Free trade: As U.S. corn flows south, Mexicans stop farming
SAN JERONIMO SOLOLA, Mexico — Look around the rain-fed corn farms in Oaxaca state, and in vast areas of Mexico, and one sees few young men, just elderly people and single mothers.
“The men have gone to the United States,” explained Abel Santiago Duran, a 56-year-old municipal agent, as he surveyed this empty village in Oaxaca state.
The countryside wasn’t supposed to hollow out in this way when the North American Free Trade Agreement linked Mexico, Canada and the U.S. in 1994. Mexico, hoping its factories would absorb displaced farmers, said it would “export goods, not people.”
But in hindsight, the agricultural elements of the pact were brutal on Mexico’s corn farmers. A flood of U.S. corn imports, combined with subsidies that favor agribusiness, are blamed for the loss of 2 million farm jobs in Mexico. The trade pact worsened illegal migration, some experts say, particularly in areas where small farmers barely eke out a living.
Representatives of small farmers say Mexico’s policymakers tossed the dice that trade-spurred growth would take care of rural disruptions — and lost.
“The great failure of this supposition is that there wasn’t economic growth that would absorb these people,” said Victor Suarez, the executive director of the National Association of Rural Producers, which represents 60,000 small farmers. “The result has left rural areas increasingly populated by the elderly and women.”
Faced with deepening poverty, rural migrants have tried to escape regions of Mexico that never used to be sources of emigration.
“The government didn’t so much pull the plug on corn. The government pulled the plug on family farmers who grow corn because the big guys who grew corn got massive subsidies and protection from imports,” Fox said.
Under the free-trade umbrella, several Mexican agro-industrial companies have become muscular global conglomerates.
A flood of U.S. corn imports, combined with subsidies that favor agribusiness, are blamed for the loss of two million farm jobs in Mexico. Photo: Heriberto Rodriguez/MCT