Directed by Simon Cunich (2011)
Growing Change is an Australian documentary about Latin America’s food sovereignty movement and the deliberate campaign by Venezuela and other left leaning governments to extract themselves from the US-run system of industrial agriculture.
The film begins by quoting from a 2008 study by the UN Environment Programme called Agriculture at a Crossroads: International assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology.
This study concludes that industrial agriculture can’t produce enough food to feed 9 billion people.* Although it cites a number of reasons for this conclusion, the documentary highlights two of the most important: oil depletion (industrial agriculture requires 66 barrels of oil per year to feed one person) and the destruction of topsoil through repeated use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that kill living organisms responsible for soil fertility. In part due to urbanization, the world has lost 25% of their productive farmland over the last 25 years.
Food Sovereignty in Venezuela
Using Venezuela as an example, Growing Change demonstrates how industrial agriculture increases world hunger, with foreign corporations driving peasant farmers off their lands and destroying local farmers’ livelihoods through cheap food imports.
As Venezuela expanded oil production to become the world’s largest oil exporter (in 1950), ruling elites allowed the country’s agricultural system to collapse. Forced to leave their land (either by direct expropriation or inability to compete with cheap food imports), farmers flooded into the slums of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities. Meanwhile with all the oil profits going to ruling elites and their US backers, mass unemployment and poverty left the majority of the population with no money to buy food.
Things came to a head in 1989 with the massive Caracasa uprising, in which the Venezuela army shot 3,000 protesters.
Venezuelan Reforms Led by Grassroots
For me, the chief value of this film was learning that most of the reforms Hugo Chavez implemented were driven – not by Chavez himself – but by well-organized peasant and workers groups. Moreover it was clearly the power of their organizing that brought him to power in 1998.
Between 1998 and 2008, Chavez used oil revenues to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition from 21% to 6%. His land reform program redistributed 6 million acres of vacant land to 250,000 families. Working through community councils and self-governing cooperatives, the new occupants put most of this land into organic production. Chavez also heavily subsidized organic urban farms on vacant city land, free meals at work sites and community centers and a 40% reduction in the cost of imported food for the poorest families..
*World population is predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050.
**Unless they had illegally expropriated the land, landowners were compensated at fair market value for undeveloped land the Chavez government confiscated.