Reclaiming Corn and Culture :: Mexico’s grassroots choose co-ops and fair trade :: By Wendy Call
Reclaiming Corn and Culture
by Wendy Call
For 14 years, NAFTA has displaced farmers and spurred migration. The answer from Mexicoâ€™s grassroots: co-ops and fair trade.
Coffee beans are stacked in front of a mural in the CafÃ© Museo CafÃ© in San CristÃ³bal de las Casas. The cafÃ© is run by Co-op CafÃ© Chiapas, which represents 36 small farming cooperatives that work in fair trade.
Photo by Barbara Soldi, glocaltravel.net
â€œThe fatal date has arrived,â€ announced one of Mexicoâ€™s largest newspapers, El Universal, on New Yearâ€™s Day 2008. The last trade barriers between Canada, Mexico, and the United States fell on January 1, completing the North American Free Trade Agreementâ€™s 14-year phase-in process. While this milestone passed with little comment in the United States, more than 100,000 teachers, college students, activists, farmers, and ranchers marched in Mexico City.
The New Yearâ€™s Day protesters demanded their government reopen negotiations on NAFTA. When that didnâ€™t happen, about twice as many took to the streets again on January 31, 2008. Another newspaper summed up the situation: â€œHead-on struggle against NAFTA explodes.â€
For nearly two decades, Mexican farmers have spoken out against NAFTAâ€”a trade agreement they suspected from the beginning would wreak havoc on their countryâ€™s agricultural sector. They have sounded their voices loudly in Mexicoâ€™s capital, while quietly developing their own answers to NAFTA in farming communities throughout the countryâ€”working models of â€œfair tradeâ€ that consider people and the environment, not just profit margins.
By 2003, 1.3 million Mexican peasants had lost their livelihoods because of NAFTA. Many of the displaced farmers came north in search of work. Mexican migration to the U.S. increased an estimated 75 percent in the five years after the trade agreement took effect.
Even outside Mexicoâ€™s agricultural sector, NAFTA has been no boon. Mexicoâ€™s World Bank representative recently admitted, â€œ[We] havenâ€™t seen any progress [in Mexicoâ€™s economy] in the last 15 years.â€
North of the border, there has been only slight progress. In 2003, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated that NAFTA had increased the U.S. gross domestic product only â€œa very small amount â€¦ probably a few hundredths of a percent.â€ Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has become Mexicoâ€™s largest retailer.
With the last tariffs lifted on beans, chicken, powdered milk, andâ€”most importantâ€”corn, Mexican farmers fear the deepening of an already extreme crisis. Mexican organizations challenging NAFTA have gathered under the banner Sin maÃz, no hay paÃsâ€”without corn, there is no country.