How does Mexico score on the Social Progress Index?

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May 302013
 

The Social Progress Index measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens. It is a compound index, based on  52 indicators in the areas of Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity that show relative performance in order to elevate the quality of discussion on national priorities and to guide social investment decisions.

Social progress is the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.

The model used to develop the index is based on asking three key questions that help define social progress:

  1. Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs? (Basic Human Needs)
  2. Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain wellbeing? (Foundations of Wellbeing)
  3. Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential? (Opportunity)

In this inaugural Social Progress Index, each of these dimensions is disaggregated into four components, each measured by between two and six specific indicators. Each indicator has been tested for internal validity and geographic availability:

Criteria used to compile Social Progress Index

Criteria used to compile Social Progress Index. Click image to enlarge.

For example the Personal Rights component of Opportunity is comprised of 5 separate variables:

How does Mexico score on the Social Progress Index?

Of issues covered by the Basic Human Needs Dimension, Mexico does best in areas including Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and has the greatest opportunity to improve human wellbeing by focusing more on Personal Safety. Of issues covered by the Foundations of Wellbeing Dimension, Mexico excels at providing building blocks for people’s lives such as Health and Wellness but would benefit from greater investment in Access to Information and Communications. Of issues covered by the Opportunity Dimension, Mexico outperforms in providing opportunities for people to improve their position in society and scores highly in Personal Rights yet falls short in Access to Higher Education.

This is how Mexico’s performance stacks up in comparison to the other 49 countries in the survey:

  • Social Progress Index: score 49.7 = rank 25th
  • Basic Human Needs: 49.3 (29th)
  • Foundations of Wellbeing: 50.8 (23rd)
  • Opportunity: 49.1 (25th)

This post is based on a press release from the Social Progress Imperative. For more information about the methodology behind the Social Progress Index, please refer to the inaugural report.

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May 172013
 

Each year the United National Development Program (UNDP) publishes Human Development Index (HDI) scores and ranks for all countries with available data. The 2013 report, which is based on 2012 data, was just published. (Summary HDI 2013 Report: Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World)

The index takes account of three key development indicators:

  • Life expectancy at birth,
  • Literacy and school enrollment,
  • Gross National Income (GNI) per person (on a Purchasing Power Parity basis, which uses the total amount of goods and services produced in an economy, independent of exchange rates).

The HDI theoretically varies from 1.0 for the highest and 0.0 for the lowest. In the 2013 report, Norway is highest with a score of 0.955 while Congo and Niger are tied at rank 186 for lowest with scores of 0.304.

hdi-report-2013The latest report identifies Mexico along with 17 other countries that have made outstanding progress since 1990. This group of 18 includes none of the traditional industrialized countries. Those at the top of the progress list include South Korea, Chile, Mexico and Malaysia followed by such major countries as Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, China, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh. The HDI scores of all the world’s countries have improved significantly in the last 30 years; but the scores of non-western countries have increased spectacularly over this period.

While HDI scores receive considerable attention, the UNDP’s Inequality-Adjusted HDI or IHDI is a better overall measure because it is far less skewed by the extremely wealthy whose very high incomes push up the GNI per person values but do not adequately represent the development of the society as a whole. For example, the USA ranks third in HDI with a score of 0.937, due in part to the extreme wealth of its highest 1%. On the IHDI scale, the USA scores only 0.821 and ranks 16th.

Mexico’s HDI score is 0.775, but its IHDI score is of 0.593 is much lower because of the great inequality between the rich and poor in Mexico. In terms of IHDI, Mexico ranks 55th. This places Mexico well behind Chile (41st, 0.664), Argentina (43rd, 0.653) and Russia. (2012 data are not available for Russia, but 2011 data places it well ahead of Mexico.) On the other hand, Mexico’s IHDI score is ahead of Peru (62nd, 0.561), Turkey (63rd, 0.560), China (67th, 0.543), Brazil (70th, 0.531), Indonesia (79th, 0.514) and Egypt (0.503). Major countries that seriously trail this group include: India (91st, 0.392), Bangladesh (95th, 0.374), Pakistan (98th, 0.356), Kenya (102nd, 0.344), Nigeria (119th, 0.276) and Ethiopia (121st, 0.269).

The main conclusion is that the overall quality of life continues to improve rapidly in Mexico as well as in many other so-called developing countries. Current trends suggest these improvements will continue in the years ahead. The Congo, ranked 134, is last with a score of 0.172. IHDI scores are not available for many countries because they lack appropriate income distribution data.

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Empty houses in Mexico

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Apr 082013
 

On-going rural-urban migration has led to a proliferation of metropolitan areas and the construction of millions of new homes across Mexico. Thirty years ago, there were only 15 recognized metropolitan areas in Mexico, today there are 59.

In recent decades, there has been insufficient coordination between the various government departments responsible for housing, services and land development, such that some settlements were authorized even though they lacked or had inadequate access to highways or basic services. In many instances, settlements were given the green light even though the ownership of the land was still in dispute.

A recent Mexico City news report entitled Desorden urbano dejó en el país millones de viviendas fantasmas claims that this poor planning in Mexico has resulted in as many as 4 million houses, many of them newly built, standing empty.

Among the settlements with a large number of uninhabited new homes is Santiago el Pinar in the heart of the southern state of Chiapas, home of the indigenous coffee–growing Tzotzil Indians who have traditionally lived in dispersed rural communities where access to central services is difficult. The previous federal administration built hundreds of homes here in its effort to “develop” the area into a “sustainable rural city” (whatever that means!). It was hoped that modern homes, located near services such a small, new hospital, would help give the Tzotzil a chance to escape poverty, though it did involve some relocation.

Santago el Pinar. Credit: glasgowchiapassolidaritygroup.wordpress.com

Santago el Pinar. Credit: glasgowchiapassolidaritygroup.wordpress.com

This BBC clip – Santiago el Pinar: One Square Mile of Mexico – describes the plan and some of the obstacles it has encountered.

The people’s traditional dwellings have dirt floors where food can be cooked over small fires. The new homes, designed by Marco Antonio Constantino, are mounted on stilts and have wooden floors, where traditional forms of indoor cooking would be hazardous. There were also some serious issues of construction quality, as well as a significant delay in supplying water to the new homes. All these factors combined have meant that almost all of the new homes have quickly been abandoned.

The lack of provision of basic services (water, electricity, drainage) is also cited as a factor why many new homes elsewhere in Mexico remain unoccupied.

In the past 20-30 years, Mexico’s largest homebuilders (companies such as Urbi, Geo and Homex) have done very well financially. They are now having to adjust to tougher times. Part of their problem, according to the Mexican financial press, is that government policy has shifted away from the construction of single-family units (such as those in Santiago de Pinar), which these big companies thrived on, towards building multi-family vertical units. The advantages of the latter are they reduce overall energy usage and the total cost associated with supplying other essential services.

This brief look at the issue of empty houses in Mexico suggests that while Mexico is certainly changing, and often for the better, change (as evidenced by Santiago de Pinar) is not necessarily synonymous with progress.

Want to read more?

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Aug 162012
 

Six months ago, we gave an optimistic mention of Maya Biosana, a cacao megaproject in Quintana Roo, noting that it had received the support of the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa):

We also noted that the project was not without its critics. In this post, we look at some of the claims, counterclaims and available evidence.

What is Maya Biosana?

The Maya Biosana project aims to make Mexico the leading producer of organic cacao in the Americas. In the early phases, Maya Biosana claims it will plant one million cacao trees to create 500 hectares (1200 acres) of irrigated orchards in 12 communities near Chetumal in Quintana Roo, with similar numbers of new trees to be planted annually for another three years. The trees are expected to yield 2.4 metric tons of cacao per hectare, produce 4800 metric tons of cacao a year (destined for high quality chocolates) by 2017 and provide up to 2,000 additional jobs.

A fuller description of the intended project (pdf file, in Spanish) is available on the Sagarpa website.

Pipedream or reality?

Industry insiders, such as Denver-based chocolate maker Steve DeVries, who leads specialist tours to the cacao growing regions of Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador, have drawn our attention to the fact that such numbers will be virtually impossible to achieve. In their view, producing and planting one million cacao plants will take far longer than a year, even in ideal circumstances. They also point out that a million trees on 500 hectares would be an average planting density of 2000 plants/hectare. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about half that figure, 1025 plants/hectare, would be a more normal spacing.

The Maya Biosana project apparently intends to plant only cacao Criollo. Of the three main varieties of cacao (see further reading for more details) – Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario –  Criollo produces the most flavorful chocolate, but is little used at present in the mainstream chocolate industry because it is very susceptible to disease, and takes longer to reach maturity. The most widely grown variety is Forastero, which is hardy but least flavorful, while Trinitario, a hybrid of the first two, falls somewhere in the middle.

This makes Criollo a very strange choice for such a major plantation. In fact, industry insiders say, there is no source anywhere in Mexico for the huge quantity of Criollo grafts that the Maya Biosana project would require.

Maya Biosana claims that the first phase of its megaproject is already underway on land in the Los Divorciados ejido, about 100 km from Chetumal, and recently released a promotional video. The film includes lots of “feel good” footage and memorable quotes, but some of the footage of mature cacao appears to have been shot elsewhere, presumably in Tabasco state. More importantly, what exactly does the Maya Biosana team bring to the table, besides good intentions?

Who are the main players in Maya Biosana?

The two main players in Maya BioSana, according to press reports, are Jim Walsh and Fernando Manzanilla.

Entrepreneur Jim Walsh is the self-styled “reinventor of chocolate”, CEO of Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate from 1992, and CEO of the closely-related Intentional Chocolate since 2007. Fernando Manzanilla Prieto is a well-connected Mexican politician, member of Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), and businessman who is currently the Secretary General of the government of the state of Puebla in central Mexico.

According to its website, samples of Intentional Chocolate, co-founded by Walsh and Manzanilla, were given by former president Bill Clinton as a gift to the Japanese Royal family and have the seal of approval of the Dalai Lama. The company “treats” regular chocolate using “breakthrough licensed technology” that “helps embed the focused good intentions of experienced meditators and then infuses those intentions into chocolate”. An early press release stated that such chocolate can “significantly decrease stress, increase calmness, and lessen fatigue in those who consume it”.

The major claim made for this chocolate is that it elevates the mood of consumers more than non-intentioned chocolate does. This claim is based, apparently in its entirety, on a single “double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled experiment”, the results of which were published in an article, co-authored by Walsh, entitled Effects of Intentionally Enhanced Chocolate on Mood in EXPLORE: The Journal of Science & Healing, an Elsevier journal, in the September/October issue of 2007 (Vol 3, No 5: 485-492).

The sample size was small, 62 individuals in total. For one week, participants self-recorded their mood by means of a recognized “profile of mood states”. Some participants consumed “intentioned” chocolate, and others “non-intentioned” chocolate, twice a day, at the same times, for three consecutive days, in the middle of the week.

The most fascinating part of the article is actually the last paragraph, where the authors recommend that efforts to replicate the findings should “seriously consider sources of intentional enhancement and contamination that might influence the postulated effect.” They call for intentional imprints to be provided only by “highly experienced meditators or other practitioners”, writing that “persons holding explicitly negative expectations should not be allowed to participate for the same reason that dirty test tubes are not allowed in biology experiments.” Even more bizarrely, they claim that vigilance about the intentions of people involved in the test may even extend to “people who learn about the experiment in the future after the study is completed”.

Put another way, skeptics and disbelievers should stay home.

To the best of our knowledge, the Explore study has not been replicated, while statisticians and others have criticized the methods used and the conclusions drawn. See, for example, Debunked: Effects of Intentionally Enhanced Chocolate on Mood.

The other two authors of the Explore study besides Walsh are Dean Radin and Gail Hayssen. Radin is a prolific author of articles about parapsychology and also just happens to be a co-editor of Explore. Both Radin and Hayssen hold posts at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California.

Walsh and Radin, together with Manzanilla, all have connections to the Human Energy Systems Alliance (HESA) Institute,  “an alliance of scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and spiritual leaders devoted to unlocking the potential of the human energy system and to developing technologies and products that transform human health and increase human flourishing.”

According to the HESA Institute’s list of its main members (webpage no longer active) , Walsh is the institute’s founder and CEO, and Radin is a prominent member. Manzanilla’s bio claims that he was, too, founded HESA but, curiously, his name is absent from the HESA Institute list.

Between them, Walsh and Manzanilla have created an impressive web of interlinked and overlapping projects, supported by an equally dazzling range of positions on advisory boards. For example, both men are members of the three-person advisory board of the Institute for Spirituality and Wellness (ISW) at the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), which continues “to educate and prepare future leaders for a multitude of ministries” (Ref). The CTS is an affiliated seminary of the United Church of Christ, “a mainline Protestant Christian denomination primarily in the Reformed tradition but also historically influenced by Lutheranism” (Ref).

Several of the projects associated with Manzanilla, according to his CTS bio, have surprisingly little or no web presence. For example, he founded (in 2007 according to his Linkedin profile) and remains CEO of ImaginaMéxico, which “directs a network of organizations whose brands encompass the areas of food and beverages, agro forestry and wellness, human capital and technology, all under the common theme of helping individuals lead more meaningful and vital lives.” Yet, as of last week, the ImaginaMéxico website was “under construction”. According to the bio, Manzanilla also founded Cielo y Tierra (no web links found), Facthum-Mexico (no website found) and Kakaw Universal (no evidence from a Google search that it even exists)…. Manzanilla also co-founded Baja BioSana,  “an intentional community with a vision to become an example of sustainable living and educational center” (Ref) located in the small village of El Choro in Baja Califórnia Sur.

Financial shenanigans

It now looks as if the Maya Biosana project may be dead in the water, before it ever really gets off the ground. According to this document from the Superior Audit Office of Mexico (Auditoría Superior de la Federación), Maya BioSana received two payments in 2010 from Financiera Rural, acting on behalf of Sagarpa, as part of the latter’s  Strategic Project for Sustainable Rural Development in the South-South-East Region of Mexico (Proyecto Estratégico para el Desarrollo Rural Sustentable de la Región Sur Sureste de México). The two payments totaled 15 million pesos (about $1,140,000 dollars).  The document states that Sagarpa is already requesting the return of these funds because the Maya Biosana project has fallen behind schedule.

The Superior Audit Office document says that visits to the site did not find any cacao plantation and alleges that the Sagarpa funds had been transferred from one company account to another before a payment for 12,400 million pesos (about $946,000 dollars) was made to a foreign bank account belonging to one of the individuals who had signed on behalf of the company “Maya Biosana S.A.P.I de C.V.” Perhaps this was the cost of the recently-released video?

For the sake of the ejidatorios of Los Divorciados in Quintana Roo, who were counting on the success of the Maya BioSana cacao-growing megaproject, we hope that they have gained, and will gain, more from this experience than they lost. They deserve far better than a mere handful of chocolate-coated intentions.

This is one chocolate megaproject that appears to be melting fast. Maya BioSana looks much more like Maya Bio-Insana.

Further reading:

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Mar 052012
 

In a previous post–The development of Huatulco, the tourist resort in southern Oaxaca–we looked at how the tourist resort of Huatulco was created by Mexico’s National Tourism Development Fund (Fonatur) on a series of small bays in the state of Oaxaca. Clearly, this development was very much “top-down” and it has been widely criticized from many distinct points of view. From a geographical perspective, the most important criticisms have arisen from researchers such as Evelinda Santiago Jiménez and David Barkin, co-authors of a short article entitled “Local Participation and Sustainability: a study of three rural communities in Oaxaca, Southern Mexico.”

Their view is that government programs, such as Huatulco, “are generally conceived for areas where there are resources that can be transformed into commodities”. In the case of Huatulco, this means that “access to public services, such as potable water, is designed to satisfy the demands of the visitors and affluent local service providers, while the majority suffer from inadequate supplies and must accept the conditions imposed on them.” Santiago Jiménez and Barkin see this as “a new form of colonization, implemented in the name of modernity to expropriate communal lands with minimal guarantees and compensation; a process of excluding local peoples; a way to subordinate the local inhabitants…; and a process than causes harm to the environment.”

The article by Santiago Jiménez and Barkin appears in a book entitled Nature’s Revenge: Reclaiming Sustainability in an Age of Corporate Globalization (University of Toronto Press/Garamond 2006). This book, which in its own words, “proposes a radical definition of sustainability, reclaiming the word from the rhetoric typically used by corporations and governments to facilitate unrelenting economic growth and the notion of ‘business as usual'”, is well worth reading.

The authors argue for adopting a “commons”-based approach, where the term “commons” is understood to include not only the idea of commonly-held or shared rights and property (such as water, air, soil) but also the “social commons” comprised of community knowledge and culture. In stressing “the complex interrelations that exist at local, regional, national, continental, and global levels of human organization”, the authors critique advocates of “localism” and argue that “there can be no simple solution confined to one particular scale of action.”

A table in Chapter Two (Who cares about the Commons? by Josée Johnston) summarizes the key differences between sustainable development (as used by corporations and governments) and the commons-based approach favored by the book’s authors:

Table 2.1 of "Who cares about the Commons" by Josée Johnston.
Table 2.1 of “Who cares about the Commons” by Josée Johnston.

It is an example of this commons-based approach that Santiago Jiménez and Barkin examine in their chapter. They analyze an alternative, locally initiated project, based on the Integrated Development of Natural Resources (Administración Integral de los Recursos Naturales, AIRN), which stands in sharp contrast to Fonatur’s “top-down” development model. The AIRN approach recognizes that local communities have a symbiotic relationship with their surrounding natural environment that is “crucial for mutual survival”. It also recognizes that the community-environment links are dynamic, not static, and will change or evolve with time as the community develops.

AIRN proposals aim, essentially, to speed up this development process, helping to find new productive projects for the communities while managing ecosystems effectively and sustainably. The success of AIRN development projects relies on an active participation by the local community to identify issues, opportunities and ways to progress. It is crucial that the local people are equal partners in the decision-making process.

In the Huatulco area, the Center for Ecological Support (Centro de Suporte Ecológico, CSE), an NGO, adopted an AIRN approach to devise appropriate strategies to reverse the damage done to water resources by the construction and expansion of Huatulco tourist resort, which had destroyed forest cover, reduced infiltration and abstracted water from the aquifer that underlies the Copalita River. The CSE proposed a reforestation program to actively regenerate (not just protect) the forests throughout the basin, including parts of the Southern Sierra Madre (Sierra Madre del Sur). At the same time, the CSE helped local inhabitants to explore new (alternative) sources of employment and income based in their communities, which offered them a viable option to abandoning their land and accepting menial low-paid  jobs in the tourist resort or elsewhere.

Santiago Jiménez and Barkin looked at three small villages that had participated in the AIRN proposals made by the CSE: Santa María Xadani, Santa María Petatengo and El Achiote. Each village had participated in different ways, and with varying degrees of success. Close familial ties in Petatengo, for example, ensured more community support than in Xadani where internal divisions reduce social cohesion. El Achiote is a small “rancho” of 14 families, all of whom participated in the reforestation project. The families also combine to carve and paint the colorful Oaxacan whimsical wooden figures known as “alebrijes”. The settlement gained electricity service in 2000 and telephone service in 2001. Sadly, a combination of circumstances led to many local inhabitants migrating away from the area in search of better incomes and the CSE was forced to suspend its operations.

The authors point out that development plans have to take account of three very different concepts of time. The local communities in this region view time as somewhat flexible, preferring to make decisions by consensus, rather than in order to meet any deadline. Organizations providing funding for projects see time in terms of deadlines and financial commitments. Local and state governments view time in terms of political cycles, with a project having more chance of success if it is launched early on in an administration’s term. Santiago Jiménez and Barkin also emphasize the importance of projects having an effective mediator (as the CSE proved to be) “capable of balancing the rhythms of Western culture, of nature, and of traditional culture”.

Mexico badly needs more examples of successful mediators, particularly where large scale tourism projects are concerned.

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Uxpanapa, an example of forced migration

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Oct 312011
 

Almost all internal migration in Mexico in recent history has been voluntary. Tens of thousands of rural Mexicans have decided that life might be better somewhere else and have left their farms for the bright lights of the nearest large city. Their motivation is usually economic, but sometimes may be based on educational opportunities or access to health care.

However, not all internal migration has been voluntary. There have been some cases of forced migration, where the inhabitants of a village or area have been made to move away in order to make way for large-scale infrastructure projects such as reservoirs, tourism resorts and hotel complexes.

Since most good dam sites are in remote highland areas, with sparse population, forced migrations due to new dams are relatively rare in Mexico. One good example is when the building of the Cerro de Oro dam in the 1970s in northern Oaxaca, on a tributary of the River Papaloapan, flooded 360 square kilometers (140 square miles) and meant the forced relocation of more than 5000 Chinantec Indians. [Aguilera Reyes] The resettlement plan was one of the most forward-looking of its time. Villagers received compensation for their existing homes, trees and crops, and were offered a choice of possible resettlement sites.

They chose an area of rainforest-covered ridges and valleys near the headwaters of the Rivers Coatzacoalcos and Uxpanapa in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. With government assistance they built a dozen new villages named, somewhat unimaginatively, Poblado Uno, Poblado Dos, etc. Extensive agricultural support was provided for several seasons, but the plan failed to live up to expectations, in part because its architect, the distinguished Mexican geographer Jorge Tamayo, was killed in a plane crash in 1978.

Many of the area’s young people have migrated (voluntarily) north. The remaining villagers grow ixtle, a fibrous cash crop produced from rainforest bromeliads that can be used for ropes and belts. They are also trying to introduce ecotourism to preserve what is left of their tropical jungle hideout, which has a rich biodiversity, including spider monkeys and jaguars. [Ginsberg]

References:

Aguilera Reyes, S. 2004 “Desarrollo, Población y Uso de los Recursos Naturales en el Valle de Uxpanapa.” Universidad Veracruzana Facultad de Sociología thesis. Xalapa,Veracruz. Marzo 2004.

Ginsberg, S. 2000 Report from Uxpanapa. Can bromeliads save Veracruz’s last rainforest? [6 September 2009]

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This post is an edited excerpt from chapter 25 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today!

Food speculation fuels a tortilla crisis in Mexico

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Oct 292011
 

The Ecologist Film Unit has produced an excellent 8-minute video on how financial speculation on corn (maize) has led to a dramatic rise in the price of corn tortillas, with potentially disastrous effects for the health and well-being of the many of Mexico’s poorest. Reporter Tom Levitt’s video, accompanied by text, presents a compelling case, one which would be an excellent starting-point for class discussions.

Two short quotes set the scene:

“For many Mexicans, particularly the estimated 40 million living on less than $5 a day (£3), tortillas account for almost half of their average daily calorie intake. As a whole, the country consumes 23 times more maize than rice.”

“In 2000 there was $6 billion invested in commodities, by 2011 it was $340 billion, of which $126 billion, according to data from Barclays Capital, is reported to be invested in food. The vast majority of this new investment has been by speculators with no interest in the agricultural sector or in actually taking delivery of the commodity.”

The result? Higher prices for corn, greater unpredictability in prices, and adverse changes to the diet of tens of thousands, as corn becomes more expensive than meager household budgets permit.

The video is a powerful indictment of the harm being done to ordinary people in many parts of the developing world by rich-world market speculators and investment banks. Watch it now, or read the full article:

Oct 222011
 

Mexico’s pioneering “telesecundaria” or “television secondary school” system began back in 1968. It now provides junior high school classes in remote areas, serving about one million students in grades 7 to 9, 17% of the total nationwide enrollment in these grades. Many of the telesecundaria lessons are now available on the Internet, and before long, about 4,500 classes will also be available on a DVD collection.

The geographical network of telesecundarias is truly amazing. In the early 1980s, I came across one high in the mountains in a distant corner of the state of Hidalgo, in a remote Huastec village, beyond even Coca Cola’s delivery routes. A visitor was such a surprise that the entire village turned out to inspect me!

Telesecundaria in Ixcatepec, Hidalgo

Telesecundaria in Ixcatepec, Hidalgo (1983) Photo: Tony Burton

It was that experience that made me realize that Mexicans take education very very seriously. The telesecundaria was perched on the hillside overlooking the village. I later discovered this was a fairly typical example, with three classrooms, rustic restrooms in an outhouse, and a small playground. Most telesecundarias also have a science laboratory and a small library.

The students in a telesecundaria do have a teacher, but this teacher teaches every subject, whereas in a regular junior high, each student will have up to twelve different subject specialists. Every telesecundaria classroom has a television set to receive lessons broadcast by the Education Ministry (SEP) in Mexico City.

Professional Programs

In the early days, lessons were very traditional, and the TV programs were little more than continuous shots of a “talking teacher”. Interestingly, almost all those early lessons were broadcast live. Nowadays, the entire process is much slicker and far more professional. The TV programs are 15 minutes long and feature all kinds of material, including animated graphics and video footage. Watching them, you are unlikely to see the “talking teacher” even for an instant! It takes about 20 days to produce each 15-minute module and costs up to 50,000 dollars. Most programs have a useful life of between five and ten years, depending on the timing of significant changes in subject content and teaching methods.

After students have seen the TV broadcast, the classroom teacher then uses the remaining 45 minutes of each hour to explain the lesson in more detail and to monitor students as they complete related tasks from their special telesecundaria textbooks.

Nationwide satellite transmission of programs began in 1994 (EDUSAT), enabling the coverage to spread far beyond those areas previously served by conventional TV stations. Programs are broadcast daily.

On-line samples

With the advent of the Internet, the telesecundarias are now being revamped as one part of SEP’s “On-line educational TV” (“Televisión educativa en línea“) project. That page has links to currently playing segments of material for various levels, including telesecundaria, and for teachers. (This is also a valuable resource for non-native speakers working to improve their Spanish and/or their knowledge of Mexico.)

Telesecundarias have proved to be an extraordinarily effective way of improving access to, and standards of, junior high education across Mexico. While the “costs of delivery” are estimated to be 16% higher in telesecundarias, on a per student basis, than in regular junior high schools, they are significantly cheaper on a per school basis. This means that some of the nation’s 13,000 or so telesecundarias can function cost-effectively even with only 10 or 12 students in each grade level.

The success of telesecundarias

Are telesecundarias successful? It certainly seems so. An estimated 79.4% of telesecundaria students complete grade 9, compared with an equivalent figure of 78.8% for regular junior highs. In addition, one study has shown that telesecundaria students may start Grade 7 significantly behind other students but generally catch up completely in math and reduce the deficit in language.

The program has been adopted by most Central American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama—and pilot projects are underway in the USA in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Florida.

So next time you’re traveling in the wilds of Mexico or Central America, play “I spy” and see how many telesecundarias you can find. Bonus marks should be awarded for any that are outside the normal delivery range of Coca-Cola or Sabritas!

Update on Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Update on Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Sep 222011
 

In a previous post, we looked at Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals. This post is the text of a press release issued by the President’s Office in September 2011:

As part of the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), President Felipe Calderón gave the General Administrator of the Program, Helen Clark, Mexico’s report on the progress achieved in the Millennium Development Goals.

He highlighted the influence of UNDP in Mexico which, throughout its existence, has contributed to the alleviation of poverty and inequality, sustainable human development, the prevention of risks from natural disasters, the implementation of environmental policies and the promotion of democracy.

The main achievements highlighted by the president, regarding the fulfillment of the Millennium Goals, were: achieving universal coverage in primary education, eliminating the education gap between men and women, which eradicated the gender gap in education and increased female empowerment, improvements in the population’s living conditions, through the reduction of mortality and child malnutrition, the sustained increase in life expectancy and specialized care for expectant mothers, the expansion of access to the population’s health services, in which he declared that by the end of this year, universal coverage will be achieved, and the expansion of access to basic services such as safe drinking water, information technologies, communication and decent housing.

The main challenges to be met, said the president, were the alleviation of poverty, improvements in the per capita income and the reduction of the inequality gap. However, he also expressed confidence that they would be fully met in a timely fashion, since he confirmed the fact that the authorities are working continuously to achieve the universalization of pre-school and secondary education, improve the quality of education and improve the Human Development Index through successful programs such as Opportunities and the Popular Insurance Scheme.

The president ended by confirming his commitment to enabling Mexico to fully achieve the values, ideals and agenda set by UN in a timely fashion.

[This post is the text of a press release issued by the President’s Office in September 2011)

Less water available each year in Mexico as population increases

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Less water available each year in Mexico as population increases
Jul 052011
 

Data from the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) show that Mexico’s available water has fallen to 4,263 cubic meters/person/year. Water availability depends on the amount of rainfall received each year and on total population. Mexico’s water availability has declined rapidly since 1950, when it was 18,053 cubic meters/person/year. Of 177 countries analyzed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Mexico ranked 90th in terms of water availability.

According to INEGI, Mexico’s total current demand for water nationwide is 78.4 billion cubic meters/year, 11.5 billion more than natural replenishment rates. The drainage basins facing the most severe shortfalls are the Lerma basin in central Mexico, and the Río Grande in northern Mexico.

On the positive side, Mexico reached its UN Millennium Development Goal target for access to water 10 years early, by reducing the percentage of population without access to water in their homes from 25% in 1990 to less than 8% in 2010.

Mexico has also already met its target for improving access to wastewater drainage, where the proportion of the population lacking access to sewage systems has fallen from 37% in 1990 to 10% in 2010.

Mexico’s water resources and water-related issues are the subject of chapters 6 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…