On 22 November, campesinos (farmers) in Venezuela gathered in Caracas to demand that the government protect small and medium-sized farms. Most of the demonstrators came from the states of Lara, Portuguesa and Trujillo, the country’s main coffee producers. With wholesalers offering prices that are less than the cost of production, the demand is for the state to set a fair price for the crop.

A National Guard picket line initially prevented the 200 or so protesters from reaching the National Assembly, where they were campaigning for their cause. Before a group of spokespeople met with a commission in parliament, they held an impromptu meeting and spoke to the media.

Farmers’ spokesperson Toribio Azuaje told Venezuelanalysis that unfair pricing could “bankrupt coffee producers” during the morning rally.

The country is living through a crisis and a blockade, plus coffee prices have fallen internationally.

So we are calling for emergency measures from the government to protect producers.

Toribio Azuaje, the farmers’ spokesperson (source: Venezuelanalysis)

Farmers told the media their dissatisfaction with the two rounds of negotiations earlier this month involving the Ministry of Agriculture and the Venezuelan state-owned Coffee Corporation, both of which resulted in agreements that were quickly reneged on.

Recent agreements have set prices between US$220 and US$240 per cental of coffee (100 pounds or 46 kilogrammes), depending on quality. Azuaje stressed, “With current production costs, that is the bare minimum, so we do not sell at a loss.” Coffee buyers are reportedly bidding as low as $170 per cental of coffee.

Azuaje went on to say that it is difficult to negotiate with the small coffee producers and unite their demands because they are not organised. He claimed that in order to sell coffee, farmers are often pressured to do business with local chambers of commerce.

The protesters also expressed concern about the large influx of coffee from Colombia through unofficial channels, which they say creates unfair market conditions.

Another coffee farmer in the state of Portuguesa, Alfredo Mendoza, said the protest “represented the voice of 100,000 families” struggling because of market volatility.

We feel cheated, because twice now we’ve agreed on prices only to see the coffee industry make a mockery of them.

We’ve come here to tell the government that ‘enough is enough’ and we need serious policies to protect campesinos’ dignity.

Alfredo Mendoza, coffee farmer (source: Venezuelanalysis)

Mendoza also spoke of a “miracle” in which private middlemen buy up coffee at below-market prices and then resell it as “gourmet” at inflated prices. He said, “This gap is unfair.”

To counteract the devastating effects of US sanctions on the Venezuelan economy, the government of President Nicolás Maduro has adopted a series of increasingly liberal measures over the past seven years.

As a result of increasing privatisation, which has affected the supply of seeds and inputs as well as access to tractors, the cost of production for campesinos in rural Venezuela has risen sharply. Essential diesel fuel has been progressively fixed by the government at 50 cents per litre, making it unaffordable for many small and medium producers.

Campesinos have lamented the fact that the new scenario favours rich landowners and agribusinesses. There have also been concerns about the illegal use of GMO seeds, which violates the 2015 Seeds Act.

The farmers’ delegation met with Wilmar Castro Soteldo, the Minister of Agriculture, later in the day. No agreements were reached at the meeting. A second conference was then scheduled for 24 November, which included representatives of distributors and retailers.

During the second meeting, coffee producers, the Ministry of Agriculture, agribusiness representatives and the Venezuelan Coffee Society agreed to implement the price tables reached in an earlier negotiation. Producers will receive between $190 and $240 per cental depending on the quality of the coffee.

Photo from Venezuelan Government’s INTi official Twitter account

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