the
total income from farming. Large farms use 58 percent of the
available land leaving small producers to farm on inferior,
often eroded, land situated on hillsides or in flood plains.
To improve production in the agricultural
sector the Venezuelan authorities have turned to FAO within the
Program for Food Security and Rural
Development, to set up a natural resources and land
management project in order to improve the organization and use
of the land, and to ensure land is used to its best advantage.
The project's first step will be to
identify areas that share similar climatic, geographical and
physical characteristics for agricultural production. Then a
plan to develop irrigation systems and land and water management
in rural areas will be drawn up.
management project is called Agro-ecological Socio-economic Zone
project (ASZ project) and forms part of the framework of new
land and agricultural development legislation passed last
Thanks to the cooperation between FAO and
the Venezuelan government, the President of Venezuela has put
land at the organization's disposal in order that it may
guarantee food security for the world's most undernourished
populations. FAO has proposed that the land be used to develop
improved seed varieties to distribute to small farmers in
Venezuela and to African countries affected by natural
Sierra Leon, Guinea and Liberia,
which share a similar climate to the Caribbean country, are all
set to benefit from the project to grow improved rice varieties.
Rice, along with maize, is a staple food in this part of Africa.
The project, due to begin at the end of the year, has been
designed in collaboration with FAO.
A decade of working together
FAO's Caracas office, in operation
since 1993, offers technical assistance across a wide range of
agricultural and rural sectors. Plant disease protection is
vital to Venezuela's agricultural economy and several
highly successful plant disease eradication projects have been
completed. A 1996 project managed to control the black sigatoka
which was destroying banana plantations in Zulia State, south of
Lake Maracaibo, one of the most important banana plantations in
the world. Over 5000 small farmers' families took part in
the project and today the presence of the disease has been
considerably reduced. Two years earlier FAO helped eradicate the
carambola fly from Venezuela and to prevent it spreading to
bordering countries like Brazil and Guyana.
Between 1999 and 2000 FAO supported the government in
drafting land tenure policies for farming unions and
provided technical support to the Ministry of Agriculture and
Natural Resources (MARN) in preparing environmental management
projects and is currently working on a project to classify the
FAO staff are
immediately on the scene when natural disasters have hit the
country, evaluating the scale of the damage to rural areas for
small farmers and their families. FAO is currently working on a
rehabilitation project for those worst-hit by the July 2002
The Venezuelan government is
working with FAO in setting up an agricultural statistics and
information system to provide modern, up-to-date and reliable
agricultural data. The information system will form part of the
Program for Food Security and Rural
Development for Venezuela.
Telefood-funded projects have been completed, improving the
incomes and diets of small farmers in some of the most deprived
areas of the country.
Venezuela also played
a fundamental role in fostering the protection of plant genetic
resources. The country's Ambassador to FAO, Fernando
Gerbasi, President of the Plant Genetic Resources for
Agriculture and Food Commission, worked patiently for years to
draft the first ever legally binding Treaty which recognises the
value of these resources, fundamental for the survival of
present and future generations.