Indigenous people in today’s México have been pushed off their land several times since the Spanish colonizers arrived. What have been the latest tools of “conquest”?
We can trace the latest set of tools to the “Structural Adjustment Programs” — the SAPs — of the late 1980s and early 1990s, years when the International Monetary Fund was forcing weaker countries of the Global South to open themselves to agricultural imports. The IMF gave the familiar excuse that the West needed to “modernize” agriculture, that agriculture amounted to a “backward” sector.
NAFTA would soon be proposed to expand the SAP concept. The only silver lining: This provided a good opportunity for activists from rich and poor countries to connect and fight together. Remember that NAFTA only passed in a very close vote. The pressure from below became quite effective.
How did NAFTA affect Mexican farmers?
Let’s start with corn, much more than a staple food. Because of its central place in every household for millennia, corn has cultural and spiritual significance, as a symbol of México. But after NAFTA, corn imports from the US grew by 400 percent. Mexican corn farmers couldn’t compete. Two million farmers were driven off their land, and another two or three million became contract farmers to the mushrooming agribusinesses owned by transnational corporations.
Did corn imports have other effects?
One major impact: The imports changed how people eat. As former farmers moved into jobs with long work hours and little pay, investments in and imports of cheap processed foods shot up. Obesity rates increased, as well as rates of diabetes and heart disease. At the same time, fresh fruit and vegetable exports — avocados, limes, tomatoes, peppers — almost doubled in the ’90s. With most of the imported corn feed corn, industrial meat production increased on both sides of the border, with just a few corporations dominating the food system throughout North America.
But the changes in agriculture didn’t go without response. Farmer organizing has been strong. In the “Without Corn No Country” campaign, a coalition of savvy farm organizations demanded, among other things, that NAFTA be renegotiated. The USMCA that succeeded NAFTA did include some improvements, especially for labor, but the agreement’s agricultural chapter still promotes a failed model of industrial agriculture.
The “other things” that Mexican farmers demanded now stand at the forefront of the international food justice movement, right?