Saturday, 21 May 2016

More on food and sustainability

As you probably know if you follow Venezuelan news, people can't even find maize flour - cornmeal-, which is staple food. The government forces companies to sell one kilogram for 20 Bs, which is way under production costs.

Shortages in Caracas are bad, but other cities fare worse. Most Venezuelans live in those cities. The situation is a little bit better in semi-rural or rural areas...but even there it is bad and it is getting worse as urban people go to those areas to get some of the  food.

The picture below shows a stand where a street vendor in a village close to Valencia sells maize dough, which is the way maize was prepared in the times of my grandparents, before industrialized cornmeal appeared. You can make up to 7 arepas with one of those 1 kg dough bags. For comparison you can produce about 16 arepas out of a kilogram of industrial cornmeal. The price for those dough bags is right now about Bs 400. That means: one arepa costs you around Bs 57.1. If you could get a cornmeal package at the official price - those Bs 20 I mentioned earlier - you could cook 1 arepa for Bs 1.25. As I said, there is a huge shortage of industrial cornmeal. Right now you have to pay 1000 bs or more for one kilogram at the black market. That means if you want to cook arepas and have only access to the blac market, you have to pay Bs 62.5 in cornmeal per arepa. That is how the maize dough market came to be.

Of course, this alternative is not very scalable: firstly, the method is work intensive. Then there is the land: Venezuelans have transformed in the last few decades most of the most productive agricultural areas around the major cities into badly designed urbanizations or slums. Most of the agricultural areas in the highly fertile Tuy and the Victoria-Valencia Valleys and in a lot of areas around the coast is gone. Most of this production is coming from the  little gardens of people who have no property rights for their pieces of land close to the more mountainous areas of Guacara or places like Miranda.

That is why people in many poor urban areas like La Isabelica, in Valencia, are looting.

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