Ferne Edwards, a PhD student at the Australian National University who researches sustainable food movements, cities and climate change, was so inspired by the social changes in Venezuela when she visited there as part of a food sovereignty tour in 2009 that she decided to organise an opportunity for other Australians to visit and see it for themselves.
Edwards told Green Left Weekly: "I've been working and researching sustainable food systems and social change for the last five years or so. I'd read all about Cuba's experience in transitioning to organic, urban agriculture and realised that Venezuela — a very dynamic socialist country — was also active in this area.
"Cuba and Venezuela's agricultural models are what so many food activists in the developed world dream about, with their focus on social justice, equality and sustainability, cooperative farming methods and support from all levels of government. But in Venezuela and Cuba, it's a reality."
The Food Sovereignty, Social Movements and Social Change study tour is being organised by Edwards, along with William Camacaro, a Venezuelan who lives in the US and co-founded the New York Bolivarian Circle. It will run from July 19 to August 2. The deadline for registrations is April 30.
The study tour will examine land reform, urbanisation, rural development and food sovereignty within the dynamic political context of the Venezuelan revolution.
Edwards said: "Venezuela is an outstanding example of a country that strives to ensure its citizens' right to food while bolstering its domestic agriculture sector, with an emphasis on organic practices and agroecology."
The study tour will also explore other areas of social transformation, including education, health care and direct citizen participation in the political process.
The organisers are working with a variety of partners in Venezuela, including the ministries of agriculture and tourism, the Institute for Production and Research of Tropical Agriculture, campesino (peasant) group CANEZ, and other government and grassroots groups.
Edwards said the tour aims, "to show interested people how ideas such as food sovereignty and social change are being lived and experienced by Venezuelans. Not many balanced views [about Venezuela] are presented in the international media and it's very hard to get an idea of what is really going on there.
"It's not perfect — there's still a lot of urbanisation problems and many changes are still in progress — but there are also a lot of innovative social justice, health and environmental initiatives that benefit a lot of people.
"Just look at the variety of food security options that Venezuela offers its people. There are two types of subsidised supermarkets, the Mercal and PDVAL, which sell high-quality, discounted staple foods to all people of all income levels.
"There's casas de alimentacion, or feeding houses, that provide home-cooked, nutritious meals to those in greatest need. And there's the School Feeding Program and the Law for Workers' Nutrition providing free meals.
"Then there are farmer-to-farmer programs to exchange knowledge and skills, bank support, equipment provided to farming cooperatives, as well as training and technical assistance. Agroecology was established in law as the scientific basis for sustainable agriculture in Venezuela. It's all very inspiring."
The tour will include visits to many different food security locations, such as farming cooperatives, factories, feeding houses, and social and health programs. Participants will meet farmers, community leaders and government officials, and also enjoy some of Venezuela's beaches and cultural activities.
Edwards is aiming for 15 to 25 participants from Australia. "Participants will have their eyes opened wide", she said. "I was very impressed by the real action happening with food in Venezuela. There's so much talk in Australia and, although there are definitely some fantastic food justice and sustainability projects happening here, it's happening on a much larger and all-encompassing scale in Venezuela."
For more information and to register, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0405 537 015.
[Lisa Macdonald is a national coordinator of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network.]