As Venezuelans Struggle to Find Food, Maduro to Receive UN Award for Food Production

Jun 17, 2013 Issues: Foreign Affairs

Maduro's troubling two months in office and record shortages have caused many, including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to wonder aloud whether the award is indeed justified. While the FAO argues advances have been made with regards to food development and consumption in Venezuela, the facts and figures beg to differ.

As Venezuelans Struggle to Find Food, Maduro to Receive UN Award for Food Production
WhatsNextVenezuela
JUNE 14, 2013

For months, What's Next Venezuela and other major news outlets have been reporting on the rampant shortages plaguing Venezuela. In light of this reality, we and many others were stunned to learn this week that President Nicolás Maduro is expected to receive an award from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for the "progress" Venezuela has made in food-related matters.

The irony is palpable; shortages in Venezuela are now so severe that Venezuelans have turned to a mobile app that helps them locate basic goods like milk and toilet paper.

Maduro's troubling two months in office and record shortages have caused many, including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to wonder aloud whether the award is indeed justified. While the FAO argues advances have been made with regards to food development and consumption in Venezuela, the facts and figures beg to differ.

The Venezuelan Central Bank reported that shortages in May rose to 21.3 percent, its highest level in 64 months. In other words, two out of 10 products were not in stock in grocery stores and supermarkets. Furthermore, that same month Venezuelan consumer prices increased at a record pace after a devaluation of the currency pushed up the cost of imports. Prices climbed 6.1 percent from April, accelerating the annual inflation rate to a record-high 35.2 percent.

Price controls and foreign exchange restrictions in the import-dependent nation have triggered shortages in every sector of the Venezuelan economy. Basic food products such as chicken, milk, sugar and toilet paper have become an ordeal to find. Not even the Catholic Church has been exempt of the country's growing scarcities. Wheat flour used for the sacramental wafers is scarce, while the supply of altar wine used for Holy Communion is threatened, likely forcing the Church to ration supplies.

Maduro's only solution to the problem has been to blame Venezuelans for "overconsumption." Such a charge stands in utter contrast to the scenes of hungry Venezuelans swarming a grocery truck when it finally arrived with the food they needed. Maduro, meanwhile, has responded by telling Venezuelans not to "panic" and to "regularize consumption," accusing the public for the government's failed policies.

Thus far, the free mobile application – which uses crowdsourcing to pinpoint areas that actually have basic necessities – has been the most successful solution for everyday Venezuelans. After struggling to find milk, an enterprising 21-year-old Venezuelan student decided to develop the app, which has been downloaded over 12,000 times. In a country where citizens are forced to rely on their smart phones to find basic food products, the rationale behind this award is difficult to understand.