Wednesday, 4 May 2011

China aids Venezuela to food sovereignty

by Edward Ellis, 11 March 2011.
Source: Correo del Orinoco English Edition, no 55.

Strengthening Venezuela’s agricultural production and the nation’s capacity to supply both its domestic and international food markets has been the impetus behind the creation of a new mixed Venezuelan-Chinese company.

Heilongjiang Beidahuang, an agricultural company that manages various state farms in China and specializes in technological and seed supply, will comprise the Asian component of the new business that will operate in Venezuelan territory. Venezuela’s Agriculture and Land Ministry will head up the Latin American side of the enterprise, which was solidified last Saturday when President Hugo Chavez met with company representatives and Chinese agricultural experts. “We cannot continue to depend only on oil”, Chavez said during the meeting. “That was the [economic] model that was imposed upon us by imperialism, the oil dependent model. We have to produce our own food. First for self-sustenance and then to export even as far as China. That’s what were planning with this alliance”, he affirmed.

The new joint venture has planned the supply of rice, corn and bean seeds from the Chinese firm as well as technological transfer that will be used to develop millions of acres of currently underutilized Venezuelan farmland.

“We have very good, fertile land that isn’t being cultivated which could facilitate the production of food for around 500 million people”, Chavez explained.

As part of the preparations for the agricultural initiative, Qian Baim, President of the Heilongjiang Beidahuang company submitted a report during Saturday’s meeting outlining the results of a Chinese delegation’s evaluation of Venezuelan farmlands in the states of Apure, Bolivar, Barinas, Anzoategui and Guarico.

“Venezuela has very fertile land, well suited for cultivation and the Venezuelan government has made agricultural production a priority. Our company has a lot of experience in the production of different crops. We have the technology and know-how that can be applied here and with our collaboration, Venezuela will be at the front of world agricultural development. [It] will be a producer and exporter of cereals to supply the people of the world”, President Baim said.

The study carried out by the Chinese delegation focused on soil and water quality and was handed over to the Agriculture an Land Minister Juan Carlos Loyo who signed an Act of Commitment with the foreign firm to create the new joint venture.

According to President Chavez, the new company will begin to plant rice in the Venezuelan state of Apure as early as June of this year. “This demonstrates the willingness that both parties have. We have to prepare the irrigation systems, canals, ponds and wells in order to reap two or three rice harvests in one year”, the Venezuelan head of state said.

The formation of the joint company marks the second agreement signed between the Venezuelan government and Heilongjiang Beidahuang this year. In January, the Chavez administration gave the go ahead to import soybeans and soybean oil from the Chinese company to ensure a three month supply of the commodities in its food reserves.

“[Heilongjiang Beidahuang] is a company dedicated to food production. That’s why I’ve asked for their help in order to increase our country’s food reserves”, Chavez said.

This latest agreement with a Chinese forms part of the strengthening of ties between
Venezuela and the Asian economic powerhouse. Indeed, Chinese–Venezuelan relations have been growing exponentially over recent years with trade between the two nations now reaching over $5 billion a year.

In 2008, the Asian nation built and launched Venezuela’s first telecommunications satellite and last year, China approved a $20 billion loan to Venezuela, the largest in the country’s history. As part of its push to ensure food security in the face of rapidly rising prices, Venezuela has, in addition to China, reached out to its neighbor Colombia, signing a series of accords designed to accelerate agricultural production.

“We’re becoming integrated. Soon we’ll be importing twenty thousand cows from Colombia to strengthen our milk production”, announced President Chavez.

In October of last year, the Venezuelan government also nationalized the Spain-based agricultural supply chain, Agroisleña, in a bid to make farming equipment, seeds and fertilizers more accessible to small farmers. Referred to as the Monsanto of Venezuela, Agroisleña exercised control over seventy percent of the distribution of staple crops such as corn and rice, as well as exerting a monopoly over the distribution of seeds.

“Agroisleña was an apparatus that exploited the campesinos who ended up being dependent on the business for basic supplies such as pesticides… It bankrupted many small farmers”, said Elisa Osorio, leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, at the time of the nationalization.

In February, the Chavez government launched a new social program, or mission, called Agro Venezuela, with the intent of re-invigorating agricultural production in the country and breaking with a past dominated by fallow estates and transnational agro-businesses. The mission, currently collecting registry information on all producers who wish to participate in the program, has already begun to provide low interest loans, machinery, and technical assistance to farmers enrolled in the initiative.

Yulitma Arroyo, a small producer from state of Lara is one such beneficiary. “We’ve received financing for twenty-three hectares of potatoes, coffee and vegetables”, she reported. Many producers who were adversely affected by torrential rains at the end of 2010, have also received government support.

“[The Mission] has financed cacao and plantain production, which was lost as a consequence of the rains we had last year”, said Damasco Villamizar from the community of Barlovento in the state of Miranda. According to the government, more than 500 thousand producers who have registered for the program will benefit from government aid.