Monday, November 14, 2005

Hence the fight over land 

As readers of this blog will know there has been a very contentious, and sometimes violent, fight over land reform in Venezuela. President Chavez has been aggressively pursuing land reform including breaking up large estates with idle land to redistribute to landless farmers.

One of the opposition’s arguments is that it is inappropriate for the government to take private land when the government itself owns so much land that could be given to the potential farmers. On the surface, they may seem like a valid point.

However, today in Ultimas Noticias there was some news that speaks to this point. According to a just completed study by agricultural expert Juan Luis Hernández only 2.2% of all Venezuelan land has a high agricultural potential. These lands are found in the valleys of the north, the area around Lake Maraciabo, and in the western plains. According to Hernandez an additional 10% of Venezuelan lands have “some” agricultural potential.

A few points need to be made regarding this. First and foremost, this shows why land reform can’t be accomplished without hitting the big private estates. Venezuela simply has very little prime agricultural lands. Most of what the government has is of very poor quality. For example, a large swath of government land is the Gran Sabana where Venezuela’s “table top” mountains are located. But that land is either jungle or very poor quality arid land. Any farmer given that land would be getting set up for failure. Another huge swath of government land is the Orinoco Delta. Unless you plan on doing mosquito farming you will probably find this land to be of little use. Given this, the government is very restricted in what land can be redistributed. It should therefore come as no surprise that private estates often have to be looked to to carry out the needed reform.

A second point, is that Venezuela is obviously never going to be an agricultural power. Some like to make much of the fact that Venezuela used to be self-sufficient in foodstuffs many decades ago. They blame the oil booms for undercutting Venezuela’s self-sufficiency. But that is not the case. With such a small amount of arable land it should come as no surprise you can’t feed 25 million people without importing food. Back when the population was less then 10 million it may have been possible it certainly isn’t any more. What undercut Venezuelan self-sufficiency in food wasn’t oil, it was simple demographics.

Just to make some comparisons on this I decided to check the CIA factbook which gives basic statistics on various countries. Looking up Venezuela it gave its arable land as 2.95% very closely matching Hernandez’s numbers. By way of contrast the United States has 19.13% arable land. Clearly a huge difference which goes along ways to explaining why the U.S. exports so much food while Venezuela imports it.

Having such a small amount of agricultural land makes it absolutely imperative that land is farmed and not allowed to just sit idle. That is precisely what Chavez’s land reform aims at ensuring. Hence, we see here an important fact which validates the policies of the Venezuelan government.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?