From north to south, Mexican farmers are facing some of the most severe climate instability they’ve ever confronted. The northern states are suffering from what the Mexican government has called the worst drought the country has ever experienced; rain just won’t fall, and the crops that have been planted have dried up. In the south, they’ve had year after year of devastating floods, the result of which has been devastating topsoil loss on the uniformly hilly terrain.
Elias Ventura, a small-holder corn farmer in the state of Oaxaca, told me about the hopelessness of this situation when we sat next to each other yesterday at the seminar IATP is co-hosting this week in Mexico City, “New Paradigms and Public Policies for Agriculture and Global Food Systems,” in advance of next week’s G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. He said that he’s had either too much rain, or not enough, and that getting a good harvest under the unpredictable new weather extremes (that he said are the result of climate change) seemed like an impossibility. I asked him if the Mexican government provided any support when his crops failed and he gave me a resolute “No.” Not only would he be without the income that the crop would provide, but his community would have to adjust to a sharp decrease in food availability. This challenge Mexican farmers and rural communities face in the wake of climate change stands in stark contrast to the risk-management program the U.S. Senate has proposed for the 2012 Farm Bill, which would guarantee up to 90 percent of farmers’ revenue if crops fail or prices fall, but there are some similarities.
Neither government is offering farmers support to actually protect the crops already in the field through climate adaptation strategies—protection that would not only help protect farmers’ incomes, but also food security for everyone. In Mexico, that would probably look different than it would in the United States. Farmers like Ventura already practice certain agroecological principles—crop diversity, a low dependence on fossil fuel-based inputs, etc.—but Mexico, under the guidance of neoliberal structural adjustment policies, did away almost entirely with agricultural extension programs decades ago. This means that farmers like Ventura do not have access to infrastructure improvements, such as basic irrigation systems, that could help manage water flow on the farm and make all the difference in whether a crop is lost or harvested. In the U.S., on the other hand, our agriculture policies have incentivized precisely the kind of production systems that will be most at risk from severe droughts and flooding: large tracts of monoculture corn or soy adapted to a narrow range of temperatures and precipitation.
So what does this have to do with the G-20? In a few days, leaders from 20 of the world’s largest economies will come together in Los Cabos, Mexico. Agriculture productivity—specifically, increasing food production—is supposed to be a priority, according to the Mexican government, which is currently the G-20 chair. If, in fact, this group of governments does decide to work together to make agriculture production a priority, it’s unlikely that they would be seeking to make agroecological principles the foundation of a plan to increase food security. This, however, according to the groups we are meeting with this week in Mexico City—civil society and campesino groups from around the world—is exactly what they need to do if we stand any chance of keeping small farmers on the land, addressing hunger and creating real global food security.
This afternoon, Victor Suarez, president of the Asociación Nacional de Empresas Comercializadoras de Productores del Campo (ANEC) and a former IATP board member, will make formal recommendations to the Mexican government to take to the G-20. They’ll be based, in part, on the following set of proposals for agroecology created in our meeting this week by a diverse group of stakeholders:
1. Recover the importance of agriculture to confront the current global crisis, recognizing its benefits and removing it from harmful trade and finance pressures.
2. Define agriculture as the central activity to produce healthy foods, generate jobs and conserve and restore natural resources.
3. Recognize campesinos, campesino culture, their knowledge, the central role of the rural sector, which is based on local traditional and indigenous knowledge.
4. Establish agroecology as the alternative productive technology to industrial agricultural production.
5. Promote public investment in agroecology, prioritizing research, evaluation, and dissemination, as well as recuperation of seeds, with clear rules adapted to the realities of each region.
It’s unlikely, of course, that these principles will be acknowledged in any measure by the G-20 powers that be, but with time, and, unfortunately, the continued devastation of global food harvests under climate change, we can hope that our governments will begin to recognize that agroecology isn’t just an option for sustaining agriculture and food production over the long-term, it is our only option.