February 14, 2011
This is grim news: food prices are reaching record levels worldwide. The thousands of farmers who have killed themselves over the past decade seem to have no precedent. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation's director, the goal to reduce the number of hungry people by half will only be achieved in 2050.
In Mexico, this is just another facet of the crisis that started in the 80s, when the government dismantled its support for peasant farmers. "My obligation as minister of agriculture is to get rid of 10 million peasants," declared Carlos Hank in 1991. "What are you going to do with them?" a journalist asked. "That is not my area of work", he answered.
But no one assumed that responsibility. Vicente Fox, former president of Coca-Cola and president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, used to say "those peasants can be gardeners in Texas". For him and other policymakers, Mexico had too many peasants; America, their model, was producing food for the world with only 2.5% of the labour force. In 1992 they opened to the private market the land which had been in the hands of peasants since the 1910 revolution. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which came into force in 1994, consolidated this anti-peasant orientation in the name of free market.
Those policies drastically reduced food production, and Mexico now imports more than half of the grains it needs. Many Mexicans were forced to emigrate, and a fifth of Mexicans now live in the US.