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Beyond 'Free' or 'Fair' Trade: Mexican Farmers Go Local

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Breaking The Chains page and our Fairtrade & Social Justice page.
Tio Joel rode his small donkey down the dirt road to his greenhouse to show us his solution to keeping small farmers on their land in southern Mexico. At about seventy years old, he could handle a machete or lift a 20-kilo sack of compost as easily as any of us, though the brace he wore around his waist was a sign of problems to come.

Taking a break from chopping green manure for compost for his popular tomatoes, he explained why a campesino like him could benefit from using organic methods:  "In the harvest this year a lot of tomatoes were being harvested and the price went way down to five pesos per kilo, but we sell ours for seven. I go from house to house and sell it small scale, but we sell out our tomatoes because they're well-known   on Sunday we ran out of tomatoes, we sell so many."

Trade policy in the United States usually gets cast into two opposing camps-"free" trade and "fair" trade, a dichotomy that assumes local production in the Global South must be sold elsewhere. Indeed, we usually think of the demand for local, organic foods as coming from North America or Europe.  But within countries like Mexico, there's another way to approach the issue, looking at global import and export versus local production and consumption. In the United States, it has emerged as the "localist" movement, which to many seems an unaffordable luxury compared to the accessibility of cheap imported food.  But in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, raising and eating your own food and producing for the local market has become a strategy for cultural and economic survival in a hostile trade environment?

In southern Mexico, the cost of corn production is now higher than its world market price. By standard economic logic, Mexican campesinos should give up raising corn and grow another crop to sell on the world market, leave their land entirely for a job in the city, or migrate north.
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