New Internationalist

Venezuela’s food revolution

12.01.16-venezuelas-food-revolution-590x394.jpg [Related Image]
Venezuelan campesinos. Bernardo Londoy under a Creative Commons Licence

The country has fought off big agribusiness and promoted agroecology, explains Nick Dearden.

Just days before the progressive National Assembly of Venezuela was dissolved, deputies passed a law which lays the foundation for a truly democratic food system. The country has not only banned genetically modified seeds, but set up democratic structures to ensure that seeds cannot be privatized and indigenous knowledge cannot be sold off to corporations. President Maduro signed the proposal into law before New Year, when a new anti-Maduro Assembly was sworn in.

Since Hugo Chavez’s day, Venezuela has always held out against agribusiness, including GM, famously halting 500,000 acres of Monsanto corn in 2004. In fact, Chavez’s formal strategy for the country talked about creating an ‘an eco-socialist model of production based on a harmonic relationship between humans and nature’. The aim, explicitly, was food sovereignty – democratic control of food production.

But that didn’t stop agribusiness trying to get a foothold in the country. A war is being waged by big agribusiness, which is trying to monopolise the very means of life – seeds – right across the world. In Africa, Latin America, Asia, even Europe. Agribusiness is lobbying for new stronger intellectual property laws so that they can more easily take traditional knowledge and resources and patent them, profiting from monopoly rights.

Agribusiness has been lobbying law-makers under the pretence that GM seeds will end food shortages the country is currently experiencing. But Venezuela’s strong peasant movement, part of the international peasant network La Via Campesina, fought back. They defeated a 2013 bill that would have provided a ‘back door’ to GM and initiating a two year democratic process, involving deputies, campaigners, peasants and indigenous groups, to forge a genuinely progressive seed law.

The result is the law passed before Christmas. It promotes agroecological production methods – that’s a form of farming that works with nature and avoids chemicals, pesticides and monocultures. It aims to make the county independent of international food markets. It outlaws the privatization of seeds and promotes instead small and medium scale farming and biodiversity. Article 8 ‘promotes, in a spirit of solidarity, the free exchange of seed and opposes the conversion of seed into intellectual or patented property or any other form of privatization’.

Venezuela’s step is hugely impressive, first because of the food shortages the country is undergoing – a result of deep dependency on the international market and destabilization efforts coming from inside and outside the country. One commentator points out ‘Venezuelans are not being fooled by promises of a quick fix to increase food production.’ Food sovereignty can produce far more than more intensive methods of farming, especially over the long-term.

But second it is impressive because it extends decision making deep down into Venezuelan society. Ordinary citizens have an ongoing role to play in regulating seeds. In an attempt to decentralize power, a Popular Council has been established, which will join officials and politicians in setting long term food policy. Ultimately Venezuela realizes, the only way to make the vision of food sovereignty a reality, is economic democracy.

To all those countries fighting off agribusiness, Venezuela has lit a beacon of hope.

Nick Dearden is Director of Global Justice Now.

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  1. #1 jsb 13 Jan 16

    And yet you can't find a bag of Harina Pan on the shelves of a supermarket. This decision will do nothing to feed the people.

  2. #2 Ken Meyer 13 Jan 16

    What a load of crappola...and what a lame justification for a governmental policy that has been a total failure in terms of allowing the nation's citizenry to satisfy their own nutritional needs.

  3. #3 Elena 15 Jan 16

    I'm not sure if you're aware that Venezuela produces hardly anything at all at the moment and currently imports pretty much all the food that is consumed in the country including staples such as rice and beans and they don't care where it comes from as long as it's cheap.
    Besides that, the government you are exhalting o much has been in power since 1998 and has not managed to set up any sustainable systems for anything as they have relied on Oil income to dole out welfare instead.

  4. #4 cb in nc 16 Jan 16

    You are sooo out of touch with reality!! People are waiting in line for many long hours in long lines just to get into the markets just to find empty shelves and outrageous prices. Have you ever heard of buying milk, eggs, or toilet paper on the black market? Talk to a Venezuelan and you will discover that those are just a few items on their short list. Agriculture is non existent there. All food is imported and controlled by Maduro. Forget about the seeds and pay attention to the struggle to buy anything to ea.

  5. #5 Paul 17 Jan 16

    Excellent article! Thank you, Nick Deardon.

    These other comments, all seem to come from the same person, who has never visited Venezuela, who pipes the prescribed propaganda.

  6. #6 Truth for Justice MMQ 23 Jan 16

    Bravo Venezuela! Real democracy of the people not corporations have spoken loud and clearly. Send Monsanto aka Monsatan back to hell. Good job, congratulations124.

  7. #7 Mario Yerak 27 Jan 16

    All this article is pure BS Venezuela has done nothing to promote food growing, instead that comunist like government has expropiated millions of acres and gave it to people who knew nothing on farming the good land was given to friends of the regime, it's said that Chavez family from having mothing became the biggest landlords. Today it's said that one of Chavez daugthers has more than 3 billion dollas
    The country has had super extraordinary income the las 15 years as a result there is no enough food the country debt grew five times and there are hundreds of millions of dollars unaccounted for while there is no money for medicine or food import,

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About the author

Nick Dearden a New Internationalist contributor

Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now (formerly World Development Movement) and former director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

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