I have mentioned Carlos Machado Allison in this blog before. He is retired from Universidad Central de Venezuela, was President of the Venezuelan National Fund for Agrarian Research and is currently a Professor at Venezuela’s premier Management School IESA, where he specializes in studying agriculture. He is just finishing a book called “Agriculture in Venezuela”. Today he is interviewed in page 3 of El Nacional and I wish I had time to translate the whole thing, here are some excerpts:
“The agricultural states are the poorest of the country”
On the state being the biggest landowner:
“This is true; it has so much that it does not even know what it has. Some say it has 8 million hectares, other say 20 million. But there is no census…”
Is controlling the land, controlling production?
“Exactly the opposite. What the Government has to do is to promote the pure and simple sale of the enormous extensions it has, get rid of the bureaucratic load that it implies being the owner of land, mostly unproductive and end the legal fight of who owns them”
Do you think the state can reactivate the agricultural sector when it distributes the intervened land?
“In this country, rural people have always been discriminated against and I think it is impossible to develop in a place where people are not the owners of what they have. If I am not the owner of a farm, I am not going to invest in it. If the land continues belonging to the Government and they offer to end them to me I am not going to produce beyond the “conuco” (Parcel of land owned by small farmers). The policy should be one of regularizing not intervening the land.”
The Governors say these measures are to fight against the large farm state and guarantee a basic supply of foodstuffs.
The first thing that has to be made clear is that the number of latifundios (large farm states, defined as more than 5,000 hectares) in Venezuela is small. These farms are located in the plains or in Apure; they have hard soils, lateritic ones, with lots of iron and alumina.
The lands being intervened are not fertile?
“Yes, they are not very fertile and flood easily…”
Why do you think the Government will fail producing sugar?
“The old sugar plants were privatized when they were essentially closed, almost scrap metal, after the Government realized that producing sugar is a bad business. The private sugar concerns survive importing sugar, which in the international markets has a low price and they make money packaging and distributing the product and using part of the molasses in making rum.”
The Minister of the Environment assures us that this agrarian reform will be successful because the conuco will be reborn
“That is an old and wrong philosophy which perhaps she discovered in North Korea or China. But when 90% of the population is urban in a country, the conuco can not function as an economic unit because a truck that sells in the city …has to visit 50 conucos to pick up ten kilos of tomatoes. With this urban concentration food production ahs to be a volume business.”
What will happen if the state distributes the land as conucos?
“I know a group of people that produces cocoa in five hectares in Barlovento (East of Caracas) They make about one hundred thousand bolivars ($50) with that production. The guy sells sunglasses in the streetlight of Caucagua and the cocoa ends up being the Christmas gift for the family. They would need to integrate a very high number of hectares to justify the introduction of machinery and technology. …If you leave those farmers in Cojedes, in the open plains, with those difficult soils, without water, no technology or capability, working five hectares of sugar cane, he is going to starve to death.”
The Government assures us that promoting self sustainability guarantees our feeding
“There are no self sustaining countries in food in the world. Some almost make it, they are the poorest countries on the planet, like Ethiopia, where nothing is exported or imported, but people don’t eat either.”
The future could be sweet
“We have the best cocoa in the world, we can create added value and produce chocolates for export, or rum, suggest Machado Allison.”
There you have it, this is what an expert who knows the realities of agricultural production thinks and he does nothing but study this problem. The rest is misguided idealism and yearning for a past long gone.