In just 20 years, Mexico has gone from a nation that needed to import less than 400,000 metric tons of corn (maize) a year in order to satisfy its domestic market to one where, in the 2011-12 season, it will need to import almost 10,000,000 tons.
One producers’ organization, Mexico’s National Confederation of Maize Growers (CNPAMM), argues that this reliance on imports has relegated the work done by its members to a relatively minor role in providing the nation with food. The growers claim that the price they receive for corn (post-NAFTA) has declined in the face of cheaper imports, jeopardizing their livelihoods. (For one view of the changes post-NAFTA, see NAFTA Truth and Consequences: Corn).
On the other hand, in the past few years, the costs of imported corn have risen sharply, meaning that consumers have to pay more for their tortillas. In order to preserve some stability, the Mexican government has bought corn futures which guarantee corn prices for a period of time.
How is it possible that the country that gave the world corn is now so dependent on imports of corn, almost all of which come from the USA? According to the CNPAMM, it is the result of speculation, market distortion and failures in Mexico’s economic policy. Héctor Carlos Salazar, the president of CNPAMM, called on maize growers to demand better prices, a reduction in imports, and some guarantees from the politicians fighting this year’s federal elections that they will take steps to ensure Mexico’s self-sufficiency in foodstuffs.
Salazar has been quoted in the press as offering some interesting statistics for the impacts of every additional ton of corn that Mexico imports from abroad. He claims that each ton imported reduces agricultural employment by 4.54 man-hours. It also reduces other inputs: diesel by 6 liters, fertilizers by about 100 kg, insecticides by 1 liter, pesticides by 3 liters and improved seeds by about 4 kg.
The bottom line is that it is not just the food security, particularly of Mexico’s poorest, that is threatened by rising corn imports, it is also Mexico’s economy.