Amid economic hard times, Venezuelans turn to city farming

Thu Aug 4, 2016 6:10pm EDT
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By Diego Ore

CARACAS (Reuters) - Facing a national food crisis, Venezuela's pumpkin-growing socialist president is exhorting compatriots to grow fruit and vegetables on balconies and roofs and in barracks across the country.

His government's "Great Agro-Venezuela Mission" is promoting city farming to offset shortages which have led to lootings and riots as the OPEC country undergoes a major economic crisis.

"We need to plant to ensure food sovereignty," President Nicolas Maduro said, recounting how he and his wife harvested pumpkins on their patio for a soup that tasted "like heaven."

"He who learns to cultivate in his city, his school, his university, his factory, in his communal space ... cultivates another form of faith in life," he added, urging people to grow products in schools, military bases and even jails.

In the first data on the new push, Maduro's government boasts that in the last three months, some 135,000 Venezuelans have produced 273 tonnes of vegetables, fruits and herbs in urban settings.

The production seems well short of this year's goal of 3,500 tonnes, but some participants are enthusiastic.

"If all communities began to cultivate, it would help to combat the high cost of living and food shortages," said 69-year-old Luisana Galvis, a retired administrator who helps produce 30 different types of vegetable on a state-owned plot in a west Caracas slum. Critics, though, say the project is laughably inadequate given the scale of Venezuela's problems, and absurd in a vast and fertile nation that was once a major exporter of coffee.

"Forty thousand hectares of productive land in this country and Nicolas' solution is urban agriculture!" scoffed two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who accuses the government of wrecking rural output with nationalizations.   Continued...

Alirio Ovalles walks at his family urban garden in Caracas, Venezuela June 27, 2016. Picture taken June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo