Lorena Freitez, Minister for Urban Agriculture, recently explained the four pillars to develop her field –pun intended: activation of 1,000 productive CLAPS; “supporting” the production of animal proteins; Hagamos una vaca or ‘we must all chip in’; and last, but not least, conucos in schools.

It’s easy to forget that all the way back in 2004 Chávez’s infamous millardito was supposed to be used for agricultural projects.

Carlos Machado-Allison saw it all coming way back in 2003. “When the bitter winds of economic and political crisis blow,” he wrote then “the agricultural and agro-industrial sectors come out of oblivion because the last thing a human being stops doing, even burdened by unemployment and inflation, is eating”.

Machado-Allison is on to something. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Actually, I think it’s something of a law: the government’s interest in agriculture —especially urban agriculte— is inversely proportional to the price of oil.

It’s easy to forget that all the way back in 2004 Chávez’s infamous millardito was supposed to be used for agricultural projects. (Oil was at $40 a barrel.)

See? When the economy, or — who are we kidding — oil prices are doing well, then the government expropriates countless acres of land, Agroisleña (the big agro-inputs company), and every sort of agri-food enterprises, while at the same time importing a whole lot of food. Then, when prices tank, the supply side goes into a tailspin, local production starts dropping by the hour –including all of the expropriated lands and factories- and there are not enough dollars to fill the gap with imports, the government tells us we have to grow our own produce at home.

In February 2002, as political tensions rose, Chávez proposed filling Venezuela with gallineros verticals and the cities with micro hydroponic huertos.

This year oil has been notoriously in the toilet, so it’s no surprise we’re deluged with with announcements and Cadenas Nacionales about homespun agriculture, including that strange Resolution #9855 that seemed to hold out the prospect of mandatory field labour and Maduro’s proposal to lower banks’ legal reserve requirements to invest in urban agriculture funds.

But go back even farther and the pattern is clear. In February 2002, as political tensions rose, Chávez proposed filling Venezuela with gallineros verticals and the cities with micro hydroponic huertos. In March 2009, at the beginning of a two year recession due to low oil prices, Chávez proposed home crops. Now, the government revives the whole conucos caseros strategy and then we get the cherry on top: a whole Ministry dedicated exclusively to urban agriculture.

Venezuela’s agriculture is hyper regulated and was the first victim of major governmental interventions starting as far back as 2001. Again, it’s easy to forget but the first major bit of expropriation-themed legislation in the Chávez era was the infamous 2001 Ley de Tierras — approved via Enabling Powers with no parliamentary debate. It was followed by viciously discriminatory treatment on the allocation of credit to choke out farmers seen as enemies of the revolution. By March 2014, agricultural producers had to meet between 32 and 34 different sets of regulations and laws.

Now, some desubicada minister tells us if we want hallacas we better start planting our own ají dulce.

Real investment withered. Expropriated farms hardly produced anything. It was all maddeningly foreseeable and foreseen. The curse of Cassandra.

Now, some desubicada minister tells us if we want hallacas we better start planting our own ají dulce. Maduro activates an Urban Agriculture Plan and promised it would deliver enough produce to make hallacas for  400,000 families.


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  1. Historians tell us that when Hitlers armies were facing total defeat on all fronts , Hitler went all out to nurturing the illusion that the development of some prodigious new weapons would ‘turn the tide’ , of course it didnt happen. the regime knows that its a question of time before the country faces mass starvation, they wont have the money to import the food needed to prevent it so they are looking for magical simple solutions that will do the trick. the planting of neighbor hood conucos is the magic wand which (without the regime having to spend any money) will produce the miracle of keeping the whole country fed…….!! Maybe he is borrowing a page from the experience of communist countries where when collectivized agriculture failed most of the food ended up by being grown in nome and neighborhood lots (mostly in the country not in an urban setting) …..it also jibes with the tender image of people in each community working together collectively to palnt and collect a bountiful harvest so dear to their hearts…!!

  2. Given the security situation in urban Venezuela, families won’t be able to farm the abandoned lot on the corner. Even trucks carrying produce on the highways get attacked by hungry citizens, so your personal wheelbarrow is unlikely to be secure.

    So the next question is: how much food can anyone grow on the average balcony? Will it feed a family of five or six for a year? The Minister should release the calculation, rather than point airily to “unused lands” somewhere downtown.

  3. Apart from the obvious (there is no way this kind of bullshit will ever produce anything in the numbers needed)… what about the real workers?

    I mean, the plan of this leftist, for the workers admin is that somehow everybody is going to spend time doing agricultural work in … god knows where, some pot in your balcony… and this will fix the problem while… hmmm… exactly what do agricultural workers do? Watch as they dont sell their produce because everybody is producing it?

    Of course, again, never going to happen, but … man arent you supposed to be the pro-farmer guys? You are basically selling a plan that would destroy their jobs… if it was not utter lunacy

  4. The first time I heard about urban agriculture was back in the late 1990s visiting Havana. I was sharing a taxi (driven by a medical doctor) with an American who was on a search – via the Bahamas- for the famous urban gardens that Castro was promoting at that time. Of course, there were none. Or none that anyone could actually locate. There were a lot of overgrown traffic medians.

    The apparent origins of this idea of food self-sufficiency will probably not surprise.

    • The apparent origins of this idea of food self-sufficiency will probably not surprise.
      And the reasons for touting urban agriculture will be the same: abysmal agricultural production simultaneous with fallow fields in the countryside. [See Michael Totten re fallow fields.] Fidel touted Ubre Blanca, the wonder cow that could compare with imperialist cows. The sad truth of Cuban milk production is that from 1961 to 2013, milk production increased 68%, while milk production in Latin America increased 370%. To put it another way, in 2013 milk production in Cuba was 1.68 times 1961 production,while for 2013 milk production in Latin America was 4.7 times production in 1961.

      Unfortunately, FAO data for Venezuela is suspect.


      • I like a home grown tomato as much as anyone, but the idea that people are going to be more effective growing food in a large, densely populated urban area than they are ON FARMLAND, is just ridiculous…

        • That is why so many urban farmers give up quickly. It takes time and resources to produce enough produce to feed even their own families.

          I recall a recent article here about a family campo that became all but abandoned. The lack of security and lawlessness in rural areas makes farming almost as dangerous as it would be in the median on a busy highway.

          And since when do you see a live chicken in someone’s yard when there are not even a processed bird to eat.

          I believe the stories of people netting birds and using pellet guns to take down sparrows and crows for food.

    • The apparent origins of this idea of food self-sufficiency will probably not surprise.

      It’s even worse than I thought. From the UN World Food Program website: Cuba imports 70 to 80 percent of its domestic food requirements. Sounds like the CIA is shooting a lot of cows.

      Even so, Cuba’s five eastern provinces – Granma, Guantánamo, Holguín, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba – are prone to climate hazards that exacerbate tough agricultural conditions. Development rates here are the lowest in the country.
      According to the Fidelistas, the biggest reason for the Revo was the gap between the urban and rural areas. Apparently that still exists, after 57 years and counting of Revo.

      This might be of interest: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/09/22/fidelmania-castros-cuba-lee-lockwood/

      • The Cuban revolution turned out a disaster but it makes a great looking coffee table book, thanks to Korda and a couple of others.

        I have to admit, after visiting Cuba I had no love of Fidel but did go through a phase shooting everything with a 50mm lens on black and white film.

  5. “a whole Ministry dedicated exclusively to urban agriculture.”

    Yeah, everyone will grow some tomatoes or green peppers in their apartments.. that takes months, I tried once, and the they didn’t even fill a salad bowl, People with farms and land already grow and raise all they can.. How about most city dwellers without even a balcony? They’re gonna grow a caraota plant by the window to feed 4 kids, huh.. Or no a few corn plants in the living room, and una vaca in the garage for protein. Or perhaps some chichens running around the apartments to play with the kids..

    Or grow an avocado tree or orange trees, for the few who have gardens. That takes years to produce. And then everything gets stolen. We used to have a finca, and even the chickens disappeared. The campesino in charge used to say ” ay, yo, no se pero eso son zorros, animales que se comen a las gallinas y hasta las naranjas y los tomates”

    “urban agriculture” sure.. and let’s build F16 jets and cars in Barlovento..

  6. The US is home to the worlds richest agricultural production ……enough to amply feed its inhabitants and leave a huge surplus which is either exported or has to be stocked to prevent prices from falling too much (dont know if now the same policy applies but in the past they even paid farmers not to plant certain crops to prevent prices from dropping to where it ruined the farmers) . Of the working population of the US only 1 1/2 % work in agriculture. Next door in Cuba 70% of the food needs to be imported , Any body want to guess at the reason for this difference …??

    • Any body want to guess at the reason for this difference …??

      From Michael Totten’s World Affairs Journal:Letter from Cuba: To Embargo or Not.
      Cuba is constantly short on food too. I was told in October that potatoes won’t be available again until January. That can’t be a result of the embargo. Cuba is a tropical island with excellent soil and a year-round growing season perfectly capable of producing its own potatoes. But the potato shortage is no surprise. I saw shockingly little agriculture in the countryside. Most fields are fallow. Those that still produce food are minuscule. Cows look like leather-wrapped skeletons. We have more and better agriculture in the Eastern Oregon desert, where the soil is poor, where only six inches of rain falls every year, and where the winters are long and shatteringly cold.

      Totten discusses the shortage of soap in Cuba:
      In a non-communist country where such a basic product is in short supply, somebody would mass-produce it and sell it. Soap-making doesn’t require nuclear physics. You can make it at home. Google “soap recipe” and you’ll see how easy it is. But Cuba is a communist country where private commerce is banned. If you make stuff and sell stuff, you might become “rich” and “bourgeois,” and the authorities will send you to prison.

      That’s why Cuba is poor. Lifting the embargo would have little or no effect on such tyrannical imbecility.

      There is a famous H.L. Mencken quote: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” The haunting fear of the Castro brothers is that someone, somewhere on the island of Cuba might acquire wealth and thus become independent of the Cuban state.

      Nada que ver con tecnologia. [Spanish says it better.]

      • La principal razón de Chávez para destruir por completo la economía de Venezuela y convertirla en un país de pobres era impedir que alguien pudiera financiar un movimiento de oposición.

        Sí, el Dios de la antipolítica mejma condenó al país a la hambruna, por razones políticas.


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