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Mexican Farmers Durable Despite Free-Trade Shocks

CIMMYT E-News, vol 3 no. 4, April 2006

6A new study from CIMMYT describes some of the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Mexican maize and wheat farmers, and their creative and resilient responses.

NAFTA took effect on January 1, 1994. Among other things, it stipulated the elimination of tariffs on most basic crops in Mexico, Canada, and the United States

With support from the Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellows Program of the US Congressional Hunger Center, former CIMMYT research affiliate Amanda King has published a study that addresses the effects of NAFTA on farmers in two very different Mexican agricultural areas. Her study examined Mexico’s northern Yaqui Valley, a high-productivity wheat farming zone, and small-scale, low-input producers of maize in two areas of Veracruz State, southeastern Mexico.

The report reviews recent literature regarding NAFTA impacts on maize and wheat farming in Mexico, and provides an overview of maize and wheat production, a characterization of the country’s farming households, and circumstances leading up to and following NAFTA. It closes with the case studies mentioned above, and conclusions and recommendations.

Photo by Amanda King. Rural Mexico 10 Years After the North American Free Trade Agreement: Coping with a Landscape of Change.
Photo by Amanda King. Rural Mexico 10 Years After the North American Free Trade Agreement: Coping with a Landscape of Change.

The results suggest that cooperation and diversification have helped some Mexican farmers cope with economic changes under NAFTA, despite economic crises and inadequate institutional support. Out-migration to large cities or to the USA has continued to increase steadily, but commercial maize production is going through a resurgence in the southern part of coastal Veracruz state, and farmers in northern Veracruz are capitalizing on new export opportunities involving the sale of maize husks. “Throughout the state,” says King, “farmers have increasingly turned toward cooperation and collaboration as tools to survive and even thrive in conditions of economic upheaval. Whereas the Mexican government expected NAFTA reforms to restructure and remove small-farmers from the agricultural sector, coping with the new conditions of agricultural production has ironically made many of these farmers stronger and more willing to fight to be considered a part of Mexico’s economic future.”

Results from the Yaqui Valley case study suggests that, even in areas considered favored in terms of economic and environmental resources, farmers have had difficulty making the livelihood transitions necessary to participate in international trade.

The report is intended for researchers and policy-makers interested in the themes of trade liberalization, agricultural production, and social welfare. “Mexico’s experience with NAFTA can provide lessons for other countries seeking to support a development agenda within the framework of trade liberalization,” says King.

One key conclusion of the study is the need for national governments as they pursue trade liberalization to put more emphasis on strategies that protect at-risk groups and that build the resiliency of vulnerable sectors. This is underlined by evidence showing that income inequality has been on the rise in Mexico since NAFTA took effect.

The new study, published in English, is the more technical supplement to a photo essay/descriptive portrayal of farmers’ circumstances and livelihoods in the case study areas published by King in 2004.

Both reports are available for download or viewing.
King, A. 2006. Ten Years with NAFTA: A Review of the Literature and an Analysis of Farmer Responses in Sonora and Veracruz, Mexico. CIMMYT Special Report 06-01. Mexico, D.F.: CIMMYT/Congressional Hunger Center. To view or download a copy, click here.

King, A. 2004. Rural Mexico 10 Years After the North American Free Trade Agreement: Coping with a Landscape of Change. Mexico, D.F.: CIMMYT. To view or download a copy, click here.