By CORREO DEL ORINOCO INTERNATIONAL
This week Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez underscored the importance of the Venezuelan Academy of Agricultural Sciences (ACAV), the first national education, research, and extension center dedicated to improving agricultural production in the Latin American nation.
Built on recently nationalized lands in the rural state of Barinas, the new scientific research institute seeks to merge university and popular knowledge in an ongoing effort to increase food production and support the country’s rural producers engaged in Mission Agro Venezuela. In a message sent via Twitter on Sunday, Chavez highlighted “how beautiful our National Academy of Agricultural Sciences has become” and promised to “be there soon” in reference to the ACAV inauguration ceremony expected later this year.
The Venezuelan President issued his statement as Minister of Agriculture Juan Carlos Loyo and Barinas state Governor Adan Chavez presented 46 rural producers with the credit needed to finance cacao production (the raw material used for chocolate) as part of Mission Agro Venezuela, the latest in a series of attempts by the Chavez government to stimulate agricultural production.
Launched earlier this year, the socio-economic agricultural ‘mission’ works by registering rural producers, working with them to identify specific production constraints, and providing them with the land, credit, and machinery needed to boost agricultural production on privately- or collectively-held lands.
According to Mauricio Nunez, Venezuelan Vice Minister for Education and Innovation, the country’s national Academy of Agricultural Sciences “will strengthen Mission Agro Venezuela by providing producers with the training they need to become engaged in the agricultural development of the nation”.
Nunez, who described the ACAV as one of many “achievements of the Revolution”, went on to explain that the research and education center will provide rural producers with technical training on “controlling the pests, weeds, and sicknesses that affect harvests”. Financed by Venezuela’s Social Development Bank (BANDES) and the Venezuela-China Development Fund, the country’s first ever national Academy of Agricultural Sciences has cost nearly four million dollars in investments between 2009 and 2011.
The Academy’s national headquarters, made up of seven recently- completed buildings which include multiple classrooms, an investigation center, laboratory, library, computer lab, cafeteria, includes sufficient living quarters to house up to 500 students at any given time.
Located in Quebrada Negra, municipality Alberto Arvelo Torrealba, state of Barinas, the Academy’s central location is to be accompanied by future rural extension branches in the rural states of Guarico, Anzoategui, Aragua, and Monagas. Venezuela’s ACAV is located in the same municipality as the Latin American Institute of Agroecology (IALA) – Paulo Freire, a collaborative effort between the Venezuelan government and the international rural social movement, La Via Campesina, aimed at providing agroecological training to the sons and daughters of rural land activists that make up La Via Campesina Latin America.
According to Atilio Barroeta, Director of the Projects Infrastructure at the ACAV, “the lands on which today we are constructing the Academy of Agricultural Sciences previously belonged to a cattle ranch known as ‘The Future,’ comprised of 280 hectares (almost 700 acres), where the previous owners did nothing but raise a few heads of cattle and plant the so-called ‘bad (sugar) cane’ which damages the soil – the reason why our National Land Institute expropriating these lands”.
Approved by the National Assembly in March 2010, the Venezuelan Academy of Agricultural Sciences aims to help the Venezuelan people “reach technological independence and secure food sovereignty” by “forming a network that guarantees the coordination, cooperation, and complementarity between People’s Power and the diverse array of institutions that are currently involved in projects and programs” of agricultural development in Venezuela.
According to its founding charter, the ACAV recognizes the importance of numerous protagonists in the process of agricultural research and extension, from “researchers, technicians and academics in the field of the agricultural sciences” to a range of organizations of People’s Power that represent “small- and medium- scale producers, indigenous communities, peasants, and fisher- folk”, among others.
As a public institution of “knowledge creation,” the national center seeks to unite “popular know-how and ancestral knowledge as it interacts with and complements (universitybased) scientific knowledge in the creation of alternatives that are technologically appropriate and serve to improve the rational use and conservation of natural resources” as Venezuela seeks to boost agricultural production.
The nearly four million dollars spent on the construction of the ACAV were made available thanks to a 2010 Chinese government offer to Venezuela of $20 billion in financing. Made in April of last year, the loan is said to be one of the largest credits China has made to any country in its recent history.
Highlighting the importance of the Venezuela-China relationship, Venezuela’s Chavez explained that the funds would be directed towards infrastructure, energy, and agriculture, among other fields of economic importance, and that Chinese support represented a break from “international credit organizations that grant financing under unfavorable and undignified conditions for the beneficiaries”.
Venezuela’s ACAV is modeled after China’s Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, located in the Janin province and part of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). Nationwide, China’s CAAS currently has some 10,000 staff members and 38 research institutes distributed across 17 of the country’s 22 provinces, dedicated to “agricultural and rural development and empowering farmers” in the struggle to feed China’s 1.4 billion inhabitants.