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NAFTA is Killing Tradition of Corn in Mexico

November 2007

Sin maíz no hay país is the resounding clarion call given by Grassroots International’s Mexican partners, grantees and their allies in rolling out the National Campaign in Defense of Food Sovereignty and the Revitalization of Rural Mexico.

Corn is indigenous to Mexico, and the alliance of peasant, farm worker, indigenous peoples, fisher, consumer, environmental and human rights groups and other organizations that came together to declare sin maíz no hay país are making the point that corn is intrinsically tied to the very idea and identity of Mexico.

The urgent nature of this campaign is clear as we near January 1, 2008, when the last remaining protections that Mexican peasants and indigenous peoples have preventing the flooding of their country with subsidized U.S. corn and beans, the two staples of the Mexican diet, will be erased. And so, on November 18, 2007 they will undertake a national mobilization to call attention to this looming disaster. 

When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico in 1994 over the widespread opposition of Mexico’s rural poor and indigenous peoples, some time-limited tariff protections were put in place to prevent U.S. exports of these two foods from deluging Mexico and causing economic upheaval. The immediate and long term impact of such a deluge might well be much larger than the recent floods caused by Hurricane Noel in Tabasco and Chiapas states.

Since the implementation of NAFTA, and even with these limited protections, millions of Mexicans, particularly from rural communities, have been hard hit. More than 2 million rural people have been displaced from the countryside and forced to emigrate to cities or to the North in search of a means for survival—an endless supply of cheap labor for maquiladoras on the border or low wage jobs in the United States.

The stage for this massive social and economic upheaval was set even before NAFTA when in 1982 the Mexican government began putting in place a neoliberal economic program that aimed at the privatization and deregulation of agriculture and food systems, closely tying it to similar moves in industry. In 1992, the Salinas government pushed through a constitutional amendment privatizing the traditional Mexican ejido and indigenous communal landholdings—land rights that were won after enormous peasant and indigenous struggles and sacrifices culminating in the 1910 Mexican revolution.

Along with the devastation of Mexico’s rural economy, NAFTA has had a major impact on its ecology. Agrobiodiversity is gravely threatened as a small number of imported corn varieties root out the enormous diversity of corn in the countryside; and as imported genetically modified and corporate patented varieties mix with centuries old varieties developed by generations of Mexican farmers and indigenous peoples. The stakes are enormous.

Food insecurity, especially around diet staples poses a grave risk. Last summer, tortilla prices skyrocketed, and the growing pressure to convert corn from food to fuel for ethanol and the increasing corporate concentration of food systems and supply can only make matters much worse. Already, more than one-third of the population suffers from malnutrition and anemia; and in the rural sector, mainly among indigenous peoples, this figure rises to over 50%.

Today, Grassroots’ partners and their allies argue, peasants and indigenous peoples need a new social compact with the Mexican State that respects their human rights including resource rights and food sovereignty; that recognizes the role and rights of rural Mexicans, including indigenous peoples, as food producers and stewards of biodiversity who play a vital role in Mexico’s social and economic well being and political sovereignty. As they point out: “the freedom to choose the quality, quantity and price of our food depends on our ability to produce them: without a healthy and fair national production of maize, Mexico can not continue to exist as the diverse and rich country we love.”

As Grassroots’ grantee, the Red Mexicana de Acción frente al Libre Comercio (Mexican Free Trade Action Network) website says: “The neo-liberal dream of a Mexican countryside without peasants or indigenous peoples is nothing but a nightmare and a vain illusion. Mexico cannot exist without Mexican peasants and indigenous peoples. Without corn, there is no country.”

The National Campaign in Defense of Food Sovereignty and the Revitalization of Rural Mexico calls on all Mexicans to join together in support of protecting Mexican maize, defending Mexico’s food sovereignty and revitalizing the Mexican countryside. They outline 10 urgent steps that need to be taken:


  • Remove corn and beans from NAFTA: Install a permanent mechanism for the management of imports and exports of corn and beans (and their derivatives and by-products) by the Mexican Congress.
  • Ban the planting of transgenic corn in Mexico: Protect and improve the genetic heritage of Mexican corn, and encourage the production of organic and native corn varieties.
  • Approve the Constitutional Right to Food by the Mexican Chamber of Deputies and the Law on Planning for Sovereignty and Food Security and Nutrition by the Mexican Senate.
  • Fight the food sector monopolies: Prevent hoarding and speculation, and misleading advertising of junk food.
  • Promote Mexican corn and cultural expressions.
  • Control prices of the basic food basket: Ensure adequate food supply and create a strategic reserve of food; and promote the consumption of fair trade and small producer-produced food.
  • Recognize the rights of peasants and the rights of indigenous peoples to their territories and its natural resources.
  • Support higher prices for coffee growers and their access to international markets.
  • Promote the conservation of the forests through community-led sustainable management of natural resources.
  • Ensure the principle of gender equality in rural policies, as well as the full recognition of the human rights of all citizens including labor, farm workers and migrant workers.

And they call on Mexicans everywhere to:

  • Plant corn in homes, sidewalks, camellones and public parks throughout the country.
  • Sign and support the ten steps to defend corn and the Mexican countryside.
  • Participate in the National Day of Mobilization for the Defense of Food Sovereignty and the Revitalization of Rural Mexico and the 2008 rural budget.
  • Educate, organize and act to denounce monopoly agribusiness abuses, and promote the production and consumption of fair, healthy, organic, non-GM foods produced by small farmers.
  • Support the efforts of peasant and indigenous organizations’ demands for justice, health and sovereignty for Mexico.


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