CORN & BEANS

When campesinos (Mexican family farmers) take their native white corn to market they are told: “We can’t take your corn because we already have yellow American corn that is much cheaper.” When they can’t sell corn, some producers begin to grow other crops. The Mexican government suggested to farmers in Northern Chihuahua that they grow high quality, long fiber cotton. But at harvest time producers hear yet again, from the textile plants: “Sorry, we have a lot of American grown cotton and we don’t need yours.” Short fiber American cotton is very cheap and dominates the Mexican market.

THE JUICY TRUTH

This preference for cheap American agricultural products is not only felt by commodity producers. Campesinos growing subsistence and staple crops are losing their markets as well. Small-scale Mexican farmers who grow pinto beans to sell in local markets, a staple in the diets of most poor Mexicans, are facing new competition. U.S. producers are flooding markets in Mexico with pinto beans from Colorado. The inability of local producers to sell the most fundamental agricultural products locally has led to complete destabilization of local food systems in many Mexican communities.

The growing exportation of grains from the United States to Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had very severe implications for Mexican agriculture and Mexico’s rural people. Today, Mexicans have become dependent on U.S. grain to meet their basic nutritional needs. Poor farmers, who produce mainly corn and beans, have been driven out of business as market prices drop because of under-priced U.S. grain spilling over into Mexican markets.

While US producers struggle on their farms as well, those who produce commodity crops have the advantage of government programs that, though minimal, provide market and price subsidies, and disaster payments to supplement market losses. These payments make it possible for U.S. grain to be sold below the cost of production to Mexican markets. Campesinos in Mexico receive only a tenth of the support US producers do, and have virtually no safety net to protect them against drastically low prices and collapsing markets. Many farmers are forced to burn their fields and dump the harvest rather then bringing it to market (see attached article).

NAFTA as it was negotiated, NAFTA as it was approved, and NAFTA as it is practiced, for agriculture, is a source of poverty, frustration and violence to Mexi-can farmers, and an engine of out-migration to the US. For every five tons of Ame-rican corn that agribusiness exports into Mexico, another farmer is forced to cross the border to find a job. Many women are sent to work in the maquila cities, such as Ciudad Juárez, just across the boarder from El Paso, Texas. Free trade is destroying the rural communities and social fabric of Mexico.

The conditions that followed NAFTA are not isolated - the same trends hurt communities exposed to free trade across the globe. As our own society faces the aftermath of the September 11 attacks here, the impact of the ravages of free trade also merit our attention. As we and our counterparts in the movements for peace and justice across the globe work anew to seek conditions for peace every-where, it is essential that we explore how poverty and instability elsewhere may relate to our own domestic food policies and involvement in international trade agreements.

Ideas to Consider:

  • Does the inability of a nation - even the US - to produce its own food and to feed its people pose a tremendous threat for the security of that nation?
  • Isn’t the impossibility of people in rural areas of the underdeveloped world to live decently from their own work a threat to mental health, to human dignity, community cohesion, and therefore, to peace?
  • In whose interests are treaties like NAFTA established? Many people in other nations see these treaties as instruments used to impose an unfair, unjust world order where multinational corpo-rations and big powers use rural communities and poor nations to accumulate wealth and power for themselves, leaving behind poverty and environmental devastation.

 

by Victor Quintana, RC Board member and former member of Congress in Mexico.