By Heather Gray
May 4, 2017
For Mexicans, maize is not a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life. Corn was domesticated from a grass called teocintle by the peoples of Meso-America approximately 10,000 years ago. (Cultural Survival)
Yes, corn originated in Mexico some 10,000 years ago and it eventually moved into North America. And now, in a rather strange reversal of it all, those of us in North America are attempting to destroy this special Mexican crop and cultural symbolism. And it’s all for greed.
I have a radio program on WRFG-FM in Atlanta. In the mid-1990’s while NAFTA was being debated in Congress, I interviewed representatives of the Sierra Club about the likely disastrous consequences of NAFTA on Mexico’s small sustainable farmers. It had to do with U.S. corporate agribusiness that would dump millions of dollars of subsidized corn on the Mexican market. We appropriately could see the doom and gloom of this “unfair” trade agreement. After my show that day, someone from CNN called me and asked why I didn’t have a pro-NAFTA person on the show as well. My response was, “You want pro-NAFTA? Just listen to CNN!”
Our predictions were correct! The small farmers in Mexico simply could not compete with the American subsidized agriculture products that were dumped on the Mexican market.
The hypocrisy? Trump chooses to act against Canadian “subsidized” lumber without even considering America’s own devastating subsidy complicity in the NAFTA scenario against the Mexican people? Regarding the Canadian lumber issue, in April 2017 the following was reported in the New York Times:
The Commerce Department determined that Canada had been improperly subsidizing the sale of softwood lumber products to the United States, and after failed negotiations, Washington decided to retaliate with tariffs of 3 percent to 24 percent. The penalties will be collected retroactively on imports dating back 90 days. (New York Times)
Subsidized lumber? Again, what about U.S. subsidized agribusiness and its impact on Mexicans and actually American farmers as well? Herein lies the hypocrisy of it all. As was noted in a Huffington Post article by Susana G. Baumann in 2014, the impact of NAFTA on the farmers has been immense:
For all products, Mexican producers’ prices fell from 44 to 67 percent from early 1990’s levels, declining local production and increasing import dependency. Mexican crop production also fell except for corn and meats, which at lower prices, was rapidly adopted for consumption in the Mexican families’ diet.
“An estimated 2.3 million people have left agriculture in a country desperate for livelihoods,” said Wise (see note below). The study estimated that the cost to Mexican producers was around $12.8 billion in the nine-year period, more than 10 percent of the U.S.-Mexico agricultural trade value annually.
The other cost, the one that we, north of the border pay, is the constant migration of these displaced rural workers into the United States.
Note: Timothy A. Wise referred to above is the Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University.
So thanks to U.S. policy, 2.3 million Mexicans were forced off the land. And then Donald Trump rails against Mexicans coming across the border as if the consequences, devastation and loss of their livelihoods was their fault?
And, yes, Trump points his finger at migrants who are now in the U.S. as well and makes their lives all the more vulnerable and difficult.
And Trump wants to build a wall as if to again point his finger at these victims?
The immorality here is breathtaking.
Rather then building a wall, Trump needs to get rid of the real problem which is, for one, these huge agriculture subsidies that benefit his millionaire/billionaire buddies in corporate agribusiness who clearly care less about the “real” farmers of the world, or the well-being of those, such as, the Mexican farmers they’ve managed to destroy. Nor do they care about the important “diversity” of the corn production and respect for the long and important tradition of small and informed producers who we all should honor and support.
Regardless, also, of the role of the Mexican government might have played in early NAFTA negotiations in the 1990s vis-a-vis their powerful northern neighbors – Canada and the U.S. – it is likely the American government and its corporate supporters knew in advance that the exploitation of Mexico’s markets and cheap labor would satisfy their greed.
Thankfully, the Mexican government presently has a ban against Monsanto’s GMO corn crops and hopefully the Mexican court will continue to uphold this. As reported on February 9, 2017 by Natural News:
Just last week, a Mexican court chose to uphold a 2013 ruling that followed a legal challenge on the effects GMO crops have on the environment, which temporarily put a stop on GMO corn-growing, including pilot plots….
Opponents of GMO crops believe that these modified corn seeds could contaminate heirloom varieties, and that the pesticides used to protect GMO crops are harmful to beneficial insects like bees – which have been dying off in record numbers. Community advocates state that Mexico’s 59 varieties of native corn will be at risk if Monsanto is allowed to take hold of the corn market. [RELATED: Learn more about the dangers of genetically modified food at GMO.news
Again, when will Trump denigrate his own country for its outrageous policies and when will he and those in Congress understand how millions in Mexico have suffered through no fault of their own. This is best stated by Rick Relinger, in his 2010 article, where he notes in reference to research about the issue:
As the study’s results demonstrate, billions of dollars of federal subsidies for American-grown corn are largely responsible for the economic displacement of Mexico’s corn farmers. The impact of U.S. corn subsidies has severely transformed the lives of people who have no influence on U.S. policies. This economic vulnerability of Mexican farmers was initiated through the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The inclusion of the agricultural sector within the agreement’s broader agenda of trade liberalization exposed Mexicans employed in agriculture to U.S. domestic economic policies. (It is important to note that U.S.-Canada side of the agreement contrastingly maintains significant restrictions to protect the Canadian agricultural sector). Although these subsidies produced an increase in the corporate ownership of corn production, a decrease in corn prices, and dwindling numbers of employed corn farmers-not to mention the displacement and forced migration of Mexican corn farmers-Mexican voters have no voice in congressional deliberations regarding the approval of federal subsidies for American-grown corn. (Prospect)
Invariably, in this neoliberal economic world in which we live, corporations take precedence over individual well-being at virtually every juncture. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of this!!!
I will end with this 2006 excellent article below about the importance of corn in Mexico by Christina Santini who recently worked at the “Food and Agriculture Organization” of the United Nations and at the time worked in urban planning and development at Harvard University. She is also a professional cook.
THE PEOPLE OF THE CORN
For Mexicans, maize is not a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life. Corn was domesticated from a grass called teocintle by the peoples of Meso-America approximately 10,000 years ago. Often referred to as humanity’s greatest agronomic achievement, maize is now grown all over the world. The yellow corn commonly found in the United States pales in comparison to the shapes, sizes, and colors of the traditional maize varieties cultivated by the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The ears of corn may range from a couple of inches to a foot long, in colors that include white, red, yellow, blue, and black. Some varieties even have an assortment of colors on one ear.
Corn is inextricably tied to the quotidian lives of the peasants and indigenous peoples of Mexico. As the basic grain, it shapes daily meals, and it’s growing cycle influences the timing of festivals. The image and shape of maize is a ubiquitous component of architecture and crafts. Spiritually, physically, and economically, corn sustains indigenous peoples. In the words of one Indian woman, “Corn is so important because it allows us to live at peace. It’s our form of food security.” Corn is linked to survival: During rough economic times or in the face of natural disasters, families will produce more maize to feed themselves. A Tzotzil Maya elder recounts, “During the past five centuries, while our people have withstood suffering-enormous sufferings-our corn has allowed us to survive.”
Now the North American Free Trade Agreement threatens to change that history. NAFTA has allowed the Mexican market to be flooded with imported corn from the United States, the vast majority of which is genetically modified. Before NAFTA, more than a third of the corn produced by rural farmers was retained for consumption at home, and the rest was sold on local markets. Indigenous peoples and peasants were practicing true food sovereignty and protected themselves from natural disasters and price fluctuations. Most local maize is sold through DISCONSA, a network of rural food stores common in poor and remote regions. As multinationals entered the market, a few began to sell their corn through the DISCONSA network, a practice that artificially lowered prices, hurt local farmers’ income, and disrupted the usual pattern of retaining enough corn for contingencies. More importantly, some of the corn flowing into the network consisted of genetically modified organisms. Estimates of contamination vary according to locality, from 3 percent to 60 percent. Within the DISCONSA network, the Mexican government found 37 percent contamination.
“We have learned that agrochemical companies patented our maize,” said a Tzotzil statement published in 2002 in La Jornada. “They are putting in genes from other living beings and many chemicals to completely put an end to our natural maize, so we’ll have to buy nothing but transgenic maize. If these agrochemical companies try to do away with our maize, it will be like putting an end to part of the culture that our Mayan ancestors bequeathed to us. Our indigenous peasant grandparents gave their labor and their hearts; they cried as they asked protection from our Creator for their work to bear fruit.”
To address the threat to traditional corn, the Tzotzil people formed the Mother Seeds in Resistance project. Mother Seeds is based in an autonomous indigenous school in the Chiapas highlands. There the community is identifying seeds to be preserved and preparing them to be frozen (for preservation, the moisture content in the seeds must be below 6 percent; otherwise the water inside the seeds will freeze and then burst the cell membranes, destroying them).
Community members of all ages are involved in the identification process, and it has become a channel through which young are learning from their elders. “It’s good to talk about these things in Tzotzil,” said two teachers, “because it is our own language.” Aldo Gonzalez, an indigenous Zapotec who has been on the forefront of the campaign against genetically modified maize, says, “Native seeds are a very important part of our culture. The pyramids may have been destroyed, but a handful of maize seed is the legacy we can leave to our children and grandchildren.”