Venezuela Table of Contents
Cocoa and coffee provided most of Venezuela's export revenues before they entered a period of prolonged decline in the 1900s. Jesuits introduced coffee in the 1740s, and by the 1800s Venezuela was the world's third largest coffee producer. By the 1980s, however, the coffee industry was in a decline. In 1988 coffee trees occupied 273,200 hectares and produced only 71,000 tons of coffee, one of the lowest yields in the world. The value of coffee exports, mainly to the United States and Europe, was about US$24 million in 1988. Coffee was primarily a peasant crop, grown largely on farms of under twenty hectares in mountainous areas. Low profits prevented most farmers from taking steps, such as the planting of newer coffee bushes, that could improve yields. Worse still, Venezuelan coffee in the 1990s faced the impending introduction of plant diseases from the neighboring coffee crops of Colombia and Brazil.
Cocoa was also characterized by extremely low yields, in part as a result of aged trees and general deterioration in the crop. Once Venezuela's leading cash crop, by 1988 cacao plants covered only about 59,000 hectares and yielded a mere 13,500 tons of cocoa beans. As with coffee, most farmers sold their cocoa through government marketing boards for use domestically and internationally. Exports of cocoa beans and products exceeded US$17 million in 1988, ranking it as the third leading agricultural export (after coffee and tobacco), mainly to Belgium, the United States, and Japan.
Tobacco appeared to be one of the country's few dynamic cash crops in the late 1980s. Although tobacco generally stagnated in the 1970s and early 1980s, output expanded notably in the late 1980s as the industry turned to export markets in the Caribbean. In 1988 farmers in the west-central plains planted about 9,100 hectares of both dark and light tobacco, producing about 15,300 tons of leaf. In 1988 the cigarette industry exported upwards of US$20 million of cigarettes to the Caribbean, ranking tobacco as the second largest export crop.
Other leading cash crops included sugarcane, oilseeds, and cotton. Once a net exporter of sugar, Venezuela by the mid-1970s became a net importer, and in 1988 the country was only 71 percent self-sufficient in sugar. Sugarcane grew on 117,000 hectares in 1988 and produced 8.33 million tons of raw sugar, but annual output fluctuated according to weather conditions, management practices, price changes, and currency devaluations. Many farmers plowed under their cane fields in the 1980s in order to plant more lucrative crops, and the nation's sixteen sugar mills faced ongoing technical obstacles.
Oilseeds, such as sesame, sunflower, coconut, peanut, and cotton, faced a fate similar to other cash crops, and in 1988 the nation was only 21 percent self-sufficient in edible oils. Although Venezuela was once one of the world's leading producers of sesame oil, the industry declined as a result of a deterioration of the genetic content of the country's sesame plants and low market prices. Sesame plants, however, still extended over 148,700 hectares and yielded 68,300 tons in 1988. By the 1980s, Venezuela imported large amounts of soybean oil.
Data as of December 1990