Venezuela Table of Contents
Despite gains in the production of some grains and cereals, urbanization and changing dietary patterns increased Venezuela's dependence on imports of basic foods during the 1980s. The migration of farmers to urban areas reduced the output of traditional food crops such as yucca (cassava), potatoes, and other inexpensive tubers; higher wheat imports compensated for this decline. The growing popularity of wheat products in Venezuela drove imports steadily higher because the country's warm climate was not conducive to the cultivation of wheat.
Corn was the country's major domestic food crop. Most of Venezuela's corn crop came from the central plains, particularly the states of Portuguesa, Barinas, and Guárico. A traditional staple, corn surpassed coffee as the nation's leading crop in the 1960s; by 1988 farmers cultivated corn on some 642,000 hectares. Total production was 1.28 million tons in that year. After declining in the 1970s, corn production flourished in the 1980s, largely because of the agricultural policies of the mid-1980s that provided import protection and stimulated greater food selfsufficiency . Despite the gains of corn producers, however, the costs of corn production remained relatively high, which indicated that domestic production would be vulnerable to the effects of external competition under the market-oriented reforms initiated by the government in the early 1990s.
Sorghum became a major grain in the mid-1970s. A droughtresistant crop, it was introduced to Venezuela because it could tolerate the country's unpredictable precipitation pattern. Sorghum, like corn, was grown nationwide and sorghum production enjoyed rapid growth during the 1980s. In 1988 sorghum covered some 392,000 hectares, which yielded approximately 820,000 tons of grain. The popularity of sorghum in the 1980s was closely linked with the quick expansion of the national pork and poultry industries, which used sorghum as their major feed grain. Although domestic production increased, however, it could not keep pace with demand. Consequently, imports of sorghum also climbed throughout the decade.
Rice was another major grain. Rice production doubled during the 1970s, mainly because of the increased use of irrigation. In the 1980s, however, rice production fell rapidly. Weather variations accounted for some fluctuations in production, but the central cause of the decline was poor technical expertise in both cultivation and irrigation techniques. Rice paddies covered some 116,500 hectares of land and yielded 383 tons of rice in 1988; at its peak in 1981, rice grew on some 243,000 hectares and yielded 681,000 tons. Frustrated by the inadequacy of available technology, many rice farmers had switched to other crops by the late 1980s. Many of these producers had complained about the inadequate levels of credit available from the government, as well as the low prices the government paid for their crops.
Farmers grew rice throughout the country, with the exceptions of the extreme west and south. Farmers who cultivated irrigated rice, especially those in Portuguesa and Guárico, yielded as many as 2.5 crops a year, whereas dry rice farmers brought in only one crop, during the rainy season (May-November).
Farmers also cultivated a wide variety of tubers, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and spices. Principal tuber crops consisted of yucca, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yautia. In some areas, peasants milled cassava for use as a flour. Legumes included yellow, black, and white beans, as well as a local pulse called quinchoncho. Vegetables included tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, cucumber, beets, and peas. The more moderate regions of Venezuela were also suitable for a wide variety of fruits. Depending on the seasonal crop, the country exported small amounts of tropical fruits.
Data as of December 1990