Venezuelans turn to homemade products as shortages drag on

CARACAS (Reuters) - From makeup to insect repellent, Venezuelans are looking to natural and homemade products in response to the chronic shortages resulting from a deepening economic crisis in the socialist-ruled country.

Falling oil prices and a collapsing state-led sector have left the OPEC nation struggling to keep shelves stocked.

Venezuelans with a knack for crafts and a flare for do-it-yourself projects are filling in the gaps with their own wares that they promote via the country’s viral social networks.

“This year I started production of cosmetics and have been making more and more as a result of the positive response,” said Mimi Ossorio, who sells organic skin products made from raw materials including essential oils, honey, and cocoa under the brand “Beauty Mimi.”

Venezuelans routinely spend hours in line at supermarkets and pharmacies to obtain everything from skin cream and diapers to chicken and milk.

Popular homemade substitutes for scarce personal hygiene products now include cloves mixed with alcohol as insect repellent or a mixture of lemon and vinegar instead of acetone.

Economists believe Venezuelan inflation is in the triple digits and the economy in a steep recession, though the central bank this year stopped publishing that data. President Nicolas Maduro says the situation is the result of an “economic war” led by political adversaries.

Price controls on staple goods have spurred a lucrative contraband business in which smugglers buy subsidized corn flour, soap or toothpaste and resell the products for a profit on the domestic black market or across the border in Colombia.

Small start-up businesses can attract clients by offering an escape from supermarket lines, where fights and attempted looting are increasingly common.

“Clearly our sales have grown,” said Carlos Gil whose online vegetable market delivers organic produce that he and his family harvest outside Caracas. “People don’t like going to the supermarket. No one wants to be stuck in line.”

But home businesses also struggle to overcome shortages.

Ossorio says some beauty products require raw materials not available in Venezuela. She frequently asks family and friends who travel abroad to set aside space in their suitcases.

Gil, however, does not suffer from the increasing shortages of fertilizers and pesticides that plague the industrial farming sector. He does not use them.

“I think we’re covering a niche. Maybe it was luck, call it that,” he said. “But obviously the country’s situation is not good for anyone.”

Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Simao