AI News, the State of Food and Agriculture 2019. Moving forward on food loss ... artificial intelligence

Shortages in Venezuela

There are shortages of milk, meat, coffee, rice, oil, precooked flour, butter, toilet paper, personal hygiene products and medicines.[4][14][15]

On 9 February 2018 a group of United Nations Special Procedures and the Special Rapporteurs on food, health, adequate housing and extreme poverty issued a joint statement on Venezuela, declaring that much of its population is starving and going without in a situation that they do not believe will end.[21]

Since the 1990s, food production in Venezuela has dropped continuously, with Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian government beginning to rely upon imported food using the country's then-large oil profits.[22]

In 2003, the government created CADIVI (now CENCOEX), a currency control board charged with handling foreign exchange procedures to control capital flight by placing currency limits on individuals.[23][24]

In August 2015, American private intelligence agency company Stratfor used two satellite images of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela's main port used for importing goods, to show how severe shortages had become in Venezuela.

One image from February 2012 showed the ports full of shipping containers when the Venezuelan government's spending was near a historic high before the 2012 Venezuela presidential election.

A second image from June 2015 shows the port with many fewer containers, since the Venezuelan government could no longer afford to import goods, as oil revenues dropped.[31]

In March 2017, despite having the largest oil reserves in the world, some regions of Venezuela began having shortages of gasoline with reports that fuel imports had begun.[47]

By early 2018, gasoline shortages began to spread, with hundreds of drivers in some regions waiting in lines to fill their tanks, sleeping overnight in their vehicles during the process.[50]

In a September 2018 Meganalisis survey, nearly one-third of Venezuelans stated they consumed only one meal per day while 78.6 percent of respondents said they had issues with food security.[51]

Foreign reserves, usually saved for economic distress, were being spent to service debt and to avoid default, instead of being used to purchase imported goods.

According to Miguel Angel Santos, a researcher at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the industry of goods production in Venezuela was destroyed as a result of expropriations of private means of production since 2004, while a growth in import consumerism occurred when Venezuela had abundant oil money.[57]

The drop of oil prices beginning in 2014 made it impossible for the government to import necessary goods for Venezuelans, though by this point the country was largely reliant on imports.[2]

With limits on foreign currency, a currency black market developed since Venezuelan merchants relied on the import of goods that required payments with reliable foreign currencies.[60]

The high black market rates made it difficult for businesses to purchase necessary goods or earn profits since the government often forced them to make price cuts.

Following mass looting in June 2016 due to shortages which resulted in the deaths of at least three, on 12 July 2016, President Maduro granted Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López the power to oversee product transportation, price controls, and the Bolivarian missions.

One anonymous businessman who participated in the lucrative food dealings with Venezuelan military officials, and had contracts valued at $131 million between 2012 and 2015, showed the Associated Press his accounts for his business in Venezuela.

Documents seen by the Associated Press showing prices for corn also revealed that the government budgeted $118 million in July 2016, an overpayment of $50 million over average market prices for that month.[2]

In late January 2017, members of the United States Congress responded to the Associated Press investigation, suggested making targeted sanctions against corrupt Venezuelan officials who had taken advantage of the food shortages and participated in graft.

Democratic Senator of Maryland and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin stated, 'When the military is profiting off of food distribution while the Venezuelan people increasingly starve, corruption has reached a new level of depravity that cannot go unnoticed.'

Facing a shortage of supplies and medicine, they were instructed to withhold treatment–even for emergencies–so supplies and treatment could be 'doled out closer to the election, part of a national strategy to compel patients to vote for the government'.[69]

In 2013, the president of the Venezuelan government's Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) Elias Eljuri, referring to a national survey, suggested that all shortages in the country were due to Venezuelans' eating, saying that '95% of people eat three or more meals a day'.[73][74][75]

In March 2017, a basket of basic grocery items cost four times the monthly minimum wage and by April, more than 11% of the children in the country suffered from malnutrition.[77][78]

In one case in 'the Ministry of Health's 2015 annual report, the mortality rate for children under 4 weeks old had increased a hundredfold, from 0.02 percent in 2012 to just over 2 percent'.

Instead he stated there was simply 'a decrease in the availability of food', saying an 'economic war' had affected 'the availability of food, but we are still within the thresholds set by the UN'.[48]

Economists state the Venezuelan government began rationing in 2014 for several reasons including an unproductive domestic industry that had been negatively affected by nationalization and government intervention, and confusing currency controls that made it unable to provide the dollars importers needed to pay for all of the basic products that enter Venezuela.[70]

According to Venezuelan residents, the government also rationed public water to those who used water over 108 hours a week because of the nation's poor water delivery systems.[70]

One month later, President Maduro introduced a 'biometric card' called Tarjeta de Abastecimiento Seguro, that required the user's fingerprint for purchases in state-run supermarkets or participating businesses.

Soon after, in August 2014, President Maduro announced the creation of a new voluntary fingerprint scanning system that was allegedly aimed at combating food shortages and smuggling.[90][91]

On 15 April 2016, President Nicolás Maduro announced that Venezuela would reverse Chávez's time change introduced in 2007 due to the shortage of electricity (the country's hydroelectric power has been hit by low water levels[99]) in Venezuela, with a return to UTC−04:00 which began on 1 May 2016 at 03:00:00.[99][100]

This followed after other attempts to curb electricity usage including moving Venezuela's time zone ahead and telling Venezuelan women to stop using hairdryers had failed.[101]

Two days later, on 22 April 2016, the minister of electricity, Luis Motta Dominguez, announced that beginning the following week, forced blackouts would occur throughout Venezuela four hours per day for the next 40 days.[43]

It was hoped that this would preserve power for the areas that needed it most, prevent more blackouts, and make water, oil, and food more accessible as a result – the water lines were also out of service, whilst oil refineries, food production plants, and refrigeration shut down.[102]

In a tweet, the National Assembly President and Interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaidó said that rationing wasn't actually happening, and suggested that power was being diverted from smaller cities in Venezuela to Caracas to give the illusion that Maduro had fixed the problem after the fourth blackout.

Venezuelan consumers had mainly negative feelings toward the fingerprint rationing system, saying it created longer lines, especially when fingerprint machines malfunctioned.

The MUD opposition coalition called on Venezuelans to reject the new fingerprinting system and called on supporters to hold a nationwide cacerolazo (a noisy form of protest).[109][110]

Lorenzo Mendoza, the president of Empresas Polar, Venezuela's largest food producer, expressed his disagreement with the proposed system, saying it would penalize 28 million Venezuelans for the smuggling carried out by just a few.[112]

On 19 April 2018, after a multilateral meeting between over a dozen European and Latin American countries, United States Department of the Treasury officials stated that they had collaborated with Colombian officials to investigate corrupt import programs of the Maduro administration including CLAP.

A month later, on 17 May 2018, the Colombian government seized 25,200 CLAP boxes containing about 400 tons of decomposing food, which was destined for distribution to the Venezuelan public.[120]

The Colombian government said they were investigating shell companies and money laundering related to CLAP operations, and claimed the shipment was to be used to buy votes during the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election.[120]

On 18 October 2018, Mexican prosecutors accused the Venezuelan government and Mexican individuals of buying poor quality food products for CLAP and exporting them to Venezuela, doubling their value for sale.

During the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis, Guaidó cautioned that the Maduro government had plans to steal the products for humanitarian purposes that entered the country, including plans to distribute these products through the government's food distribution program CLAP.[122]

There are fewer cars circulating due to the high price of imported parts, and guns for criminals are increasingly expensive, meaning that robbers have to kill authorities in order to get a weapon.[124]

In 2005, the Venezuelan Construction Chamber (CVC) estimated that there was a shortage of 1.6 million homes, with only 10,000 of 120,000 promised homes constructed by Chávez's government despite billions of dollars in investments.[126]

By 2011, there was a housing shortage of 2 million homes, with nearly twenty prime developments being occupied by squatters following Chávez's call for the poor to occupy 'unused land'.[125][127]

Housing shortages were further exacerbated when private construction halted due to the fear of property expropriations and because of the government's inability to construct and provide housing.[125]

Urban theorist and author Mike Davis said in July 2011 to The Guardian, 'Despite official rhetoric, the Bolivarianist regime has undertaken no serious redistribution of wealth in the cities and oil revenues pay for too many other programmes and subsidies to leave room for new housing construction.'[128]

In April 2014, Maduro ruled by decree that Venezuelans who owned three or more rental properties would be forced by the government to sell their rental units at a set price or they would face fines or have their property possessed by the government.[130]

In December 2019, Reuters reported that according to experts, 'Venezuela faces a generation of young people who will never meet their full physical or mental potential', compounding the damage towards Venezuela's development as a result of shortages.[140]

In 2017, studies found that 64% of Venezuelans saw a reduction in weight, with 61% saying they go to sleep hungry, while the average Venezuelan lost 12 kg (26 lb).[145]

During one state address in early 2017, President Maduro joked about how one member of his staff had begun looking skinny, with the member saying 'I’ve lost about 44 pounds since December' due to the 'Maduro diet'.[146]

It has also been reported that government health officials have engaged in corrupt practices like privately selling national medical supplies for personal gain.[149][150]

Shortages in all kinds of contraceptives, as well as the fact that abortion is illegal, have caused sickness in many women, from both backalley abortions and illness caused by pregnancy in vulnerable women.[153]

In March 2019, it was reported that the 'collapse' of the health system had caused the return of old and eradicated rare diseases like yellow fever, dengue, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well as a large increase in infant and maternal mortality rates.

In 2014, the government could not supply enough money for medical supplies among healthcare providers, with doctors saying that 9 of 10 large hospitals had only 7% of required supplies and private doctors reporting numbers of patients that are 'impossible' to count dying from easily treated illnesses due to the 'downward sliding economy',[155]

Abel Saraiba, a psychologist with children's rights organization Cecodap said in 2017, 'We have children from a very early age who are having to think about how to survive', with half of her young clients requiring treatment because of the crisis.

There was an 80–90% shortage rate of milk (powdered and liquid), margarine, butter, sugar, beef, chicken, pasta, cheese, corn flour, wheat flour, oil, rice, coffee, toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, bar soap, bleach, dish, shampoo and soap toilet in February 2015.[167]

The survey had also stated that 83% of Venezuelans were living in poverty, 93% could no longer afford food and that one million Venezuelan school children did not attend classes 'due to hunger and a lack of public services'.[144]

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