A line of cars waiting to refuel is seen in the hometown of late Venezuelan President Hugo Ch vez, a day before the state of Barinas holds a re-run of the gubernatorial election in Barinas, Venezuela on January 8, 2022. Picture taken from a drone. BARINAS, Venezuela - Jan 14 Reuters -- Cattle ranchers in Barinas state, one of Venezuela's main agricultural regions, milk their herds in the small hours each morning before selling the milk in dollars to make ends meet, as a lack of credit worsens a long-running economic crisis.
The agriculture industry in Venezuela has been hit by years of regulations and expropriation of land, leading ranchers who depend on selling meat to scale back cattle breeding and shift to dairy.
Ranching in Venezuela's sprawling plains had 2.5 million head of cattle as little as four years ago, but has dwindled to 1.7 million as the rearing costs go up, producers said. They said that cattle are being slaughtered because high inflation has hit demand for beef.
While President Nicolas Maduro loosened business regulations in 2019, the measure did not allow the complete reactivation of key areas for the South American country's battered economy.
Some ranchers can sell milk for dollars, helping to offset the devaluation of Venezuela's bolivar.
Jose Labrador, president of the Barinas rural producers association, said milk is what gives us the opportunity to have petty cash on the farm that keeps us operating. He said that he and his fellow ranchers were facing a grave crisis.
A liter of milk can go for 30 to 60 cents, Labrador said.
The use of the dollar has helped producers survive, while making smuggled cattle less attractive, Fedenaga said.
Beef production takes longer to create income in a country where annual consumption has dropped to eight kilograms per person from 26 kilos in the 1990 s, according to the National Federation of Ranchers in Venezuela Fedenaga. A handful of ranchers have been able to sell beef abroad, with the government pushing exports to Asia and the Middle East.
According to producers' estimates, there are around 2 million liters of milk per day in Barinas. Some producers are abandoning their lands because of restrictions on new loans, while others focus on options like producing corn or raising sheep or pigs alongside cattle, because of the restrictions on new loans, according to Labrador.
Ranchers contend with government measures to limit loan availability and spending in bolivars to control hyperinflation, which have reduced the circulation of local currency.
In 2021, inflation in Venezuela hit 686.4%, according to the central bank.
A farm on the outskirts of Barinas state capital of the same name produced around 14,000 liters of milk per day before Venezuela's economic crisis, but now has an output of 9,000 liters due to high production costs.
Only one of the farm's milking systems is currently operational because of a lack of funding, which is poised to add 8,000 liters to daily production, Labrador said.
Production has been disrupted due to attacks by criminal gangs who burn farms, destroy equipment and kill livestock, as well as damage to nearby forests, according to producers.
The gangs aim to drive ranchers from their lands before selling them to third parties, producers told Reuters. Videos provided by ranchers and on social media show cattle being abused or confined without food until they die.