Green Acre Radio: How Mexico struggles to defend against flood of U.S. grain

A farmer from Oaxaca visits the Puget Sound region to talk about defending non-GMO corn and culture.

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San Pedro Coxcaltepec Cantaros in Oaxaca, Mexico.

A farmer from Oaxaca visits the Puget Sound region to talk about defending non-GMO corn and culture.

When it comes to Mexico, immigration and drug cartels, dominate the news. The roots of migration and ways to increase food security rarely enter the conversation. This week Green Acre Radio speaks with a small farmer committed to defending corn and culture in Oaxaca, Mexico's most southern state. He was on Witness for Peace speaking tour of the Northwest.

Click on the audio player above or here to listen.

When Eleazar Garcia talks about defending the land in his native Oaxaca, he speaks about recharging aquifers, growing food sustainably and keeping farmers on the land. He speaks through an interpreter. “These campesinos or small scale farmers play an important role in food security and food sovereignty.” Garcia is a founding member of the Center for Integral Development of the Campesino of the Mixteca Alta or CEDICAM, in Oaxaca’s indigenous Mixteca region. CEDICAM received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for its work on reforestation, soil conservation, and sustainable agriculture in 2008. Since the organization began, small farmers have returned to the traditional milpa farming system where crops such as corn, squash and beans, are mixed together in the same field. Garcia calls it a model of resistance because it rejects the model promoted by NAFTA and the Green Revolution, which relies on chemical inputs and monoculture. “It generates food for families and maybe it’s not comparable to this new model that says it’s going to end world hunger," Garcia says. "That’s a lie because we think the solution to end hunger is in the hands of small scale farmers, of campesinos.”

Garcia is on a Witness for Peace sponsored speaking tour of the Northwest. Since NAFTA was enacted in 1994& Mexico's markets have been flooded with heavily subsidized corn from the United States. Yet 25 percent of the population is without access to basic food. Couple this with decades-old Mexican government policy and centuries of destructive land practices, going back to the Aztecs, and Mexico has seen a two-fold increase in migration. “That is something we can work toward changing,” says Kristen Kosidowski, who volunteers with Witness for Peace. “We’re not interested in telling a community in Mexico what they need to do. Rather we’re learning from what they are doing and at ways we can make change here at home.” Kosidowski says there’s a lot of interest in renegotiating NAFTA. “We have great data, great evidence of what’s happened in those seventeen years with NAFTA. So re-negotiation looks like a very community driven effort to really come up with a solution that looks very different.”

But it won’t be easy. Climate change and the explosion of GMOs are also impacting farmers ability to live off the land. Mexico has become progressively more dependent on importing basic grains. Eighty-six percent of corn and 93 percent of soy are genetically modified. Monsanto has a pilot project in Northern Mexico. Eleazar Garcia says contamination of native seeds in southern Oaxaca has so far not been a problem. “I’m sure that these large companies look to be a little more discrete because they know that in our area there’s campesinos, small farmers defending their resources, defending their seeds. And if we were to identify these types of large producers and their crops in our area, there would be a big conflict.”

Part of the work of Witness for Peace is to bring people from the United States to bear witness to what’s going on in a country and tell the story back home. Scott Powell, who works on environmental issues with Seattle City Light, was impressed with the community’s effort to reclaim the historic practice of terracing on steep slopes. “Creating new terracing, doing new plantings. You see a lot of mini-pine forests being planted. I was just astounded at how abundant, how green everything seemed.” He says the community is also reclaiming their food supply, growing tomatoes in greenhouses and returning to grains like amaranth, which Spanish colonizers eradicated. It’s largely subsistence agriculture. A lack of governmental support and weak infrastructure make bringing foods to market a challenge. Add the excess supply from the United States and it’s impossible to compete.

Yet, says Powell, campesinos in Oaxaca tend to not put blame on things outside themselves. “They keep this fierce independence of their ability to carry on the integrity of their village life and customs which all ties back to their indigenuous character.” He says he came home with lessons for restoring Puget Sound. Don’t let things like oxygen depletion and run off get too far out of hand. He also has a new appreciation for U.S. environmental laws and what he calls “layers of government” used to working well together. Still he remains inspired by what he saw in Oaxaca. Reforestation, terracing, cisterns for water. extracts of Mexican marigold, chili and garlic for pest control. “They do all this again themselves, all on a modest scale. But it seems to work very, very well.”

For more information go to and  Green Acre Radio is supported by the Human Links Foundation. Engineering by CJ Lazenby. Produced through the Jack Straw Foundation and KBCS.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Martha Baskin

Martha Baskin

Martha Baskin is an environmental reporter, whose work on the subject began with a project for the King Conservation District. Green Acre Radio was born shortly afterward. Her work is currently supported by the Human Links Foundation. She was one of the founding reporters for Pacifica's Free Speech Radio News and has been a contributor to the National Radio Project's Making Contact.