Venezuela re-stocks subsidized food markets amid continued inflation

By James Suggett

MERIDA — The Venezuelan government announced a plan this week to purchase 4.8 million bolivars (U.S. $2.2 million) worth of basic foods to be sold over the next ten months in its state-run subsidized food market chain, Mercal. The measure comes as new statistics show that monthly inflation increased by 2.5% in September, with food price inflation above average.

The food purchase, which is financed by the national Social Development Bank (BANDES), is intended to "guarantee food security, as well as opportune and permanent access to food for people, especially the population with fewer resources, by way of national and international purchases, privileging national production," according to the executive order that was signed on Tuesday.

78% of the money will be used buy nearly a million metric tons of foods such as rice, pasta, flour, beans, sugar, salt, cooking oil, meat, and milk, as well as traditional Venezuelan food items consumed during the December holidays.

The remaining portion of the money will go toward upgrades to the information systems, food transport vehicles, and other machinery used by the Mercal markets, as well as construction and repairs to the small markets, which can be found in or near most communities across the country.

The amount of money invested and the amount of food purchased according to the plan are approximately the same as the amounts invested and purchased under previous plans, which were announced in September 2008 and November 2007, reflecting the government's pledge to maintain social spending in spite of the world economic crisis.

The Mercal program was founded in 2003 with the goal of achieving national food sovereignty and lowering malnutrition. It is now accompanied by the program PDVAL, which produces and distributes food nation-wide at state-regulated prices and is run by the state oil company, PDVSA.

Meanwhile, the monthly inflation rate in September was 2.5%, slightly higher than the 2.2% monthly rate in August, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). Accumulated inflation so far this year is 18.5%, slightly lower than the 21.8% inflation registered over the first nine months of last year, the INE reported.

Inflation in the prices of rent, transportation, communications, health care, and clothing were significantly lower than the monthly rate. Food price inflation was 3.3%, and inflation was also above average in the prices of furniture, alcoholic beverages and tobacco, and educational services and supplies.

October 9, 2009 — Return to cover.