This article is the seventh in a series highlighting the work of our colleagues around the world to build agroecological practices, science and movements. Agroecology has emerged as a set of practices based on principles that guide how to produce food sustainably, as well as how to manage the social relationships that govern food production, processing, exchange and waste management in a fair manner. This article by Enrique Perez S., editor of La Jornada del Campo, focuses on collective action by some of the many social movements in Mexico to protect the country’s right to food sovereignty.
The neoliberal model has devastated the Mexican countryside, food, biodiversity and the social fabric. But neoliberalism, as Undersecretary of Food Self-Sufficiency Víctor Suárez points out in his book Rescate del Campo Mexicano, "has also sought to weaken social resistance in the countryside, undermining peasant identity and cohesion, discouraging organization and collective action, breaking the family and community fabric, cornering the culture of work and self-effort, and promoting individualism, populism, welfarism and victimhood."
However, during this dark period, peasants and Indigenous people organized themselves to find new and diverse ways to produce healthy food, to generate alternatives to market their products, to exercise their full right to continue being peasants and indigenous people, and to build new ways of relating to and caring for the environment and biodiversity. Countless peasant and indigenous experiences and alternatives have been built over time from these communities. They have shaken the country at different junctures and generated multiple proposals for profound changes to neoliberal public policies. These movements include the From the Zapatista uprising, the Movimiento El Campo no Aguanta Más (the Countryside Can’t Take It Anymore Movement), the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra de San Salvador Atenco (the Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land of San Salvador Atenco), the Campaña Nacional Sin Maíz no Hay País (the National No Corn No Country Campaign), and the Movimiento Campesino, Indígena and Afromexicano "Plan de Ayala Siglo XXI" (the Campesino, Indigenous, Afromexican Movement for a 21st Century Ayala Plan). The Plan de Ayala Movement, in the context of the last presidential election, presented an alternative project for the countryside that was signed by the current president of Mexico. Moreover, the Collective Corn Demand brought together movements against GMO corn, in defense of water, land and territory, against mining companies, against trade agreements, and against mega infrastructure projects.
The National Without Corn There is No Country Campaign brings together more than 300 peasant, environmental, human rights, consumer, academic and academic organizations. It has organized countless actions and activities, including public corn plantings, concerts, talks, and mobilizations. This year, it promoted National Corn Day, which is celebrated every September 29 to encourage the Collective Corn Demand. Working with other coalitions it contributed to "the revaluation of peasant agriculture, the protection and promotion of our corn from the field and against GMO corn and for food sovereignty.” The groups pointed out that “it is evident that there is a confrontation between two visions about the direction that Mexico's food policy should take: a backwards one that in practice is defending the interests of the agribusiness elite united with those of the transnationals that control seeds (hybrid and transgenic) and pesticides; and a different progressive vision that seeks to consolidate the advances achieved in the transformation of the food system during the government and to deepen those changes, to guarantee the rights to healthy food, to consume food produced in the country without transgenic corn, and to reduce the use of highly hazardous pesticides that can cause irreversible damage to health and the environment.” Indeed, this is what is currently happening in Mexico. There is a dispute between two visions of the country, in general and specifically about what agriculture, what countryside and what food Mexico requires, whether to continue under a failed model (green revolution, agroindustrial and neoliberal) or to build a new agrifood, nutritional and agroecological system with peasants and Indigenous people.
Undoubtedly, the arrival of the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) opened new paths of hope for Mexico and catapulted many of the demands, proposals and alternatives that peasants and Indigenous people have been working hard for years, through government actions to "rescue the countryside" and achieve "food self-sufficiency and sovereignty."
These initiatives have included programs such as Production for Wellbeing, Sowing Life, Fertilizers for Wellbeing, and Guaranteed Prices, under the unifying premise of "for the good of all, first the poor," and above all "dignifying" the work of those who "feed us." In addition to these programs, the Mexican government, together with social organizations such as the Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria (Alliance for Food Health), promoted the front of package labeling of ultra-processed foods. Although the proposal and slogan "no to GMO corn" has been on the president's lips for some time, on December 31, 2020, he went further and published in the Official Gazette of the Federation (DOF) the decree to prohibit the use of herbicide glyphosate and transgenic corn. In addition, last May, the President announced the "Campaign for Self-Sufficiency in Production (PACIC)," which will bring “Production for Wellbeing and Sowing Life together, expand the Fertilizers for Wellbeing program to nine states and promote the production of organic fertilizers, the formation of a strategic reserve of corn, among other actions." (Bartra, Armando. Agroecological Revolutions in Mexico, 2022). According to the Undersecretary Víctor Suárez, "This is a policy to rescue the countryside and productive activity, to dignify peasants and their knowledge, with goals of food self-sufficiency and agroecological transition. It decisively cancels the tone of almost 40 years of neoliberal governments of disregard for peasants; of concentration of budgets in few hands with discretion and corruption; and of submission to dependence on imports, to the agro-titans of the countryside, land and water grabbers, and to the agro-industrial monopolies, successful lobbyists of the past." (Agroecological Revolutions in Mexico, 2022).
In addition, Margarita Valdez Martinez (president of the National Health Commission) and Senator Ana Lilia Rivera Rivera presented an initiative to reform the General Health Law to promote bio-inputs and agroecological systems and to establish a national program for the progressive restriction and prohibition of highly hazardous pesticides.
It is important to point out that the actions that have been promoted by the Mexican government and the legislature to lay the foundations for a new agricultural policy have been partly due to the political will and commitment of the Fourth Transformation (AMLO’s comprehensive program of reforms) but are undoubtedly based on the struggles of the peasant, indigenous, environmental, human rights, consumer and academic movements. Those coalitions have been essential in the construction of a new agrifood, nutritional and agroecological system. This dialogue, initiative and mobilization must not stop. On the contrary, it should be deepened and expanded.
The pressures and criticisms of these actions of paradigmatic changes in national agricultural policy have been mainly orchestrated by the agribusiness elite. And, of course, the pressure exerted from the United States government, senators, companies and farmers within the framework of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to pressure Mexico to "modify" its policy regarding imports of GMO.
In this regard, Sharon Anglin Treat, former senior attorney at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), noted in an article published in La Jornada del Campo that she examined the allegations that USMCA forbids these actions and found them to be without merit. Her analysis concluded that while the USMCA’s agricultural biotechnology provisions provide procedural guidance to government regulators, they lack substantive requirements that would provide a basis for overturning Mexico's policies and permitting decisions.
In the face of these pressures, President López Obrador and the Mexican government have been clear that "the health of the Mexican people supersedes mercantile interests." The Mexican people and social movements must defend our national and food sovereignty through concerted positions and actions with the Mexican government so that it does not give in to the pressures and blackmail of the agribusiness elite and the U.S. government. It is also fundamental to work with progressive social movements in the U.S. to advance and build an agri-food and nutritional system for the benefit of our peoples. Another food system is possible!