Mexico-based agriculture expert Baldemar Mendoza Jimenez works with
rural communities that abide by a traditional form of
self-organization, including a system of community service.
this system, Jimenez says, was nearly destroyed by the North American
Free Trade Agreement, leading to massive migration of Mexican farmers
to the United States and our current crisis with illegal immigration.
NAFTA was implemented in 1994 to remove barriers to trade and investment between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
works for the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca,
which teaches farmers how to restore traditional farming methods,
including organic, sustainable agriculture and crop diversity. He's
touring communities throughout the Northwest this month. He speaks at
several venues in the Portland area today and Friday.
organization's goal is to reverse adverse effects of NAFTA: save and
share traditional farming methods, restore food independence and halt
the migration of Mexican farmers to the United States.
Jimenez answered questions during a recent interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
15 years after the implementation of NAFTA, what are the results on the ground in Mexico?
general, the free trade agreement has led to a breakdown of the
community in Mexico. In indigenous communities, every person performs
volunteer work for the good of the community, such as working on
constructing a school, clearing a road, or digging a water well. NAFTA
weakened the system of community duties, because there are fewer
community citizens to do the work. They have abandoned the fields and
migrated to the United States.
who come back have a hard time re-adapting and often don't want to
perform communal labor. Many community obligations are left to women.
But when a family stops performing communal work, they loose their
rights in the community, for example the right to cultivate the land.
It generates many conflicts and the fabric that binds our community is
Why did so many Mexican farmers migrate to the U.S.?
undermined traditional agriculture methods and created a dependence on
pesticides. It took away government price guarantees for corn and other
products. It left the free market to regulate prices. To keep up,
Mexican farmers sowed more corn. Diversified crops were substituted
with monocrops. The government and agrobusinesses encouraged farmers to
use pesticides to increase yield from the fields.
Mexican government also approved the experimental planting of GMO corn.
Our native corn was contaminated with genetically modified corn and
farmers stopped using native seeds.
a result, farmers abandoned traditional, sustainable farming practices.
Their soil was contaminated by the use of agrochemicals. It became
dependent on the pesticides, so farmers had to pay more to buy them.
Many could not make ends meet. They abandoned their lands, left to work
in maquiladoras, and emigrated to the United States.
farmers were no longer cultivating diverse crops and they couldn't
compete with market prices, Mexico started to import food from the U.S.
Now, Mexico is completely dependent on U.S. foods. In 2003, out of
every 100 agricultural products that Mexicans ate, 93 were bought from
the United States -even corn, beans, and rice, the staples of Mexican
diets. Despite the free trade agreement, the U.S. continues to
subsidize its farmers, allowing them to dump huge amounts of corn into
Mexico and driving Mexican farmers to abandon their crops.
Do you see any positive effects of NAFTA in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca?
the point of view of our reality, none. There may be some positive
effects in other parts of Mexico, but usually it benefits people who
are close to the government, people who have money, and not farmers. We
are told Mexico has reduced the amount of corn it buys from the U.S.
But those who sell corn in Mexico these days are not farmers, and often
they're not even Mexican. They are business people who are making money
in this new reality.