On June 16, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) honored Venezuela as one of the 18 nations that has met the Millennium Development Goal of reducing their number of hungry people by at least half over the past two decades. However, this act was met with cries of outrage on Twitter and from Venezuelan opposition leaders.
Statistics on hunger in Venezuela vary dramatically based on their origins. Unsurprisingly, government statistics suggest significant improvements in recent years. They point to figures on overall food consumption, which has almost doubled from 1999 to 2012, increasing from 13.8 millions tons to 26.8 million tons. They further claim that most Venezuelans are well fed, with an average daily consumption of 3,182 calories. These improvements are said to be a result of government programs such as a network of government-run supermarkets put in place by Hugo Chavez that sell goods at radically reduced prices.
On the other hand, the opposition claims that local food production has plummeted in recent years. This, they say, is due in part to price controls strictly enforced by the government. They also argue that local farmers are at a disadvantage because 70% of Venezuelan food is imported. (The government counters that this figure is closer to 30%). Furthermore, escalating inflation rates in Venezuela are making food more expensive, with prices increasing roughly 30% each year.
Critical food shortages are forcing desperate Venezuelans to wait in supermarket lines for hours to get their hands on simple staple foods. This problem is so severe that it has created a market for a free app called Abasteceme, or “Supply Me”. Created for Androids by Jose Augusto Montiel, the app allows consumers to notify each other when they find certain products for sale. It has been downloaded over 12,000 times. Currently, consumers can post about flour, sugar, milk, cooking oil, and toilet paper. However, users are clamoring for the app to be expanded to include chicken, butter, and soap as well. In a revealing example of the severity of the problem, a lot of entries must be deleted quickly because stores sell out so fast.
In the face of this controversy, one thing remains clear: food security in Venezuela could be improved. Regardless of whether or not the government deserves to be so highly commended by the UN, their work is clearly not over. Hopefully, this honor will encourage the Venezuelan government to continue their work to improve food security.
– Katie Fullerton