Venezuela’s National Productive Alliance: Food Production in Times of War

Producing the food the country needs is a basic element of any economy, beyond the political character of its government. In a besieged and economically blockaded Venezuela, this becomes central, strategic. One of the planes where in recent times the population has been attacked has been precisely in its capacity to acquire the necessary food and nutrients. Shortage of supply, hoarding, hyperinflation, blockade of ships with food, are some examples of the variants of the attack suffered in this regard.

Securing the food of Venezuelan families, reaching those places and producers that the State does not reach, to think and act with the perspective of guaranteeing the most basic of the rights of our people, food – that is the challenge.

The National Productive Alliance was born in times of war and, as Aníbal Montilla, one of its national coordinators, states, this involves working together: “This is not giving up, it is understanding the moment, defining priorities. A central perspective of ours is the integration of all productive sectors. The issue of production must be removed from the political diatribe. Even if there are differences, if the objective is to produce, we have to communicate, solve the problems together. Of course that has limits, because we are not going to link with factors that finance the right-wing coup, for example. But we are not in the bonanza of previous years. That conditions the actions of any initiative”.

The first steps were taken in the states of Apure, Barinas and Táchira. At the beginning the greatest problem was supplies. The initiative lacked sufficient resources to purchase in the market and the relationship with the State that was later established. That slowed things down. The first delivery of supplies was achieved through the Conuquero plan with the Ministry of Agriculture.

“Together with other colleagues, we began a national tour to structure the ANP, in 13 municipalities in the states of Apure, Barinas, Táchira, Yaracuy and Portuguesa,” says Montilla: “At the beginning it was difficult for us to find the most adequate structure. This delayed our work a bit. We started with what we call promoters per territory, per municipality. The central task of these is to conform the municipal productive tables”.

Thus, from the base, an organizational form emerged that is beginning to take shape: the production tables formed by producers who, in effect, are already integrated, since they are coming together to face the common problems they have. For example, in one municipality there are networks of corn growers, conuqueros, and peasant councils. “They are the basic structures in the territories. What we do is summon them to the tables where we work with the specificity of each sector, the different problems they confront to produce, so the commissions that are created are from the needs: infrastructure, supplies, industrialization, security, machinery, technical and legal support. As the ANP advances, in the medium term the regional productive tables and the national productive table will be formed.

This organizational form is key, because it allows us to address the problems as a whole, assess existing capacities, combine them and draw up collective plans for each problem from our own capacities and possibilities. The case of machinery is a good example: the machines that are idle or that need repair are identified, their number, their location, and the ways to get them going are discussed collectively: “We are not in moments where the State can provide tractors as it did before. We have to transcend the logic of only asking the State. Or the case of industrialization, in which people are being contacted by innovators, people who have designed machinery, processors, packaging machines. Or the technical coordination which seeks to incorporate the technicians of the territory associated with the production, veterinarians, agricultural engineers, people who graduated in these years of revolution.

A differentiated case is that of the municipalities where the problem of fuel supply is serious. There, a specific commission was formed: “A scythe for three hours consumes twenty liters of gasoline. A tractor that works eight hours consumes two hundred liters of diesel. What does a producer do who has to queue up to two days to buy 50 liters of gasoline or else fall into the clandestine structure that sells fuel up to a dollar a liter,” explains Aníbal: “From there arises the proposal to prioritize the official distribution of fuel for production, ensuring the fuel necessary to maintain food production”.

The National Productive Alliance offers a strategic perspective and thinks about the national need to produce food independently: “The big producers of the country have access to foreign exchange, to supplies. They have projects and approaches at the national level. And they get the necessary resources. We have to think of ourselves in a similar way. Obviously with a production aimed at feeding people, not at enriching a few”.

It is about building a policy, a productive practice for peasant families, for peasant and family agriculture. It has been demonstrated that this is the production that is never lacking at Venezuelan tables. So consider the potential of this approach: the full production of a set of basic items for Venezuelan food guarantees the work of thousands of small organized producers. China, for example, provides its daily food, and we are talking about 4.5 billion meals a day, mainly through family farming.

“We have to assume the role that they have, for example the conuqueros, the small and medium sized producers. As a country we have three options in the face of the war we are suffering: surrender, wait for annihilation, or fight and move this situation forward. To do this, in the face of the siege, we must optimize internal resources, direct them to their priority focus and from there break the siege. The national political network must understand this. There are many analysts who can philosophize. But analysis must be done to employ tactics,” says Annibal.

Currently, the National Productive Alliance is tackling two lines of production at the national level: on the one hand, from the conucos, as food production without agro-toxins, and on the other, the extensive sowing plan, where agro-toxins are used: “It may seem like a contradiction, the goal is the production of totally healthy food, but we understand the context and the urgencies that we have as a country today,” reflects Angel Betancourt, who is also the national coordinator of the ANP.

“Speech falls in love, but example convinces. That is a motto that we use,” says Angel, when he begins to explain that it has been key, along with the presentation and the work of convocation and organization, to be able to demonstrate with facts what is being built: “The Conuquero plan implies the independence of the producers, since it uses native seed and they work organically on planting. It is a matter of returning to our roots of original agriculture and developing the natural production of all components, such as fertilizers. In this way we give Mother Earth a rest. The soil is losing its condition of fertility. We have to return the nutrients to Mother Earth, in order to generate healthy and necessary food. And to achieve, in addition, agrifood sovereignty and independence: we cannot depend on the State having to give us seeds, supplies, fertilizers. Dependence on the State is a mistake. The national petrochemical industry is almost paralyzed. Therefore, from the National Productive Alliance, we offer the opportunity to produce without this dependence. A production that depends on the effort of the producers of the countryside”.

Currently the ANP has articulated seven thousand conuqueros nationwide, which planted rice, corn, beans and potatoes, on 11 thousand hectares. National seed, native seed, variety seed, non-transgenic seed were used. In this regard, Betancourt explains: “Transgenic plants have a high yield the first time they are planted, but their yield decreases later. If you take a seed from the bush and sow it again, it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t bear fruit or in the best of cases the yield decreases. Variety seeds, on the other hand, may have a lower initial yield, but can be replanted with the same yield as at the beginning. From the harvest itself one can be re-seeded. These seeds of variety are also acclimated to the territory in the first harvest.

In addition to the nuclei of seedlings that are being activated, the project is to create “seed houses” in each territory. In this first sowing cycle, the goal is to guarantee a harvest of one hundred and forty thousand kilos of seeds that will allow for a three-fold increase in the number of conuqueros, and go from seven thousand to twenty-one thousand conuqueros organized in the ANP in the next sowing cycle: “Nothing is asked of the producer. Yes, it is verified and there is control and follow-up to see the estimated harvest, the return of seeds. The producer is left with seed. A minimum contribution of seeds is made from the producer to the ANP to guarantee the extension of future sowings”, says Angel Betancourt.

As for the second line of action, in addition to the Conuquero plan, the extensive sowing plan is being developed. This one is with agrochemicals. In this first step, a thousand hectares of corn were planted. The State provides the supplies and seeds.

Specifically, with concrete proposals and facts, the National Productive Alliance represents a real alternative, arising from the power of the people, to address the deep crisis of food production in Venezuela, in which many of the causes are related to the existence of mafias. That is why a productive policy is central, which in turn implies a policy of organization and empowerment of small and medium producers: “We propose to produce together with the people. Organize with the producers to access the portfolio of supplies from the State and private finance, solve problems together and collectively. The large producer companies have access to a large quantity of supplies that are then diverted and sold in dollars in the various fields. We propose a totally different logic. To organize ourselves to obtain supplies from the State but above all to organize ourselves to solve the problems of production between the same producers. Thus we advance in the National Productive Alliance, for the productive reactivation of the countryside”.