Rural poverty and agricultural development in Mexico

Reporting on rural poverty and agricultural development” Growing budget for Mexican farmlands; no reduction in poverty

*Rural women most affected by poverty in farming areas (* Chiapas, state with the largest impoverished population in Mexico)

From 2003 to 2013, budget allocations for Mexican farming areas grew 170%, but poverty dropped only 4%. Since 1982, the rural economy has failed to grow beyond 2%, according to advocacy organizations such as ANEC, Ashoka, Semillas para la Vida, Fundar, El Poder del Consumidor, and others.

Despite a tripling of the budget over the last 15 years by the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (Sagarpa), from 30 billion to 93 billion pesos annually, there is more malnutrition and poverty, according to Víctor Suárez, executive director of the National Association of Commercialized Farming Businesses  (ANEC).

According to advocacy organizations for agriculture and small farmers rights, large corporations such as Nestlé, Maseca, Monsanto, Bimbo, Lala and Bachoco take the lion’s share of agricultural budget allocations.

Based on data from the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), a Mexican governmental agency, poverty in rural and urban areas increased in 2010: growing from 62.4 to 64.5%—or 15.9 million to 17 million people—and from 39.1 to 40.5%—32.9 to 35 million people—respectively.

Of the 52 million people living in poverty reported above, two-thirds resided in urban areas and one-third in rural areas.

In 2010, nearly half of Mexico’s entire population were living in poverty, with one in three people experiencing moderate poverty and a little more than one-tenth in extreme poverty.

Chiapas: The state with the largest impoverished population in Mexico

CONEVAL reported that the states with the greatest percentages of the population in poverty were Chiapas (78.5%), Guerrero (67.6%), Oaxaca (67.4%), Puebla (61.2%), and Tlaxcala (60.6%).In Chiapas, 88% of the population lives in high and very high marginalization; women are the sector most vulnerable to structural poverty vis-a-vis access to resources, property, education, healthcare, and labor rights, according to the Grupo de Mujeres de San Cristóbal de las Casas (COLEM) and the Centro de Derechos de la Mujer de Chiapas (CDMCH). In July 2012, both organizations delivered one of the 18 shadow reports before 23 experts.

Women are hardest hit by poverty: Devoid of land ownership rights

The aforementioned report stresses that 9 out of 10 of every inhabitant of Chiapas experiences levels of medium, high, and very high marginalization, which disproportionately impact rural and indigenous women—94% of whom work principally in the home.

In indigenous and rural communities, the exercise of rights can be linked to the will of the father or husband. Under these rural parameters, landownership directly informs the ability to exercise one’s rights.But only around 5% to 8% of women enjoy collective property rights in Chiapas.

Government shortcomings in supportingMexican farming areas

There are over 150 economic aid programs devoted to the rural sector, but the average producer receives only three. According to Héctor Robles, professor at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), 60% of the agricultural budget is consumed by 20% of all producers.

Access to these rural programs is made difficult by strict operating requirements. In order to be accepted into these programs, every producer must budget 3,000 quartiles, have access to 20,000 windows, and in some instances, spend 30 to 50% of their income, says Robles in a recent interview with Gaudencia Vargas for the newspaper Contribuyente.

Additionally, the programs require the signature and services of specialists who take a large chunk of the financial support and in part, exploit certain conditions of farm workers, such as illiteracy, in order to develop their own projects.

Some institutions, moreover, demand registration before the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP), and satisfaction of certain financial obligations, but the majority of the producers do not meet these conditions due to their amount of revenues, and even due to being located far from the Secretary’s offices.

The inequality of agricultural support can be seen regionally: One corn producer in Chiapas receives no more than 5,000 pesos in subsidies, another corn producer in Sinaloa receives 200,000 pesos annually. This has to do, in part, with education and access, including knowledge of the Internet and professional contacts within the institutions that influence these agricultural support projects.

Access to resources is tied to the producers’ formal educational background. In the case of Chiapas, where women handle a large part of small-scale agricultural production, their lack of Spanish language skills and formal education, and the limited interaction between the countryside and the city, compounds the possibility of taking part in such programs.

Agricultural research institutes distant from producers

The “technification” of farming areas has not only fattened a bureaucracy that takes up a large part of the resources, but also produced a dynamic that seeks to “technify” without learning the actual needs of the farm workers. A farmland for them, but without them.

Small agricultural producers constitute 70% of the units of production and cultivate 40% of food in 17% of the producing area of the country. They preserve plants such as: corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, avocados, and others, which have fed humanity for over 10,000 years, and which now represent 16% of the global diet.

Absence of support for sales in local markets

Agricultural programs are not restricted to providing tools for production. They can also deliver other provisions such as improving roads, health services in rural areas, and secure transportation to transport products to the market.

If the majority of farm workers are small producers, then that implies that they are incapable of producing enough to sustain the demands of large supermarkets, but are indeed capable of producing sufficiently, at a smaller scale, for local markets.

Even governments could purchase their foodstuffs from small agricultural producers.

Why have government programs failed?

When organizations such as ANEC, Ashoka, Semillas para la Vida, Fundar, El Poder del Consumidor, and others are asked this question, they respond in a systematic way:

  1. Low coverage: Of the 80 programs analyzed, only 9 have national reach.
  2. Service-orientation: 1570 municipalities are dependent on resources from Secretary of Social Development (SEDESOL).
  3. Centralized distribution: Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Sonora and Jalisco consumed 38.9% of the budget from Competency, 43.6% from the Rural Financial Bank (FINRURAL), and 42.6% of credit from the Trust Funds for Rural Development (FIRA), while 16 other  Mexican entities have 26%, 21%, and 17% respectively. 
  4. Few benefits for marginalized communities: The municipalities with high levels of marginalization have an average per capita amount of $3,581 pesos, which is $792 pesos below the national average.

I would add a fifth point: The lack of a gender analysis in agriculture. Given the paucity and weakness of these social assistance programs, many male farm workers are migrating to cities, other countries, and are entering into new work sectors. For many years, women have increasingly taken charge of family farms, land parcels, and homestead gardens, such that some experts attribute the survival of agriculture to women.

However, women farm workers are the most invisible sector of the workforce. They are regarded as “assistants” to farm workers, but not as leaders of agricultural development.

Mexicos agriculture is about more than production

Beyond its impact on the gross domestic product of Mexico—which is about 4% according to information from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography cited by SAGARPA in 2009—agriculture plays a multifaceted role in economic, social, and environmental development beyond the implications of that simple figure.

The relevance of agriculture in Mexico has to do with the fact that the poorest section of the population consumes over half (51.8%) of the current spending on food, while the richest consume only 22.7%.

On the other hand, its necessary to emphasize that agricultural and livestock products figure prominently in a variety of commercial and industrial activities. Factoring in agroindustrial production, the sector’s contribution to the GDP of Mexico doubles excessively, passing 9%.

Unlike primary agricultural products, the contribution of agribusiness economic growth tends not to decline relatively with increasing economic development. In the developed countries, and even in certain Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, the contribution of the agro-industry to the GDP is two to three times greater than that of primary production, in a process of growing inter-sectorial organization. The growth potential of this participation in Mexican is especially great.

Agriculture is fundamental to rural communities, which are home to a highly significant part of the national population.  In small, dispersed rural areas (with populations smaller than 2,500) about 24 million Mexicans reside—roughly, one-fourth of the country. Of the 199,000 localities of the country, 196,000 correspond to this dimension. However, rural life in Mexico extends well beyond these small localities.

In certain instances the threshold is set at 15,000 inhabitants, as communities with smaller populations present ways of life that are characteristically rural. Using this figure, the rural population is over 38 million people (37% nationally). Far from being insignificant, rural development (in terms of employment, income, productive formations, and life chances) constitutes a very relevant part of national development.

These snippets on Mexican agriculture convey the urgency of effective investment not only in the farming areas, but more so, in the very men and women who work the lands. To have a more productive, sustainable farmland that generates jobs and a dignified life, it’s vital for investment strategies to become more effective in that regard.

English Translation by Michael Velarde

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