More than 40 percent of the food that is consumed is imported.
Food sovereignty is at risk in Mexico due to the increasing dependence on food imports. For the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this situation is worrisome because of the volatility of international food prices. “An international context of volatile and high prices makes Mexico vulnerable especially because these are basic food products,” the FAO representative to Mexico, Nuria Urquía Fernández, recently affirmed.
Urquía added that, according to forecasts from the U.S. State Department, imports of corn, the base product of the Mexican diet, will increase by 50 percent until they reache 17 million tons at the end of this year. In 2012, corn imports were 10.8 million tons, 30 percent of internal consumption.
Likewise, FAO is concerned about farmers. About 70 percent have lower incomes than needed to subsist, 20 percent have great potential for growth but do not have the necessary aid, and 9 percent feed the nation. Close to 40 percent of farm production is provided by communities dedicated to family agriculture, many of whom apply agro-ecological practices to their corn and other crops.
Meanwhile, the environmental organization Greenpeace, in July warned of the risk to food sovereignty in Mexico because of transgenic corn entering the market.“The enormous diversity of the original grains could be lost and 80 percent of the country’s small producers would be at risk, including 2 million farmers who produce for self-consumption only,” said Aleida Lara, coordinator of the Greenpeace Mexico Sustainable Agriculture Campaign. “What is serious is that – she continued – if transgenic seeds are found in crops for self-consumption or [the crops] of small producers, they would have to pay royalties to large multinationals, as is already happening in the United States.”
Mexico is one of the eight worldwide “centres of origin” of corn, with 59 breeds and 200 adapted varieties of this grain. In 2009, the government reformed the legislation on biosecurity, lifting a decade-long moratorium on transgenic corn. Until October 2012, 177 permits for experimental and pilot farming of transgenic corn had been granted. These are the first stages of a rapidly expanding commercial agriculture.
According to Lara, this year, the US companies Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and Dow Agrosciences presented formal requests to the Government to commercially grow transgenic seeds in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Tamaulipas, and Sinaloa. The latter is considered Mexico’s bread-basket.
Although the Department of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing, and Food (SAGARPA), ensured it had not authorized the cultivation of transgenic corn in the country, its Secretary, Enrique Martínez y Martínez, specified that “[we] must act according to scientific opinion.”
“We need greater production and seeds that are more resistant to pests, drought, and ice. At the same time we are obliged to conserve the status of the genetic wealth of native crops. This is what we are doing, but up to now SAGARPA has given no authorization, and we will do so in accordance with scientific opinion,” said Martínez y Martínez.
In regards to the Secretary’s comments, Lara specified that “transgenic crops can contaminate native grains not only when they are mixed but also indirectly, such as through insects or with the wind. [The mixing of transgenic and native crops] would create a serious risk for the crops and for human health.” This type of transgenic production, she adds, “requires enormous amounts of herbicides, putting human health and entire fields in immediate danger.”