In our daily political struggle we demand our independence from the invader, from the occupier, from imperialism. All of those demands are in essence struggles to assert our sovereignty as a nation and as a people.
A nation is truly sovereign when its people are protagonists in shaping their own destiny, when they are the real rulers that govern their country, and the working class controls the means of production and the production itself.
We believe that full uncompromising sovereignty is the ultimate goal of a socialist society. That is the kind of society that Venezuela is trying to achieve with the Bolivarian Revolution; one where sovereignty is not only a statement on paper but translates into security in all aspects of life of its citizens. Food most essentially.
The international peasants’ movement called La Via Campesina developed the concept of food sovereignty as an alternative to neoliberal policies during the World Food Summit in 1996. Because it has been precisely the prevailing neoliberal economic system, represented by the World Bank and the IMF with their structural adjustment policies, that threatens food sovereignty and food security.
Neoliberal policies cause most harm to food security by allowing corporate-driven agricultural land grab, control over type of food production and distribution, dependency on patented genetically modified seeds, high speculative food prices and low farmers wages, and forced imports as opposed to local production of food.
For these reasons we must stand in solidarity with the on-going struggle of Indian farmers who are fighting precisely neoliberal policies from their own government that threaten their livelihood and the nation’s food sovereignty.
It was not until 2014 that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finally came to recognise the importance of food sovereignty. Eventually FAO became bolder and indirectly blamed neoliberal policies for interfering with the food system.
Many years earlier, when Hugo Chavez became president in 1999, Venezuela recognised the importance of food sovereignty and food security and so it is now imbedded in the 1999 constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The first challenge of the Bolivarian Revolution was to deal with land access and ownership. By 1997 it was estimated that 5 percent of landowners controlled 75 percent of the land and 75 percent of them cultivated only 6 percent of the land. Much of the land concentrated in the hands of large landholders was idle or underused.
In 2001 Chavez issued a series of decrees shaping the revolutionary Land Law with its leading project Misión Zamora that led to assigning to landless farmers land belonging to large estates, or latifundios, that were not producing at least 80% of their potential.
By the end of 2003, 60,000 families had received temporary title to a total of 55,000 square kilometres of land by the Chavez government. The land reform may have been what triggered the failed coup attempt against him in 2002.
One of the largest land expropriations, which by the way are perfectly legal in international law, took place in 2011 when 13,000 hectares of farmland (close to 10,000 football fields) called “El Charcote”, of questionable property of a British business group, was nationalised under Venezuelan Food Security and Sovereign Law. This legislation allows the government to legally expropriate land in “exceptional circumstances” relating to issues of national food security and the public good.
We must wonder how this event may have influenced the decision of the British courts when they decided not to return $1 billion worth of Venezuelan gold held in the Bank of England.
In 2009 a report about the Venezuelan effort to build a new food and agriculture system with Chavez’s vision of Socialism of the Twenty-First Century showed outstanding results with significant increased production of basic crops. In some cases Venezuela reached levels of self sufficiency like in its two most important grains, corn and rice.
However, the illegal US coercive economic and financial measures (sanctions) that started in 2015 have caused the reported death of about 40,000 Venezuelans in 2017-2018 and possibly up to more than 100 thousand.
Forced to confront food shortages caused by the “sanctions”, in 2016 the Maduro government undertook one of the most successful programs to guarantee equitable access to food so no one would be left behind: the Comité Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP – Local Committees for Supply and Production of food). The program distributes house-to-house boxes of food, containing some of the main staples of the Venezuelan diet: cornflour, pasta, rice, black beans, cooking oil and more at subsidised cost.
From 2017 to 2020 the CLAP program has distributed almost 500 million food boxes equivalent to 6.5 million metric tons of food. Currently it benefits a reported six million Venezuelan families through monthly deliveries of food boxes.
In the most cruel action bordering callous criminality the US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions affecting the CLAP food program.
It is highly commendable how many Venezuelans, mostly farmers, have organised themselves and immediately responded to food shortages in a large scale by increasing the production of staple food items. They have mobilized to become protagonists of their own destiny.
Finally, it is important to recognise that the Bolivarian Revolution is not only dealing with the immediate urgent need to put food on the table of Venezuelan families in order to overcome a real siege from the US empire, but also with the more meaningful long term political goal to develop all the necessary programs and infrastructure to turn Venezuela in a truly food independent and sovereign country.
Biological labs are being created for pest control in agriculture in order to increase organic production of food. At the same time labs are created to produce microorganisms for natural fertilisers to reduce the imports of expensive fertilisers.
There is also a strong push to rescue endogenous foods to eliminate the dependency from the genetically modified varieties exported by large corporations and not adapted to the local environment. This is leading to the production of native seeds that are then used by farmers with their old agricultural traditions.
The full systematic and comprehensive plan – as a strategic response to the impact of the US unilateral coercive economic and financial measures – is laid out in the program Gran Misión Agro-Venezuela that includes land reform, agricultural practice, biological use of inputs, development of native seeds, popular production organisations, financing, and distribution to consumers.
Ultimately, the government of Venezuela together with the active participation of the majority of the population and farmers in their respective communities – known as Communes – have to be praised for undertaking the process of building socialism and the urgent response to tackle the most pressing need: food.
Their example says that the use of food as a weapon must be eradicated.