Chavez Victory Could Shape Farm Policy

The recent electoral victory of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez could shape Venezuela’s long-term agricultural production, policy experts believe, and could hurt the farm sector in the long run.

Chavez, whose has governed Venezuela since 1999, has made agricultural reform one of his top priorities. Several years ago, the Chavez administration passed a series of laws designed to make Venezuela food self-sufficient and focus on the production of food crops rather than cash crops like sugar.

To accomplish this, the government confiscated land it deemed idle or unproductive and made a massive effort to break up large landholdings (prior to Chavez’s election about 75 percent of land was owned by 5 percent of Venezuelan landowners). By early 2009, the Venezuelan government had redistributed about 6.6 million acres of land and hoped to boost production by luring unemployed urbanites to farms.

The results have been mixed depending on whom you talk to. According to Venezuelan government sources, the agrarian reforms had been remarkably successful. In 2008, it was announced that the nation was self-sufficient in corn and rice, and had increased milk production by 900 percent. In 2010, the government announced a 43 percent increase in lands being cultivated.

Some Venezuelan sources, however, claim that these statistics are misleading and production has stagnated in recent years. Some economic officials claim that agricultural production has seriously declined in the last three years (with some communities reporting widespread food shortages). Chavez’s challenger in the election, Henrique Capriles, has deemed the agrarian reforms a failure and pledged to reverse them if elected.

With Chavez apparently clinching the election Sunday night, it appears that his land reforms will continue with a renewed push for urban agriculture.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer