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POLICY BRIEF article

Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 19 March 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2021.617907

Food Security in Venezuela: From Policies to Facts

  • 1Department of Public Health Sciences, Central University of Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela
  • 2Faculty of Medicine, School of Nutrition and Dietetics, Central University of Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by The General Assembly of the United Nations, recognized the right to food as a Basic Human Right. Consequently, at the national level, programs, norms, and laws were decreed to promote the population's health and nutrition. The 1999 Venezuelan Constitution explicitly included, for the first time, the term “Food Security” in Article 305. Subsequently, the government approved various laws and guidelines to regulate the right to food of the population. However, despite such laws, the well-being of the population has not improved. According to the 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (2020), between 2017 and 2019, the undernourishment prevalence amounted to 31.4%. Also, reports from Caritas showed 14.4% of Global Acute Malnutrition in children under 5 years of age, and 20% of children were at risk of acute malnutrition for the period April–June 2020. Other factors have influenced the actual Venezuelan food insecurity condition. The current severe economic and social crisis has led to a Complex Humanitarian Emergency. This work aimed to consider if decreeing many laws related to food and nutrition is not enough to reduce this scourge, or if there is any guarantee that the Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) of the people would improve.

On December 10, 1948, 72 years ago, the right to food was recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by The General Assembly of the United Nations, Resolution 217 A (III).

Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living that assures him, as well as his family, health and well-being, especially food…” (Naciones Unidas, 1948). Consequently at the national level, programs, norms, and laws were decreed to promote the population's health and nutrition. The 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, in its Article 305, explicitly included for the first time a Food Security statement, understood as the sufficient and stable availability of food at the national level, at all times, and its permanent access by the consuming public…” (República Bolivariana de Venezuela, 1999).

Subsequently, to favor the Right to Food of the Venezuelan people, various laws and regulations have been decreed. Table 1 describes the regulatory basis of food security in Venezuela. Despite these laws, and after the decree of the right to food in the Venezuelan Constitution, the country still has significant nutrition deficiencies. For instance, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 (FAO et al., 2019) reported that the prevalence of undernourishment increased by 21.2%, rising to 31% the following year (FAO et al., 2020). According to Caritas, the Global Acute Malnutrition in children under 5 years of age (GAM) was 14.4% in 2020 (Caritas de Venezuela, 2020). Moreover, the national report jointly issued, in December 2018, by the Bengoa Foundation, the Venezuelan Health Observatory, and the Agri-food Network of Venezuela, 33% of children under 2 years of age showed growth retardation when using the Size/Age indicator (Fundación Bengoa, 2018), that is, according to the data provided by these NGOs, that malnutrition is a foremost Public Health concern in Venezuela.

TABLE 1
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Table 1. Regulatory basis for food security in Venezuela.

Likewise, other aspects of Food Security have been affected, such as the availability and access to food (Fundación Bengoa, 2018; Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2020), the quality of the diet, the adequate consumption of proteins of high biological value (Caritas de Venezuela, 2020), mainly as a consequence of the economic and social crisis not recognized by the executive branch of the country. The Gross Domestic Product fell by 70% between 2013 and 2019, and 79.3% of Venezuelans have no sufficient income to cover the basic-food-basket (set of basic-foods necessary to ensure the nutrition of a family group of 5.2 members, consisting of eight subclasses of foods: meats and their preparations, fish and shellfish, cereals and their products, roots, and tubers, milk, cheese and eggs, fats and oils, fruits, and vegetables) (Landaeta-Jiménez et al., 2012; Tapia et al., 2017; Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2020).

Neither the food acquisition of Venezuelans, nor their nutritional-status, has improved even with the wide range of programs and laws enacted in the last 20 years. Recent statistics do not show any improvement in the malnutrition or undernourishment figures, much less in food-purchasing power since a 20-fold increase of the minimum salary is required to cover the food basket (Tapia et al., 2017). Figures reported by Caritas Venezuela indicate that 57% of households were food-deprived (Caritas de Venezuela, 2020). These indicators demonstrate the extent of Venezuela's Complex Humanitarian Emergency (Tapia et al., 2017; Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2020). It means that decreeing one or more laws related to food and nutrition is not enough to reduce this scourge.

Venezuela requires cohesive, integrated, continuous, and progressive state-policies and laws rather than government initiatives that change according to political interests. Experts, statespersons, and health professionals should design the food policies. To properly set objectives and goals, an accurate diagnosis is required. The particular needs of each age-and-vulnerable-group should receive special consideration.

To further develop these Food and Nutrition Security-policies, a few aspects should be considered (FAO, 2012a): ample availability, physical and economic access, sustainability, and stability of the agri-food system, nutritional and cultural adequacy, and other considerations to promote the biological utilization of consumed food. Moreover, several bioethical considerations apply: equity, distributive justice, and beneficence (Beauchamp and Childress, 1994; Giovane Mendieta-Izquierdo, 2020).

These moral values, as well as the principles of the FNS, must be an essential part of any program in Nutritional Public Health so that they can be continuous, assessable, measurable, and adaptable, that is to say, that all the programs that are developed can be monitored, adjusted, and controlled.

Bioethical principles aim to protect the human dignity of man. The association of these principles with food security improves the design of food policies. Initiatives developed using these approaches are real, fair, and well-balanced without disparagement or discrimination of any age group. Table 2 includes several recommendations for improvement of food security in Venezuela based on the principles of the food security and bioethics.

TABLE 2
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Table 2. Recommendations for improvement of food security in Venezuela based on the principles of the food security and bioethics.

In Venezuela, actual experience is to develop nutrition care programs that lack clear and precise objectives (Delgado and Herrera-Cuenca, 2019), with scope and goals that cannot be evaluated in a given period of time. They are usually developed as part of a policy plan, and subsequently forgotten or replaced by other faulty proposals following the same pattern.

Upon all these food insecurity problems, the country now faces the SARS-CoV-2, a highly aggressive Coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 pandemic, declared as such in March 2020. Limitations imposed because of Covid-19 further aggravate the delicate food situation in Venezuela.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has specified recommendations and guidelines to contain the virus spread. Among these are 14-day quarantine for suspected cases and isolation of cases confirmed; use of a face mask, hand-washing with soap and water, hand disinfection with alcoholic gels, thorough-domestic cleaning, and disinfection, as well as the maintenance of a 2 m physical-distancing.

Venezuela rapidly imposed these measures. Confinement of the country started on March 13, 2020, after the first cases were confirmed. Quarantine measures required many adjustments, particularly in food collection, storage, distribution, and delivery, both to the general and vulnerable population groups to avoid the surging of nutrition problems.

The pandemic has increased food insecurity and poverty, as many people have lost their jobs and or have insufficient income to cover the basic food basket. The National Survey of Living Conditions (ENCOVI) surveyed the impact of COVID-19 on employment and income. Figures show that 43% of the surveyed households report the inability to work or have lost income (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2020).

According to the World Food Program July–September-2019 survey (World Food Program, 2019), 7.9% of the population (2.7 million) is in Severe Food Insecurity, and 24.4% (7 million) are in moderate Food Insecurity. These figures are previous to the onset of the pandemics. In addition, other factors contribute to aggravate the effects of confinement little availability of cash, shortage of gasoline, installation of police and military control posts and barricades and severely impact food security.

As shown by ENCOVI in its latest publication (March 2019–March 2020), rampant inflation exceeds 3,365% and 73.9% do not have enough income to cover the food basket in Venezuela. Rising unemployment figures in Venezuela are comparable to those of countries such as Nigeria, Chad, Congo, and Zimbabwe (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2020).

Updated official figures on food availability, access, and consumption are not available. Therefore evaluation of pandemic-impact cannot be estimated. Different expert committees in Food and Nutritional Security (FNS) have declared that the Covid-19 pandemic will have severe repercussions on food security in the world (FAO, 2020b; FAO-CELAC, 2020; OXFAM, 2020), especially in countries that were already experiencing economic and social crises.

In Venezuela, multiple maladies (hyperinflation, unemployment, low wages, food and gasoline shortages, deficient public services) pave the current humanitarian crisis and forecast the nutrition and health problems assuredly prevalent shortly. Worrisome is the change in the eating pattern due to the intake of cheaper-starchy foods while sacrificing expensive high biological value proteins.

What has been missing is a strong political motivation to enforce the approved legislation. Unfortunately, government initiatives are short-sighted and aimed to strengthen the political grip on the population. For instance, Clap boxes reach their beneficiaries but do not satisfy their food and nutrition needs. The program to sell subsidized gasoline is very significant, but gas supply is scarce encouraging under-the-counter corrupt transactions (Abuelafia and Saboin, 2020). At present, there are at least 10 laws and programs which address food security issues. Nonetheless, acute malnutrition is rampant.

As sustained in this work, decreeing many laws related to food and nutrition is not enough to reduce hunger, malnutrition, inequity, etc. An attempt was made to demonstrate through the Venezuelan case, that States and the legal framework of a country are not always the guarantors the Food and Nutrition Security of the people, particularly if their design and enforcement disregards the advice of the health and nutrition experts.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and has approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer AC declared a shared affiliation, though no collaboration, with the author.

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Keywords: food, nutrition, food security, food policies, malnutrition, children, Venezuela

Citation: Rodríguez García JJ (2021) Food Security in Venezuela: From Policies to Facts. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 5:617907. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2021.617907

Received: 15 October 2020; Accepted: 22 February 2021;
Published: 19 March 2021.

Edited by:

Maria S. Tapia, Academia de Ciencias Físicas, Matemáticas y Naturales de Venezuela, Venezuela

Reviewed by:

Ben Davies Tall, United States Food and Drug Administration, United States
Jennifer Bernal, National University of Colombia, Colombia
Andrés Jose Carmona, Central University of Venezuela, Venezuela

Copyright © 2021 Rodríguez García. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Janet J. Rodríguez García, jarodsca@gmail.com