Throughout the past year, Venezuela has experienced a rising number of food shortages. “You can only buy what the government lets enter the country because everything is imported. There’s no beef. There’s no chicken,” Zoraido Carillo, a 50-year-old resident who was participating in a Caracas protest, was quoted as saying last March.
What could people do to work around a shortage that is leaving them without milk, flour, and even toilet paper? Jose Augusto Montiel decided to create an app to answer this question.
Montiel, a Venezuelan engineering student, created an app called Abasteceme (“supply me”), which debuted in 2013. The app’s goal was to map out where extra supplies of necessary goods were located, so that other Venezuelan residents could connect and trade for them.
Social Tech Guide has reported on the app’s progress, saying that it has helped “thousands of needy Venezuelans get their toilet paper.” According to Montiel, the app has been downloaded about 40,000 times to mobile devices, and is now available online as well. The platform has since jumped countries and is now being used throughout South America.
According to Montiel, many people have started to check the app before going to the grocery store in order to make sure that their needed products are there. He says that more users are searching for milk than for any other product. The app allows users to search for products within a 100 km radius of their location.
“Most users continue to be situated in the country’s central zone, especially Caracas,” says Montiel, who hopes that use of the app will continue to expand throughout the country, and into more countries, as well.
While food shortages remain constant, the average Venezuelan eats better, and more, than they did before Chavez came to power back in 1999. The shortage often forces restaurants to get creative with their menus. One maitre d’ remembers a customer saying, “This is a fish restaurant and you don’t even have fish? What the hell is wrong with you?” Even though the restaurant specializes in fish, they often struggle to get their hands on grouper, which is traditionally a popular fish in the region.
For many Americans, the need for a food shortage app might come as a shock, considering that items like toilet paper and even more specialized, imported items like salmon remain in ready supply at every grocery store. $2.4 billion in toilet paper is sold in America every year, and salmon pulled from the Kenai River in Alaska is easy to find throughout the U.S., served both fresh or smoked depending on the customer’s desire.
The future of Venezuela’s food shortages will depend on whether the government decides to ease up on state control over the economy. For now, though, Montiel’s app will be useful for many people on the search for basic goods.