(Sabrina Martin) Spiraling inflation means that basic food items are now beyond the reach of ordinary Venezuelans, with the cost of the staple monthly shopping basket reaching over 35,124 Bs. (US$$127.41) — equivalent to six times the monthly wage.
Some 80 percent of the population meanwhile report not having enough money to buy the food they need, while at least 11.3 percent of Venezuelans eat fewer than three meals a day.
These data form part of the results of the Venezuela Survey of Living Conditions 2014, drawing on responses from 1,479 Venezuelan households. The study was carried out by the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), Simón Bolívar University, and Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB).
Although the public and private institutions of the country have insisted on the importance of a good diet and eating three meals a day, the economic situation in Venezuela is preventing many citizens from accessing in sufficient quantities the nutrients that the human body needs to remain healthy.
The study carried out by the three Venezuelan universities reveals that of the group who report not eating three meals a day, 39.1 percent belong to the poorest social groups.
The results indicate that the average Venezuelan diet is heavy in carbohydrates and low in overall quality; the majority buy flour, rice, and pastas as the staple of their diet, given that these foodstuffs are the cheapest and least scarce in the country. Foods rich in protein like eggs are no longer on the list of the ten most consumed items. Mortadella, a smoked sausage made out of pork cuts, is one of those items eaten most by the poorest as a substitute for red meat.
Marianela Herrera Cuenca, a researcher for UCV’s Development Studies Center and nutrition charity the Bengoa Foundation, said that 8.6 percent of the poorest sector of the surveyed population reported that their diet was “insufficient” and left them with “the physical sensation of hunger.”
Herrera emphasized that a large amount of “misinformation” was a potential pitfall for the researcher. Upon asking respondents about the relation between their food consumption and illnesses, barely 141 reported experiencing any kind of pain: the most mentioned were gastritis, food poisoning, and common stomach complaints. But few mentioned obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.
This, despite Venezuela being “a country with a double burden of malnutrition: under-nutrition and obesity,” the expert concluded.
The monthly Venezuelan minimum wage, Bs.5,622.48 (US$20.39) now fails to cover the cost of the basic shopping basket, and the majority of foods needed for a health diet are now missing from shelves, according to graduate research and analysis center Cendas-FVM. A family of five people has to spend over six monthly salaries to be able to afford the most basic products required.
On April 20, Cendas highlighted that the value of the basic shopping basket rose by Bs.1,364 ($4.95) in February to March alone, having increased by almost 100 percent with respect to March last year.
President of the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber (Cavidea) Juvenal Arveláez also reported that annual inflation in the food sector could reach three digits, rising as high as 103.6 percent. Arveláez added that these are industry figures, as the Central Bank of Venezuela BCV has not published official data.
Cendas also emphasized that scarcity continues to be a problem for the Venezuelan consumer, due to the fact that 43 of the 58 products that make up the basic shopping basket can no longer be found on shelves.
The Cavidea director similarly reported that the food industry in Venezuela has not received sufficient currency reserves to be used in imports, with 65 percent of the sector reporting a decrease in sales. Producers of processed foods in particular argue that the production capacity of their firms depend on access to dollars.
Venezuela’s Own “Special Period”
The government of President Nicolás Maduro has argued that shortages and the black market in food form part of an “Economic War” waged by the country’s businessmen on his administration.
On Wednesday, April 22, Maduro blamed national chamber of commerce federation Fedecámaras for Venezuela’s economic situation, saying “these businessmen are responsible for the scarcity and what they’re doing is asking for money. Well, there are no more dollars for you.”
In response to Maduro’s comments, Fedecámaras President Jorge Roig replied that “Fedecámaras has never in its life asked for one dollar, nor does it sell any product. The only thing we do is defend principles and we do this for free … those who are asking for dollars are companies to pay their providers, not Fedecámaras.”
The refusal to assign dollars to the organizations that make up the industry body, he added, would result in diminished production and greater scarcity.
Specialists argue that Venezuela is going through a similar situation to the “Special Period” that Cuba experienced between 1990 and 1993. Economist José Toro Hardy explained that Cubans of the day were affected by severe rationing, the destruction of industry, and the reform of the agricultural sector, which ended up damaging the health of people across the island.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González, argued that Venezuela is currently in a worse situation than Cuba during the Special Period. “In Cuba a kilo of rice for each family was a kilo of rice, but in Venezuela it means three quarters of a kilo, if it comes, and a quarter of a kilo on the black market,” he added.
Economist Henkel García meanwhile told a local news outlet that Venezuelans should prepare themselves for a “drastic adjustment” of their food intake, similar to Cubans in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, both due to rising inflation as well as generalized scarcity.
Sabrina Martín is a Venezuelan journalist, commentator, and editor based in Valencia with experience in corporate communication. Follow@SabrinaMartinR.