The diary of a food activist’s visits to Mexico

 Books and resources  Comments Off on The diary of a food activist’s visits to Mexico
Apr 142014
 

Food activist Jill Richardson, author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It, has a blog called Jill Over the Ground (formerly La Vida Locavore – Locavores being people interested in eating food that is locally produced, and has not traveled long distances.)

Richardson, who serves on the policy advisory board of the Organic Consumers Association, visited Mexico twice in 2010 and has published an interesting online diary of her trips. Richardson visited the two contrasting states of Jalisco and Chiapas. In the former wealthy state, she was able to spend some time in the agricultural community of Cuquio. Her purpose on this trip was “to learn about the impacts of the Green Revolution and NAFTA on corn production there.” Later in the year she visited Chiapas, a far less wealthy state, during the time of the coffee and corn harvests, “working with and learning about the Zapatistas (an indigenous insurgent group).”

Educational level of farmers in Mexico, 2007

Educational level of farmers in Mexico, 2007. Credit: LaVidaLocavore.com

Following her trips, Richardson compiled a page summarizing agricultural statistics for Chiapas, Jalisco and Cuquio, based on Mexico’s 2007 Agricultural Census. The page has numerous tables and graphs about everything from crops grown and machinery used to irrigation, access to insurance, living conditions and other sources of household income.

Agriculture in Cuquio, 2010

Agriculture in Cuquio, 2007. Credit: LaVidaLocovore.com

Richardson’s passion for produce that is organic and locally produced is admirable. The anecdotes in her diary entries are well told, and raise important issues about the overuse/abuse of pesticides and fertilizers,the exploitation of farmers, microlending and a host of other factors that caught her attention. While her diaries are certainly not a comprehensive analysis of agriculture in the areas she visited, they do shed some light on some of the important issues facing farmers there. The diary entries are worth reading for the many examples and photographs included.

Her diary entries include:

I should note that despite Richardson’s impassioned and persuasive writing, I’m not actually in agreement with her advocacy for locavorism. I find myself more in agreement with the reviewer of her book who wrote that, “The author’s rabid advocacy of locavorism is especially myopic; she brushes past the costliness and impracticality—When buying eggs I ask the farmer how many chickens they own and if these chickens are on pasture—and ignores critics who argue that locavorism is an energy-inefficient fad.” (See The energy efficiency of farming in Mexico and elsewhere.)

That said, Richardson’s online diary is a very useful resource and likely to be a valuable starting point for many classroom discussions.

Related posts

Geo-Mexico has many other agriculture-related posts (easily found via our tag system). They include posts about the geography of growing/producing cacao, honey, sugarcane, coffeeChristmas trees, chiles, floriculture, tomatoes, tequila, horticultural crops and oranges.

Apr 052014
 

How are bananas grown commercially?

Banana plants (their lack of a central woody stem means they are plants, not trees) can grow to heights of 10 meters (30 ft), with leaves up to 4 meters (12 ft) in length. Banana plants grown commercially are usually much lower in height for ease of management and to limit wind damage.

Each individual plant produces a single stem. Each stem contains six to nine clusters of bananas (“hands”), each with 10 to 20 individual bananas (“fingers”). Commercial banana stems each produce six or seven hands with 150 to 200 bananas. Each stem weights between 20 and 50 kg.

A typical banana plant grows to a size with harvestable fruit in nine to 18 months. Harvesting bananas is often done by workers in pairs, with one cutting the fruit off the stem and the other catching the bananas to prevent them striking the ground and being damaged.

After the fruit is harvested, the stalk dies or is cut down. In its place one of more “daughter” (or “ratoon”) plants will sprout from the same underground rhizome that produced the mother plant. These shoots are genetic clones of the parent plant.

Banana plants require rich soil, nine to 12 months of sunshine and frequent heavy rains (2000-4000 mm/yr), generally more than can be provided by irrigation. Bananas are either spayed with pesticides or wrapped in plastic for protection from insects. Wrapping the fruit also reduces the bruising caused by friction with leaves in windy conditions.

Bananas are easily bruised and damaged in transit, but can be picked green (unripe) and ripened quickly at destination. They are generally picked and packed on or close to the plantation.

Commercial plantations of bananas often use very large areas of land, with 2000-2400 plants/hectare. Good access to transportation routes (roads or railways) is essential in order to avoid damage after packaging. Banana cultivation is very labor intensive. Banana plants are often used as shade for crops such as cacao or coffee.

Banana packing plant. Credit: Sagarpa.

Banana packing plant. Credit: Sagarpa.

Challenges for the commercial cultivation of bananas

Weather and climatic hazards

Banana plants can easily be damaged by strong wind and entire plantations can be destroyed by tropical storms and hurricanes.

Disease

Bananas are susceptible to a wide variety of pests and diseases. For example, Panama disease (aka Black Wilt), an infection in the soil, ravaged banana plantations throughout the Caribbean and Central American in the 1950s, virtually wiping out the Gros Michel variety cultivated at that time. The more fragile Cavendish bananas proved resistant, though they required more specialist packing. A new strain of Panama disease (Tropical race 4) capable of killing Cavendish bananas has emerged in Asia, but has yet to reach Latin
America.

Fungal diseases such as black sigatoka are one of the current major issues faced by banana producers. To combat black sigatoka, plantations may be aerially sprayed with pesticides from helicopters. Black sigatoka has already reduced banana yields in some parts of the world by up to 50%. Fighting this disease apparently now accounts for about 30% of Chiquita’s costs.

Commercial bananas have limited genetic variability and limited resistance to disease. This has led some experts to argue that fungal diseases may wipe out commercial banana plantations permanently, though the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) disagrees. The FAO argues that export varieties of bananas make up only about 10% of the total world banana crop, and that considerable genetic diversity remains in the plants grown for local consumption by small-scale farmers in developing countries.

Pesticide applications and pollution

Numerous studies have suggested that commercial banana production is often accompanied by high levels of pollution, both of the soil and of water courses. For example, the authors of “Soil and Water Pollution in a Banana Production Region in Tropical Mexico” studied an area of 10,450 hectares in Tabasco where the “agricultural activities are primarily banana production and agro forestry plantations (Spanish cedar and bananas).”

The area had been sprayed weekly with the pesticide Mancozeb for a decade at an application rate of 2.5 kg/ha/week. The study monitored soil, surface, subsurface and groundwater pollution. It found that there was a “severe” accumulation of manganese in the soil, while surface and subsurface water was “highly polluted” with ethylene thiourea, the main metabolite of Mancozeb. The authors concluded that “The level of pollution in the region presents a worrisome risk for aquatic life and for human health.”

Banana research

In Latin America, the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research is a leading banana breeding center and the source of many promising hybrids, including some that can either be cooked when green (like plantains) or eaten as ripe bananas. It usually takes decades to develop and introduce a new hybrid. Scientists are also working on genetically-engineered (GE) bananas that will remain ripe longer, and are trying to develop dwarf hybrids that produce large amounts of fruit for their weight, are easy to work, and less susceptible to storm damage.

Sources for science of cultivation methods and issues:

  • Morton, Julia. 1987. Banana, chapter in Fruits of warm climates.
  • Violette Geissen, Franzisco Que Ramos, Pedro de J. Bastidas-Bastidas, Gilberto Díaz-González, Ricardo Bello-Mendoza, Esperanza Huerta-Lwanga, and Luz E. Ruiz-Suárez, 2010. “Soil and Water Pollution in a Banana Production Region in Tropical Mexico”, in Bull. Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, October 2010, 407–413.

Related posts:

Mar 132014
 

Having noted in previous posts that farm sizes in southern Mexico are smaller (on average) than in northern Mexico, and that farm size is affected by socio-economic factors, and that farmers of smallholdings are unable to generate a decent profit, it is interesting to consider the relationship between farm size and marginalization.

Mexico’s National Population Commission (Conapo) has formulated a compound indicator of “marginalization” and publishes its “marginalization index” at regular intervals. Data are available at both the state and the municipal level for the entire country. This discussion relies on the state level data.

Scatter graph showing average farm size and marginalization index

Scatter graph showing average farm size and marginalization index. Data: INEGI, Conapo. Credit: Geo-Mexico

Each dot on this scatter plot represents a state. For the 32 points, the statistical correlation (Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient) is –0.483. This negative correlation (significant at the 95% level) means that marginalization is inversely associated with farm size  (i.e. the greater the marginalization, the smaller the likely farm size).

In short, the north-south divide that we found when looking at the pattern of farm sizes in Mexico is closely linked to the north-south economic divide that characterizes the country.

Related posts:

Geo-Mexico has many other agriculture-related posts (easily found via our tag system). They include posts about the geography of growing/producing Christmas trees, cacao, honey, sugarcane, coffee, chiles, floriculture, tomatoes, tequila, horticultural crops and oranges. Also worth reading are:

Mar 082014
 

Bananas are the world’s fourth most important dietary staple after rice, wheat and corn (maize). They are a major source of nutrition (low in fat, but rich in potassium and vitamins A, B, C and G) for people living in tropical areas. Of the 80 million tons of bananas produced globally each year, less than 20% enters international trade; the remainder is eaten locally. Bananas that are ripe and eaten raw are called desert bananas; those that are cooked are called plantains.

India is the world’s largest banana producer (31% of the world total) but is not an important exporter. Other leading producers include China (10%) and the Philippines (9%). Mexico (2%) is the world’s tenth largest producer, and the world’s 13th largest exporter. The world’s leading exporters of bananas (in dollar terms) are Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia and the Philippines.

How did bananas reach Mexico?

The banana plant is thought to have originated in southern Asia, possibly in the Mekong Delta area. Though the details are sketchy, banana plants were carried from there to Indonesia, Borneo, Philippines and Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. By AD650, bananas had reached Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. In the fiteenth century, Portuguese navigators and slave traders carried bananas to the Canary Islands. By the early sixteenth century, bananas had been introduced by Spanish missionaries to Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola in the “New World”.

Bananas reached Mexico for the first time in 1554 when Bishop Vasco de Quiroga (the first Bishop of Michoacán), returning from Europe, brought some plants back with him from his short layover in Santo Domingo.

FAO statistics for the past few years show that Mexico has about 75,000 ha planted with bananas. Total production is close to 2.2 million metric tons a year, giving an average yield of about 30 metric tons/ha. The yield is trending slowly upwards. The yield under irrigation (38.3 tons/ha) is 55% higher than that from rainfed farms. As a result, while irrigated farms account for just under 40% of the total acreage of bananas, they supply 50% of total production. Commercial banana growing provides about 100,000 direct jobs in Mexico and 150,000 indirect jobs.

Mexico's banana-growing states

Mexico’s banana-growing states [corrected]

The main banana producing states (see map) in Mexico are:

  • Chiapas (35% of national production), especially the municipality of Tapachula
  • Tabasco (25%), where average price per metric ton is lower. Mexico’s largest banana exporting company, San Carlos Tropical Exports, is based in Tabasco.
  • Veracruz (13%), especially in the municipalities of Martínez de la Torre, Atzalán, Tlapacoyán, Nautla and Papantla
  • Michoacán and Colima (6.5% each)

Bananas are also grown, on a smaller scale, in Jalisco (4.5%), Guerrero and Oaxaca (3% each) and Nayarit (2%).

Maps showing banana cultivation areas in individual states can be generated via SIAP, the Agriculture Secretariat’s online database system.

Trade in bananas

The world’s major importers are the USA (bananas are the single most widely eaten fruit in that country), Germany, Japan, Russia, UK, Italy, France, Sweden and China.

Bananas were first introduced into US diets (from Cuba) in the early 19th century. The earliest large-scale shipments of bananas to the USA were from Jamaica in the 1870s, and were organized by Lorenzo Dow Baker, who later founded the Boston Fruit Company, which later became the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita Brands International.

Banana exports from Mexico have risen rapidly in recent years and reached 307,000 metric tons in 2012 (compared to 60,000 tons in 2005), worth about 140 million dollars. The USA is the world’s largest importer of bananas and Mexico’s main foreign market, receiving 80% of all exports of Mexican bananas.

Source for history of bananas:

  • Jenkins, Virginia S. Bananas: An American History. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2000

Other posts related to agricultural products:

The number of small farms in Mexico is growing

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The number of small farms in Mexico is growing
Mar 032014
 

The uneven distribution of farmland in Mexico was one of the fundamental causes of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, but by no means the only one. Landless campesinos (peasant farmers) lacked any way to control their own supplies of food. Revolutionary leaders called for the expropriation of the large estates or haciendas, which had been the principal means of agricultural production since colonial times, and the redistribution of land among the rural poor. A law governing this radical change in the land tenure system came into force in 1917 and the process has continued, albeit sporadically, into modern times.

About half of all cultivated land in Mexico was converted from large estates into ejidos, a form of collective farming. In most ejidos, each individual ejidatario has the rights to use between 4 and 20 hectares (10-50 acres) of land, depending on soil quality and whether or not it is irrigated. In addition, members of the ejido share collective rights over the use of local pasture and woodland.

By 1970 land redistribution had been more or less completed. Even so, most farming land still remained in the hands of a very small minority of farmers (Figure 15.2). Only 1% of farms were larger than 5000 hectares (12,355 acres) but between them they shared 47% of all farm land. Meanwhile, 66% of farms were smaller than 10 hectares (25 acres) yet they shared only 2% of all farm land.

Have things improved since then?

The 2007 farm census (see graphic) revealed that two-thirds (66.4%) of all farms are under 5 hectares (12.4 acres) in area; this percentage has remained roughly the same over the past 40 years. Between them, they farm just 6.2% of Mexico’s total farmland.

The number and size of farms, 2007

The number and size of farms, 2007 (updated Figure 15.2 of Geo-Mexico). Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico

The number of small farms has increased since 1970, but so has the total number of farms. Between 1991 and 2007, there was a 55.2% increase in the number of farms under 2 hectares in area, and a 45.4% increase in the total area they worked.

There is no solid data for why the number of microfarms has increased, but it may be partially explained by larger farms being split into smaller pieces (one for each family member) following the death of their original owner.

Most tiny farms are likely to be family-run, producing crops largely for subsistence, rather than for market. Small plots of land are likely to prove uneconomic and unsustainable to farm; it is impossible to generate sufficient profit from them for a family to enjoy a decent livelihood.

In one study, Enrique de la Madrid Cordero, writing for Financiera Rural, calculated that a typical smallholding of 5 hectares, planted with corn (maize) could generate a profit for the owner of about $4000 pesos. This profit represents 6 months work. At the time of his study, someone earning minimum wage for the same six months would have received a total of almost $10,000 pesos. The precise numbers vary, depending on average yields and the crops planted, but cultivating a smallholding is obviously not an easy way to make a living.

These same farmers are unable to advance since they have no means of accessing credit, having no suitable assets to offer as collateral, even if they could ever afford to pay the interest! Similarly, they do not have the savings to invest in improved equipment, higher cost seeds or to introduce new techniques or technology. They are, essentially, trapped in a cycle of poverty.

At the other end of the scale, a very small percentage of farms in Mexico are very large indeed. Nationwide, 2.2% of farms account for 65.1% of the total area farmed in the country. Larger farms are commercial operations, sometimes multinational operations. Their size and profitability ensures they have ready access to credit, and can adopt new technologies and methods relatively quickly.

The uneven distribution of land in Mexico clearly remains an issue, one that is likely to impact social justice agricultural output and productivity for decades to come.

Related posts:

Geo-Mexico has many other agriculture-related posts (easily found via our tag system). They include posts about the geography of growing/producing Christmas trees, cacao, honey, sugarcane, coffee, chiles, floriculture, tomatoes, tequila, horticultural crops and oranges. Also worth reading are:

The finances of Mexico’s Knights Templar drugs cartel

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The finances of Mexico’s Knights Templar drugs cartel
Feb 272014
 

A series of press reports over the past six months has shed interesting light on the variety of ways in which the Knights Templar cartel raises funding and manages its finances. The Knights Templar stronghold is the city of Apatzingan in Michoacán, but the cartel now operates in several states, including Guerrero.

Raising money:

1. Citrus and avocado production and exports

In January 2013, Alberto Galindo, spokesman for the Plan de Ayala National Movement, one of the largest organizations of Mexican farmers, claimed in a press interview that Mexico’s avocado farmers “have data that prove that 225 million pesos [17 million dollars] is the amount extorted by the drug cartels in Michoacán” each year. Citrus growers are also subject to regular extortion by the Knights Templar. We reported on avocado “protection money” back in 2012, and on the plight of citrus farmers in 2011.

2. Iron ore mining and exports

The Knights Templar levy “passage fees” on every ton of iron ore leaving mines in Michoacán for the port of Lázaro Cárdenas. In addition, they are alleged to have confiscated shipments of iron ore and then exported it themselves. They are also alleged to have funded illegal mining operations where iron ore is mined without the requisite environmental permits.

In response, the Mexican government has tightened the regulations for iron ore exports, which now require exporters to demonstrate that all ore being shipped has been mined legally. The main market for Michoacán iron ore is China. It is no coincidence that ore exports to China have quadrupled in the past 5 years. The federal government also ordered the military to take over the administration of the port of Lázaro Cárdenas to put an end to corrupt practices and sever this major source of funding for the Knights Templar.

The discussion related to cartel financing via iron ore exports has implicated several transnational firms who are said to have paid the Knights Templar to allow iron ore shipments from their mines to the port. Michoacán supplies about 25% of all the iron ore mined in Mexico, and about 1 million ha (almost 20% of the state) have been given in concession to transnational mining firms such as Mittal Steel, Ternium (Italy-Argenina), Minera del Norte (a subsidiary of AHMSA) and Pacific Coast Minerals.

Claims, such as those reported here and here, that Minera del Norte paid the Knights Templar $2 dollars/ton to move 10,000 tons of iron ore a week from its four mines in the Tepacaltepec region, have been categorically denied recently by the company’s Communications and Public Relations Director, Francisco Orduña Mangiola. In an e-mail to Geo-Mexico, Orduña writes that his company “has never paid any amount of money to criminals”. He points out that, “On the contrary, it was precisely our Company that denounced the illegal operations of criminal groups in iron ore deposits owned by our company and other companies in the area, from which those groups extracted iron ore that was subsequently exported illegally to China. It was reported to federal, state and military authorities… and this action ultimately resulted in the confiscation of large amounts of illegal minerals in the ports of Lázaro Cardenas and Manzanillo. It is important to say that our company does not export iron ore, and that the lump iron ore extracted in mines located in the Pacific Coast is sent by railway directly to Monclova, Coahuila, and used as a raw material in our steel facilities.”

3. Port traffic and operations

A levy of up to 10% on goods passing through the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.

4. Miscellaneous money laundering activities

Purchase and sale of property, vehicles, cattle, textiles (imported from China and sold in Guanajuato after being relabelled with major brand names), truck tires, etc.

5. Extortion payments

Extortion payments received from truck drivers, gas stations, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, pharmacies, car lots, and even direct from municipalities (in exchange for “permitting” municipal works related to drainage, street lighting, paving). The rise of self defense groups was partially due to citizens’ outrage at the various extortion payments demanded by the Knights Templar.

6. Shipments and sales of drugs (as far away as California and Texas), many of them supplied via the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.

Summary of Knights Templar income from illegal activities [dollars a month]

  • drugs, weapons, kidnapping, pirated items, vehicle thefts, etc: $2.8 million
  • extortion rackets, $1 million
  • extortion of municipalities, $1.1 million
  • investments in real estate, vehicles, textiles, electronic items, etc., $1.3 million

The port of Lázaro Cárdenas was key to the Knights Templar financial plans, and effectively served as the cartel’s “gigantic central bank”, capable of supplying an endless stream of funds to the cartel. It remains to be seen how effectively the government decision to put the military in charge of administering the port will destroy the ability of the Knights Templar to raise funds to support their illegal activities.

Where does all this money go?

Part of it goes on bribing officials. According to an investigation published in Milenio, a national daily, the Knights Templar cartel is believed to spend $2 million a month in bribing officials in the state of Michoacán, and a further $400,000 a month in other states. The Milenio articles (here and here) were based on an official intelligence report that their journalists were given access to for a few hours.

Sample payments made to officials range from up to $26,000 a month to a federal police commander in an important city to $19,000 a month to officials in the prosecutor’s office and $18,000 a month to a state police commander. Officials in smaller cities and local administrations are paid less.

Recipients of drug cartel money also include journalists, with some print journalists receiving $3,000 a month and payments of about $2000 a month to a TV executive.

Related posts (chronological order):

The pattern of farm sizes in Mexico: is there a north-south divide?

 Other  Comments Off on The pattern of farm sizes in Mexico: is there a north-south divide?
Feb 242014
 

In 2007, INEGI census recorded 2.4 million “units of production” (farms) under 2 hectares in size. This number is 43.5% of all farms, and includes farms not being actively worked. 22.9% of farms were between 2 and 5 hectares in area and a further 23.4% between 5 and 20 hectares. In sum, almost 90% of all farms had an area of 20 hectares or less. At the other end of the size spectrum, 2.2% of farms were larger than 100 hectares.

In terms of land tenure, 68.5% of all farms were in ejidos (a form of collective farming), 28.5% held privately and the remaining 3% were other (communal, public, mixed). Almost three-quarters of all farms under 20 hectares in area are ejidos, whereas about three-quarters of all farms over 100 hectares in size are private.

Map of average farm size in Mexico, by state, 2007

Map of average farm size in Mexico, by state, 2007. Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

The choropleth map (above) shows the average size of farms (in hectares) by state. It is very clear that larger farms are concentrated in northern Mexico. All the states along the US border have average farm sizes in excess of 100 hectares. At the other extreme, a ring of states in central Mexico (centered on the Federal District) have average farm sizes that are below 5 hectares. The average farm size is slightly larger to the south of that ring of tiny farms, and significantly larger towards the east, including those states comprising the Yucatán Peninsula.

The general pattern is of a north-south division, which becomes even clearer when the average farm sizes are plotted as an isoline map. With minor exceptions, the “surface” represented by these isolines slopes steeply away form the highest values in north-western Mexico towards the south-east.

Average farm size in Mexico

Average farm size in Mexico. Data: INEGI Credit: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico

Classroom exercise

Having recognized this pattern in farm sizes, can you think of reasons that might explain it? The short answer is that farm sizes vary in response to a multitude of factors, These include historical, demographic, and socioeconomic factors as well as relief, climate, natural vegetation and soils.

Q1. Compare the maps in this post with maps for some of the factors you think might be important. (Try our Geo-Mexico Map Index as a starting point). For example, the northern area of Mexico, the area with largest farms, is primarily semi-arid or arid. Why might farms in arid and semi-arid areas be larger than in other areas?

Q2. Have a class discussion about the relative importance of the factors that have been identified or suggested.

Q3. Discuss the relative merits of the two mapping methods used in this post (choropleth and isoline) to portray average farm sizes.

Related posts:

Geo-Mexico has many other agriculture-related posts (easily found via our tag system). They include posts about the geography of growing/producing Christmas trees, cacao, honey, sugarcane, coffee, chiles, floriculture, tomatoes, tequila, horticultural cropsand oranges. Also worth reading are:

NAFTA 20 years on: success or failure?

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on NAFTA 20 years on: success or failure?
Jan 092014
 

The North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) came into effect on 1 January 1994. Twenty years on, opinions remain sharply divided over the extent to which NAFTA has benefited Mexico and Mexicans.

NAFTA has led to progress

The Economist magazine is among those arguing that NAFTA has transformed the Mexican economy for the better, but that much remains to be done if Mexico is to make the most of its partnership with the USA and Canada. Two recent articles from The Economist summarize the arguments for NAFTA having been a success story for Mexico:

NAFTA has hindered progress

Other analysts are equally convinced that NAFTA has hindered Mexico’s economic progress and has brought problems for many Mexicans. For example, Timothy A. Wise, the policy research director at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute, argues that NAFTA has had adverse impacts on agriculture and on Mexico’s food security.

In Wise’s view, NAFTA had a sequence of impacts. First, it led to a flood of US imports of corn, wheat, meat and other staples which drove Mexican producer prices down below the costs of production. (Some US corn exports to Mexico were “dumped” at prices 19% below even US farmers’ costs of production). While Mexico’s own agricultural exports to the USA increased due to NAFTA, the overall agricultural trade deficit between the two countries widened considerably, with Mexico needing to import almost half of its total food requirements by the mid-2000s.

The international prices for many of these imported crops have doubled or tripled over the past decade, and Mexico’s agricultural trade deficit with the USA jumped to more than $4 billion. Why does Wise choose to highlight the beer industry? He argues that even the success of Mexico’s beer industry has brought more benefits to US farmers than Mexican farmers because the two major raw materials for beer (barley and malt) are not produced in Mexico, but imported from the USA.

Similarly, in a Guardian article entitled NAFTA: 20 years of regret for Mexico, Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC, concludes that, “It’s tough to imagine Mexico doing worse without NAFTA.”

Conclusion

Both sides of this argument hold some merit. While some sectors of Mexico’s economy, and some people, have undoubtedly gained from NAFTA, others have lost.

Related posts:

Record avocado production and exports, 2012-2013

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Record avocado production and exports, 2012-2013
Nov 112013
 

Mexico is the world’s largest producer and exporter of avocados. In the 2012/13 season, Mexico’s avocado orchards produced a record 1.3 million metric tons of avocados. More than 90% of Mexico’s avocados are grown in the state of Michoacán, where about 12% of all agricultural land is currently under avocado orchards.

Avocado-growing states in Mexico.

Avocado-growing states in Mexico

Avocado exports rose 33% to 643,000 metric tons, worth 1.2 billion dollars, also a new record. The main export market remains the USA which imported 518,000 metric tons between July 2012 and June 2013, to help satisfy a demand that has risen rapidly.

Total USA avocado imports in 2012-2013 from all countries were 40% higher than the previous year, and have risen over the past 15 years from 200,000 metric tons to 750,000 metric tons.

In 2012-2013, Mexico also exported 125,000 metric tons of avocados to Canada, Japan, Central America and Europe, a 32% increase over the year before.

The Federal Farming Secretariat has introduced a new national certification system for growers to help ensure consistent quality and reduce spoilage during transport. Many avocado growers are working towards increasing the number of orchards certified by Global Gap, a worldwide certification organization.

avocado-marketingRelated posts:

Geo-Mexico has many other agriculture-related posts (easily found via our tag system). They include posts about the geography of growing/producing Christmas trees, cacao, honey, sugarcane, coffee, chiles, floriculture, tomatoes, tequila, horticultural crops and oranges. Enjoy!

Decision about GM corn in Mexico postponed until 2013

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Decision about GM corn in Mexico postponed until 2013
Dec 012012
 

Mexico’s new president Enrique Peña Nieto took office earlier today. His single, six-year term will end in 2018. The change of government means that a final decision about the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) corn in Mexico has been postponed until sometime early next year.

As we have seen in several previous posts, GM corn is a hotly disputed topic in Mexico.

Corn poster

“Without corn there is no nation” (Conference poster, Autonomous University of Chihuahua)

Proponents argue that GM corn will lead to higher yields and reduce losses from pests and diseases. In their view, the commercial planting of GM corn in Mexico is inevitable and will help Mexico “catch up” with Brazil and Argentina, where GM crops are already being grown.  Opponents argue that GM corn will inevitably reduce the genetic diversity of corn, meaning that corn will have less resilience in future to unexpected (and unpredicted) changes (climate, pests, soil conditions, etc). They also argue that GM corn will make corn growers even more dependent on commercial seed producers.

US farmers have found that GM corn lives up to its advertised higher yields and disease resistance. Farmers organizations in northern Mexico have come out in public support of this view, though many farmers in the center and south of the country remain vehemently opposed to GM corn on the basis that cross-contamination would deplete the plants’ gene pool, and possibly lead to the eventual extinction of traditional corn varieties.

Mexico was the world’s 6th largest grain producer in 2010, but fell to 8th spot in 2011. In just 20 years, Mexico has gone from a nation that needed to import less than 400,000 metric tons of corn a year in order to satisfy its domestic market to one where, in the 2012-12 season, it will need to import about 11,000,000 tons. Mexico’s corn imports, mainly of yellow corn for animal feed, are expected to rise to 15,000,000 tons by 2020. Corn prices are also likely to rise since an increasing portion of the annual US corn crop is  destined for biofuel production rather than human consumption.

Mexico currently produces about 22 million metric tons of corn (mainly white corn for human consumption) from 7.2 million hectares nationwide. According to press reports, there are five applications for planting GM corn on a commercial scale. The total area involved is 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres).

  • The transnational seed firm Monsanto has two proposals, each for 700,000 hectares, in Sinaloa, Mexico’s leading corn-producing state
  • Pioneer Hi-Bred International (currently owned by DuPont) has submitted three applications, each for around 350,000 hectares, in Tamaulipas
  • Dow Agrosciences (a unit of Dow Chemical) has applied to grow GM corn on 40,000 hectares, also in Tamaulipas.

It is widely believed that the new government will approve the large-scale trials of GM corn that the companies are requesting. It is likely, however, that GM corn will be confined to certain areas of Mexico only, with other areas designated “centers of origin” for corn where cultivation of GM seeds would not be permitted.

Among the most vocal opponents to the plans for GM corn is the ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) group. They set out their views in a multi-page news release. Verónica Villa, of ETC’s Mexico Office, says that,

“If Mexico’s government allows this crime of historic significance to happen, GMOs will soon be in the food of the entire Mexican population, and genetic contamination of Mexican peasant varieties will be inevitable. We are talking about damaging more than 7,000 years of indigenous and peasant work that created maize – one of the world’s three most widely eaten crops.”

Geo-Mexico will continue to report on this issue as it develops in coming months.

Want to learn more? This short open letter from the Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (Union of Socially-Committed Scientists)  ~ Call to action vs the planting of GMO corn in open field situations in Mexico ~ has an extensive bibliography.

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