Country Focus Data: Venezuela
September 01, 1995
by Mindy Dake
Located on the northern coast of South America, the Republic of Venezuela's capital is Caracas.
Demography: Population (1994), 20.6 million, 2.2% annual growth rate (1994 estimate); 89% urban; Spanish language; Roman Catholic religion.
Geography: 912,050 square km total area; 2,800 km coastline; tropical climate, more moderate in highlands.
Government: Republic. Chief of state and head of government is President Rafael Caldera Rodriguez.
Official agricultural agencies: Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAC).
Economy: With more than 64 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, Venezuela's economy is heavily reliant on the petroleum sector, which accounted for 23% of gross domestic product and 77% of export revenues in 1993. Agriculture generally accounts for about 6% of G.D.P.
Venezuela enjoyed an economic boom in the 1980s, thanks to relatively high oil prices. In 1989, economic restructuring and trade reforms, including tariff reductions, the removal of price controls and conversion to a free market exchange rate, threw the economy into confusion, causing a decline in G.D.P. Although the economy recovered in the early 1990s, a recession began in 1993, partially related to a pull-back of investment amid political instability. The recession, which has lingered into 1995, has been accompanied by high inflation and restrictive foreign exchange policies that have affected agricultural production, consumption patterns and imports.
G.D.P. per capita: U.S.$8,000 (1993 estimate); 1993 G.N.P. growth rate, -1%.
Currency: the Bolivar; mid-July 1995 exchange rate: about 170 bolivars per U.S. dollar.
Major crops: Maize, sorghum, rice.
Maize: Venezuela has two distinct maize markets: one for white maize, which is a food staple; and one for yellow maize, used primarily as animal feed. White maize is processed into precooked maize flour, which is made into various traditional dishes.
About 75% of the white maize consumed is produced domestically, with the remainder imported. Yellow maize is imported.
Sorghum: Venezuela's major domestic feed grain, sorghum also is one of the most politically sensitive crops. Production has dropped by about 45% since the mid-1980s, based on market reforms, liberalization of competing maize imports and general economic difficulties.
Rice: Even though rice is a traditional Venezuelan food, per capita consumption —17 kg in 1994 — has been relatively low because the population prefers bread and pasta products.
Annual production and consumption are generally in balance, minimizing the need for imports or exports. But in 1994 and early 1995, Venezuela exported rice to neighboring Colombia, where prices were higher; Venezuelan rice supply deficits then were covered by high-quality U.S. rice imports. That activity ended in mid-1995, when Colombia banned Venezuelan rice imports to protect its domestic rice producers.
Wheat: Nearly 100% of Venezuela's wheat consumption is met by imports. Some 58% of the wheat imported in 1994 was of U.S. origin, while Canada supplied 24% and the European Union supplied 14%. Because pasta is popular, Venezuela's total wheat imports each year generally include about 340,000 tonnes of durum. Per capita consumption in 1994 was 52 kg.
Livestock: Venezuela's livestock industry consists of mostly dairy herds, pasture-fed beef cattle, pork and poultry inventories. Animal inventories generally have dropped since 1993 as the recession tempered demand and encouraged herd liquidations. The Jan. 1, 1995 beef cattle inventory was 3.8 million head and the dairy inventory was 1.4 million, down about 5% and 12%, respectively, since Jan. 1, 1993. Broiler and pork production generally has increased slightly.
Transportation: 542 km total railroads, 363 km 1.435-m standard gauge; 81,000 km of highways, with 31,200 paved; major ports on the Caribbean Sea include Bajo Grande, Puerto Cabello and Puerto Ordaz.