Venezuela's ranchers are able to cope with economic challenges thanks to milk for dollars
BARINAS, Venezuela, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Cattle ranchers in the Barinas state, one of Venezuela's main agricultural areas, milk their herds in the small hours each morning before selling the milk in dollars to ensure ends meet, as a lack of credit worsens the country's long-running economic crisis.
Venezuela's agriculture industry has been hit by years of restrictions and expropriation of land, enabling ranchers who depend on selling meat to reduce cattle breeding and convert to dairy.
Ranching across Venezuela's sprawling plains boasted 2.5 million head of cattle as little as four years ago, but has dipped to 1.7 million as breeding costs increased, according to producers. Fewer cattle are being slaughtered because of rising inflation.
Although President Nicolas Maduro's government loosened business regulations in 2019, the measure has not permissive the full reactivation of key areas for the country's weaker economy.
Some ranchers can now sell milk for dollars, lowering Venezuela's bolivar's depreciation.
"Milk is what gives us the opportunity to have a petty cash on the farm, which keeps us operating," said Jose Labrador, president of the Barinas Rural Producer Association, adding that he and his fellow ranchers were faced with a severe situation.
According to Labrador, a liter of milk can withstand up to 60 cents.
The dollar has aided producers to survive, according to Fedenaga, while smuggling cattle to Colombia is becoming less attractive.
According to the Venezuelan federation of ranchers, beef production is much slower and it takes longer to generate income in a country where annual consumption has dropped to eight kilograms per person from 26 kilograms in the 1990s.
A few ranchers have been able to sell beef abroad, with the government directing their exports to Asia and the Middle East.
According to producers' estimates, milk production in Barinas is around 2 million liters per day.
As a result of restrictions on new loans, producers' capacity to invest in their farms has been limited, causing some to abandon their lands, while others are focusing on alternatives like corn production or pig breeding alongside cattle, according to Labrador.
Ranchers are also fighting government measures to limit loan availability and expenditure in bolivars to enact a retaliation of hyperinflation, which has reduced the circulation of local currency.
In 2021, Venezuela's inflation rate jumped to 686.4%, according to the central bank.
A farm in the outskirts of Barinas, Venezuela's capital, has produced about 14,000 liters of milk per day, but it is now producing 9,000 liters due to rising production costs.
Only one of the farm's milking systems is operating after a lack of funding crippled the other, which was expected to add 8,000 kilograms to daily production, according to Labrador.
Criminal gangs who burn farms, destroy equipment, and kill livestock have also engulfed nearby forests have also dragged their output.
The gangs are attempting to drive ranchers from their lands, before selling them to third parties, according to producers. Thousands of videos from ranchers and on social media show cattle being abused or confined without food until they die.