Sunday, June 30, 2002

The Flow Of Illegal Immigrants To The U.S.

Rich Land, Poor People: Exports vs. Food Security in Mexico

The real reason for the stream of flight northward across the border,
is that post-NAFTA the Mexican Government has leased or sold out all
the ejidos - communally owned farmlands - to American Agribusiness.
NAFTA broke the people's ability to farm. Don't blame them for trying
to survive. Global fascism has stolen their farmlands. They can't
feed themselves anymore. If you don't like Mexican immigrants then
stop buying fruits and vegetables out of season and start buying
locally. Support your local farm markets.

As Oakley Biesanz, Octavio Madigan Ruiz, Amy Sanders, and Meredith Sommers write:

Global trade is bringing U.S. and Canadian consumers a year-round supply of fresh flowers; fresh and processed fruits such as tomatoes, melons, pineapples, strawberries, and mangos; and fresh vegetables such
as artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, peppers, broccoli, snow peas, and asparagus. All these are flown in daily from Mexico. In addition, there are the traditional exports that feed Mexico's northern neighbors, such as sugar, coffee, bananas and cattle. During winter and spring, more than half the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States come from Mexico.

The growth of these exports has bittersweet outcomes, depending on one's perspective. These products have proven very profitable for foreign investors, transnational food corporations, and many large-scale Mexican farmers. These exports both satisfy the appetites of North American consumers and create jobs in Mexico. On the other hand, these exports have serious economic, personal, and environmental effects, and cause grave problems for small-scale farmers, or campesinos.

Mexico's Dual Agricultural Structure
Mexico has two agricultural systems, operating parallel to each other. Producing foods as cash crops for export is the primary goal of large-scale farmers. Although only about 15% of Mexico's land is arable, or suitable for cultivation, 88% of the arable land is used for cultivation of export crops and for grazing cattle. What large-scale farmers produce is determined by what brings the highest prices in international markets. Since the 1970s, most large-scale farmers have been producing the non-traditional crops listed above. They sell to transnational corporations that process or directly transport the products to warehouses and eventually to grocers.

Among those who benefit from the large-scale agricultural system are transnational corporations such as Del Monte, Green Giant, Heinz, United Brands, Castle and Cooke, PepsiCo, Ralston Purina, Campbell's, General Foods, Beatrice Foods, Gerber, Kellogg, Kraft and Nestle.

Rarely do these corporations own land. Instead, they contract with large-scale farmers. The corporations have capital to invest in technology, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, transport systems, and marketing.

The other agriculture system involves about 60% of Mexico's farmers who have access to the remaining 12% of arable land. This includes individual small-scale farms that produce for local markets, and farms known as ejidos. Ejidos are a system of community-owned lands which, in some cases, have been owned "in trust" by communities for centuries.

Ejido lands were protected from sale as a result of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. However, a significant amount of ejido land passed into private hands during the 1980s and 1990s due to extreme credit pressures and changes to the Mexican Constitution. These constitutional changes allow, for the first time since the Revolution, the sale of ejido land to private owners. The changes were a crucial concession by Mexico to ensure the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.

Ejido lands rarely have been more than subsistence farms, where corn and beans are grown for the consumption of campesinos and their families. They have, however, provided a way for poor families to at least provide basic grains for themselves. With the ongoing loss of ejidos to private producers and the general inability of campesinos to gain access to other arable land, there is a growing problem of malnutrition in Mexico. The World Bank estimates that half of all rural Mexican children are malnourished.

Furthermore, small-scale farmers have considerable difficulties competing with large-scale farms because they lack access to money for seeds, water, transportation and information required for success in agribusiness. They tend to be unfamiliar with non-traditional crops and production technology. Gaining entry into the export market is very difficult for small farmers, if that is what they choose to do.