A first-hand account from a commune in Venezuela: Striving for food sovereignty

venezuela urbangardening
Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. by Tamara Pearson

May 3, 2019 — We went to visit facilities for urban food production named after Fabricio Ojeda, one of the many Venezuelan revolutionary martyrs of the last century. It is a joint effort of four communes of Catia, whose total population is about 150,000 people. It is on a hill surrounded by the dramatic steep landscape of western Caracas.

We were met by commune leaders, and by the armed security people who defend the area from sabotage the right-wing opposition or other criminal elements try to carry out. There is a lot of concern about the campaign to destabilize the economy that involves destroying Chavista production facilities as well as infrastructure like the electric grid.

We were told that they [the communes] were raising pigs and chickens, and planning about going into production of a quail-like bird called the coroners; but we were there to see their rabbits.

One of the commune members explained to us that he is a municipal employee who submitted a proposal to the government for this project. He was granted a leave from his regular job, with his regular salary, to make it happen.

He took us to the cages of black and white rabbits whose descendants will provide high quality lean meat for Caracas. They are fed a combination of grass and a plant that I recognized as a member of the amaranth family similar to what we call pigweed in Vermont. They are also fed a mixture of corn meal, eggshells and a little cement, the latter two things for their calcium content. He showed us the detailed manuals he went by that covered everything about feeding at different stages of the reproductive process, how to treat illnesses, and whatever else one needs to know about keeping rabbits healthy.

There were special boxes where the females who had babies could nurse them – cute little baby rabbits, soon to grow up into a rapidly multiplying population that will be ready to harvest in about a year from now, once there are enough. When that time comes, a request will be submitted to the government to buy refrigerators and other equipment to provide meat to consumers.

As all this was being explained there was a recurring theme, the sense of urgency about developing food sovereignty, to survive and surmount the economic war that the United States is waging against Venezuela. I have a quote in my notes: “We want peace but we are ready to die to defend our country.” There is a pervasive awareness that food sovereignty is a key component in achieving national political sovereignty.

We moved on to the extensive vegetable gardens where everything was being prepared for the coming season. When we first arrived, we heard a loud, steady noise, low, like the rumble of some large machinery. We were told that it was a certain insect that makes that sound just when the rainy season begins. Once the rain starts, they stop making the noise.

Raised beds were ready, with fertilizer worked in and seedlings in flats. Many vegetables are grown, mostly ones that are in our gardens in the north. Tomatoes are their biggest crop. The last harvest came to 16 metric tons. Tomatoes are grown in structures that superficially look like greenhouses, but are actually covered with a loosely woven fabric that partially shades them from the tropical sun, which would otherwise be too much for them.

In many of the large public vegetable gardens, I have visited on past trips there has been a Cuban advisor, and there was one in this garden as well. He told us that his grandfather had been a farmer, his father was an engineer, and he is an agricultural engineer. He has been here for two years, has married a Venezuelan woman, and plans to stay here. He seemed very proud of the productivity of this garden.

As we walked down the hill away from the garden, we passed a huge gray factory with big silos, a Cargill mill for processing wheat into flour, a striking reminder of how the transnational corporations have penetrated Third World countries, and the role they still have here.

Peter Lackowski, retired teacher, resident of Burlington, Vermont, and a friend of Bolivarian Venezuela, is now in Caracas.



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