Venezuela targets food and farms

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has put food and farms at the centre of his socialist revolution, tightening the government’s grip on staple foods in a strategy that risks disrupting the food chain and sparking social unrest, Reuters reported. Chávez is gambling that he can rein in rising prices while maintaining production.


Since winning a referendum vote in February that allows him to seek re-election again in 2012, Chávez has moved against food companies, imposing output quotas and sending troops to grain mills. This week, he nationalised a unit of the US food giant Cargill and threatened to take over his country’s top food producer, Empresas Polar.


Tough new quotas force food companies to direct most of their output to products with price caps. Cargill’s rice plant was taken over for producing only parboiled rice, which is exempt from the price controls.


Other plans include issuing US$1.9 billion in local currency bonds to finance soft loans to peasant farmers, and doubling the amount of land under cultivation in the fertile, oil-rich country.


“The land is not private, it’s social property,” Chávez said. “If you put up a fence, or farm it, or have some barns, well, these things are private. But the land belongs to nobody in particular – it’s everybody’s.” Agriculture minister Elías Jaua warned large companies that they would lose their land if harvests fell. “If we start to see a decline in plantings,” Jaua said, “we will occupy the land and the Venezuelan state will plant it.”


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