The average debt of a U.S. household is $15,355, and is primarily the result of overusing credit cards. However, Venezuelans may soon accrue even more debt than that average simply because of how much their groceries cost.
Just a few months ago, Venezuela suffered a severe food shortage after the government started enforcing harsh price controls on food items. It was practically impossible for Venezuela store owners to important food from Brazil and Colombia, as the import prices were rising significantly, yet governmental price caps remained low.
The shortages were so bad that Venezuelans all over the nation were being forced to dig into their savings to pay the black market’s astronomical fees. Groups would stampede the Colombian border to buy suitcases full of food for a lower price and then smuggle the foodstuffs back across country lines.
Families even camped in long lines overnight at neighborhood supermarkets to gain access to necessities such as bread, milk, and canned beans. This situation poses a stark contrast to other countries throughout the world. While research shows that 12% of Americans camp with their immediately family in the great outdoors, Venezuelans were camping overnight in lines trying to secure food for their families.
The Venezuelan government, in an attempt to ease the food shortages, quietly stopped enforcing price controls in certain parts of the country. Nevertheless, the freedom to determine their own prices has store merchants selling their goods at an extremely high price so they can simply survive.
Not only that, but the country is experiencing severe inflation. The International Monetary Fund predicts the inflation in Venezuela will rise a staggering 475% by the end of 2016.
To put these prices in perspective, the government’s price control on a two-pound bag of cornmeal was 190 bolivars, or the equivalent of 16 cents. But now cornmeal made in Venezuela sells for 975 bolivars and if it’s imported? It will set someone back 1,850 bolivars.
“The price of everything skyrocketed,” Simon, a 25-year old recent college graduate who teaches high school students in Caracas, told CNN Money. “There’s no quality of life here.”
Simon, who lives in an upper-middle class neighborhood, makes about 96,000 bolivars a month. With the ever changing exchange rate, his monthly salary is a paltry $80 USD.
That figure represents just the middle class, as poorer Venezuelans can hardly survive on their meager wages. The current minimum wage, including food stamps, is 68,000 bolivars a month, which is around $54 USD. In other words, a dozen eggs and one bag of cornmeal cost eight percent of a worker’s monthly income.
So what is the government doing about this crisis? Instructing Venezuelans to plant a garden in their backyard.
Problem is, there is no land.
President Nicolas Maduro presented an idea in February where his Ministry of Urban Agriculture would plant roughly 4,600 square miles of garden plots for city dwellers to use for their gardens within 100 days. They also promised the equivalent of $300,000 in seeds, gardening equipment, and educational materials.
Nine months later, the Ministry failed to provide plots or seeds. As of right now, only eight square miles have been planted, including crops on terraces, jail property, and school yards.
However, even if someone is lucky enough to have space to grow their plants, there isn’t enough water to sustain them. Venezuela is currently going through a drought. Everyone’s water is shut off between Saturday afternoon and Wednesday.
In response to their criticism, the Venezuela government released a statement saying that one gardener can produce nearly 45 pounds of produce with just one meter of land.