Amid Venezuela food shortages, tropical fruits provide lifeline

With many people saying they cannot afford three meals a day, they're turning to Venezuela's lush mango, coconut, and papaya trees.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Ramon Silva eats a mango on a street in Caracas, Venezuela, June 6, 2016.

Venezuela's mango season is providing some relief during worsening food shortages that are forcing the poor to skip meals and sparking a rash of lootings.

Facing Soviet-style food lines for increasingly scarce products at supermarkets, more and more people are turning to the South American nation's lush mango, coconut and papaya trees.

While children have always scampered up trees or tossed stones to knock down the juicy yellow mangoes, workers are now joining them during lunch breaks, and parents are making long poles to scoop up the high treats.

"Sometimes when there's nothing in the fridge, I grab two mangoes," said Juany Iznaga, 13, whose family is going without some meals since her mother lost a job at the mayor's office.

"Mangoes help a little; they fill you up," Iznaga added as she shared a slice with her younger sister in the fertile town of La Fria by the Colombian border.

Around the crisis-hit nation of 30 million, people are consuming more starch and less protein. Many say they cannot afford three meals a day.

So mango season is being feted as never before.

"Now we can't throw anything away, not even the skin," said homemaker Iris Garcia, 58, whose son plucks mangoes in the windy Caribbean peninsula of Paraguana.

As the recession reduces employment and inflation crushes spending power, street corners are increasingly brimming with informal vendors selling freshly picked fruit.

Josue Moreno, 19, quit his job four months ago at a bottled water plant where he made $7 a month on the black market rate and now sells coconuts under the leafy shade of a busy street in La Fria.

"This work is easier," said Moreno as he chopped the fruit with a big knife, poked a straw into it and handed it over to a thirsty customer blasting Latin American reggaeton music from his pickup. "Coconuts take care of themselves; you don't have to do anything."

Still, sweet tropical fruits are no substitute for a proper diet, and protests are spreading as delivery trunks become an ever more elusive sight.

For two days, Adrian Vega has been eating crackers topped with mangoes from the tree in his backyard in the jungle state of Bolivar.

"And by the looks of it," the 23-year-old student said, "I'll be eating mangoes for several more days because that's what we have."

Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo, German Dam in Ciudad Guayana, and Manuel Hernandez in Maracaibo; writing by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Andrew Cawthorne.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to