Venezuela’s food chain is breaking, and Millions Go Hungry

Ana Nunez, a 62-year-old retired municipal worker in western Venezuela, says her food often consists of some corn flour pancakes, known as arps.

Even when he had money to buy groceries at Maracaibo’s Taming Flea Market, he said that “instead of quality food they sell garbage, such as animal skins and rotten cheese.”

There is a widespread shortage of gasoline for domestic food production in Venezuela, preventing goods from reaching the market, and preventing farmers from filling their tractors. Food production in this oil-rich nation under the leadership of its socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, was already affected by a shortage of seeds and agrochemicals, price controls that drove crops unprofitable and government seizures of farms and food-processing plants .

Venezuelans are not the only hungry people. The economic tragedy caused by the Kovid-19 epidemic in Latin America drove millions of people out of work and into poverty. UN agencies say that from Mexico City to Santiago, people are skipping meals, eating in soup kitchens and begging.

A recent United Nations-sponsored report found that 9.3 million people in Venezuela lack sufficient safe and nutritious food for normal human growth and development. A soup kitchen in Caracas.


Ariana Qubilos / Associated Press

But the conditions in Venezuela, which had previously suffered the worst economic downturn in its history, are still the worst.

In a recent United Nations-sponsored report, Venezuela has been cited as the fourth worst food crisis in the world, behind only war-ravaged Yemen, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report, published in April by the Global Network Against Food Crisis and the Food Security Information Network, said that 9.3 million people – about one-third of Venezuela’s population – lacked safe and nutritious food for general human growth and development last year. . It found that 13% of Venezuelan children under 5 years of age are stranded and 30% are anemic.

“Despite the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela is currently one of the world’s hottest food insecurity hot spots,” the report said.

In part because staples like milk cannot store it. Armando Chakin produced 400 gallons of milk a day at his farm, but no gasoline means a transport truck. Mr. Chakin cannot afford to buy black-market fuel – which costs $ 10 a gallon – to deliver the milk himself.

The collapse of Venezuela’s oil industry has made gasoline scarce.


Oscar B for The Wall Street Journal. Castillo

Instead of seeing it deteriorate, he turns his milk into an artisan cheese that can be stored for a longer period of time and is easier to transport than milk.

“The lack of gas has buried us,” said Mr. Chaikin, president of the Venezuelan Association of Livestock.

In the fertile area near the Colombian border, tractors and combine sit idle, while some farmers carry their produce on the backs of mules. In low-lying areas near Maracaibo Lake, farmers have a shortage of gasoline to run water pumps and flooded thousands of acres of crop, said José Urdanetta, who plants 100 acres near Sucre City.

Because it now costs $ 140 to fill a Ford pickup, Mr. Urdanetta cuts back on his farm trip. He was late applying fertilizer and pesticides and his yields fell by 30%.

“In farming you have to fix everything on time,” he said.

With domestic production of food, Venezuela relies on food imports, which account for 85% of the food supply. But these days, due to the collapse of oil production, Mr. Maduro’s authoritarian government has less cash to import food, which had almost all of the country’s export earnings.

US sanctions of Venezuela’s oil field under the Trump administration have made it illegal to trade or do business with Venezuela’s national oil company. This means that it is more difficult to import gasoline for the needs of the country.

With domestic production of food, Venezuela relies on food imports, which account for 85% of the food supply. A market in Maracaibo.


luis bravo / agence france-press / getty images

“While the food crisis did not start with US sanctions, there is certainly no way you can say that sanctions are not increasing things,” said Geoff Ramsi of the Washington Office of Latin America, a policy group . “We are very concerned that the country is on the edge of an irreversible catastrophe.”

The Maduro government handed over boxes of basic food to millions of residents, but deliveries are short and American investigators say the program is riddled with corruption. Last year, US prosecutors accused Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and a Maduro associate, of stealing millions of dollars from a food handout program using shell companies.

In June, Mr. Saab was arrested in the African island nation of Cape Island, whose government is weighing a US request to extradite him on money laundering charges.

An attorney for Mr. Saab did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The Maduro regime accused the US of trying to kidnap Mr. Saab, who says he is working on a humanitarian aid mission to the Caracas.

The Ministry of Information, which handles requests for comment for the Venezuelan government, did not return phone calls and emails.

People were recently waiting outside a gas station in Maracaibo.



Even when supermarket shelves are stocked, the hyperinflation that was 9,500% last year and high unemployment means millions of Venezuelan families cannot afford to eat enough. The UN report states that a monthly minimum wage of just a few dollars buys less than 5% of the basic food items the average family needs.

“We’ve survived growing avocados and bananas near our home,” says Carlos Alonso, a 35-year-old farmworker in the western state of Yarakui.

Venezuela’s food-security consultant Susana Rafalli said that others rely on the remittances of relatives living abroad, but these cash transfers have been cut between the Kovid-19 quarantine and the economic bandh. He said that Mr. Maduro is reluctant to accept the scope of the crisis or to allow the World Food Program and other international aid groups to distribute the enormous amount of food Venezuela needs.

“This is not a famine, but we are in a food emergency,” Ms Rafalli said. “The food-supply system is completely broken.”

Maria Planther once lived comfortably in Caracas and aspired to be a lawyer. In this documentary from WSJ Films, we follow her struggle to feed her family.

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