Let a Thousand Corn Stalks Bloom

By Kent Paterson

Mexican rural and urban activists plan to turn their country into one big corn field. A new campaign dubbed "No Corn, No Country" aims to sprinkle street medians, sidewalks and public parks with corn seeds. The mass planting of corn, the soul of the Mexican diet, is a creative tactic employed by a new national movement launched to safeguard biodiversity, to defend food security and to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Set for January 2008, the tear-down of all the remaining tariffs on corn and bean crops in Mexico as stipulated by the Nafta is galvanizing farmers, environmentalists and consumer advocates into renewed action.

"There is going to be a brutal depression of our national production, with very grave effects," predicts Lorena Paz of the Mexico-City based Maya Institute, one of the organizations backing the movement.

Rural communities, which are already hard-pressed by millions of tons of subsidized corn imports from the United States, now perhaps confront their death knell.

"No Corn, No Country" organizers estimate that two million agricultural jobs have been lost since the beginning of Nafta, while 300,000 rural residents migrate each year to the US.

Contrary to free-trade boosters' promises that more imports mean cheaper consumer goods, prices for corn-based products in Mexico are rising. Earlier this year, in the face of mounting public protests, President Felipe Calderon pledged to hold the price of the staple corn tortilla at 8.5 pesos per kilo, but tortilla outlets in Mexico are currently selling corn tortillas for 10 or 10.5 pesos per kilo.

In addition to shielding corn and bean crops from Nafta, the "No Corn, No Country" campaign proposes 9 other main reforms of agricultural and economic policies. The movement's principal demands include banning the planting of genetically-modified corn, improving native corn strains, controlling prices and combating speculation, curbing junk-food advertising, supporting rural forest and coffee producers, and passing a constitutional amendment that guarantees food sovereignty and nutritional access.

The movement's manifesto declares: "In this sense, it is necessary to propose the salvation of the countryside for the salvation of Mexico. No country in the past has been able to advance to higher states of development and democracy with its countryside in ruins, and no country in the future will be able to do so either."

Organizations endorsing the movement include the Democratic Peasant Front of Chihuahua, El Barzon, Greenpeace Mexico, Peoples Land Defense Front of Atenco, and many others. Former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who retains a large following, has voiced his support.

The movement is planning demonstrations in Mexico City during October 2007, and is supporting a call by farm organizations to shut down the Mexico-US border when the Nafta's corn and bean tariffs disappear next January.

The specter of genetically-modified corn crops spreading throughout Mexico is a key issue raised by activists. According to Greenpeace Mexico, genetically-modified corn was detected in Oaxaca in 2001 and near Mexico City in 2007. Paz adds that a farmer's organization has signed an agreement with Monsanto to plant experimental GMO corn crops in the states of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila beginning in September of this year.

Food security activists worry that the spread of genetically-modified corn will contaminate and homogenize Mexico's rich stock of native seeds.

"We don't want our seeds conserved in laboratories, turned into museum pieces," says a Greenpeace statement. "For Mexico to attain true food sovereignty and make rural development a factor in national development, it is necessary to continue cultivating and consuming corn in all its diversity of grains."

"No Corn, No Country" represents the latest wave of national farm protests since the early 1990s. Earlier protests failed to stop the NAFTA, and were largely unsuccessful in reversing the slow economic death of many land-based communities. However, the protests were largely confined to rural organizations. Will the new movement be more successful than previous efforts?

On the issue of revising the Nafta, small farm advocates are likely to run into a brick wall with the free-trade crazy Calderon administration.

To overcome the government's political bias, movement organizers are focusing much of their campaign in cities where massive corn plantings, demonstrations, petition-signings are designed to shape public opinion in favor of the farm groups that plan to close down the border.

"If the Mexican government knows that at least one million Mexicans are opposed to the opening of the borders in January 2008, that they are opposed to the planting of genetically-modified corn, it will have an enormous impact," contends the Maya Institute's Lorena Paz. "I think that this campaign is very important for the unity that it can produce between the urban and rural population."

Kent Paterson is a freelance journalist who divides his time between Mexico and the US Southwest.


From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2007

Home Page 

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2007 The Progressive Populist.