Alba González Jácome

In document Agroecology - Gliessman (Page 190-200)

9.1 iNTroduCTioN

Across the Mexican countryside, approximately 5,654,000 small-scale farmers—

including ejido landholders, communal landholders, and peasants in possession of some amount of agricultural land (posesionarios) in the ejido properties—manage a total of about 3,392,000 plots in and around 31,518 communities (INEGI, 2007, 2008). These farmers represent about 5.4% of the total population in Mexico, which in 2005 stood at about 103,263,388 inhabitants (INEGI, 2000, 2005).

The diverse, small-scale agricultural systems managed by these rural Mexican peasants represent, collectively, a broad type of agroecosystem with ancient origins CoNTeNTs

9.1 Introduction ... 179

9.2 History of Traditional Agriculture in Mexico ... 180

9.3 Threats to Traditional Agriculture ... 185

9.3.1 Dietary Changes ... 185

9.3.2 Loss of Peasant Knowledge and Devaluation of Cultural Heritage ... 186

9.3.3 Internal and International Migration ... 187

9.3.4 Loss of Biodiversity ... 189

9.3.5 Expansion of Conventional Practices ... 190

9.3.6 Other Threats ... 191

9.4 Sustainability from Traditional Foundations: Positive Steps ... 191

9.4.1 Solving the Labor Problem ... 192

9.4.2 Generating Cash Income ... 193

9.4.3 Modifying Traditional Systems ... 194

9.4.4 Investing in Development of Sustainable Systems ... 195

9.4.5 Using Natural Systems Sustainably ... 196

9.5 Preserving Traditional Agriculture in Mexico ... 197

9.6 Conclusions ... 199

Acknowledgments ...200

References ...200

that has been called the “Mexican model of agriculture” (Palerm, 1968). This model is considered a prime example of “traditional agriculture” by many ecologists, agro-ecologists, and social scientists (Gliessman, 2001).

Mexican traditional agriculture has a long history of endogenous development, with roots in the pre-Columbian systems that flourished as early as 7,000 to 9,000 years ago (Benz, 2001; Iltis, 2006). As an ancient, locally adapted model based on nontechnological inputs, it exhibits many of the characteristics that are required of sustainable systems. It integrates with and supports (or at least does not harm) local biodiversity; it does not require imported or purchased inputs; it is able to satisfy (at least partially) the food needs of both the rural population and nearby urban centers;

it relies on time-tested methods of ecological agriculture that use nutrient cycling and biological interactions to maintain fertility and control pests; it incorporates practical methods of risk management; and it is intimately connected with, and sup-portive of, rural culture and urban society.

Throughout Mexico, traditional agriculture has served in various ways as a foundation for the development of sustainable systems of “organic agriculture” (see Chapter 8). Although these systems may differ in scale, practices, crops, and other aspects from traditional systems, the imprint of their source in traditional agricul-ture is unmistakable. Traditional Mexican agriculagricul-ture, therefore, has already proven itself to have an important role in the ongoing effort to create sustainable agricultural systems in the country.

Mexican traditional agriculture, however, faces many threats, mostly linked to external, large-scale forces such as industrialization, modernization, urbanization, glo-balization, national agricultural policy, and demographic trends. These threats, which include labor shortages, migration to urban centers, dietary changes, and devaluation of traditional knowledge and culture, are so serious that we may classify traditional agriculture as endangered. Nevertheless, there are examples all over Mexico of suc-cessful responses to these threats. In every case, they involve modifying traditional systems or practices to fit the modern context. Viewed through the lens of history, this is just the latest in a series of adaptations to imposed conditions that rural Mexicans*

have made since the beginning of corn domestication and cultivation (Benz, 2001; Iltis, 2006). These adaptations have much to teach us about moving toward sustainability.

9.2 hisTory of TradiTioNal aGriCulTure iN mexiCo

Ancient land use patterns are basic to understanding the rise of contemporary Mexican agricultural systems, their relationship with natural ecosystems, and the current discussions about sustainability. The diverse systems of traditional agricul-ture that exist today in the Mexican countryside are the product of a long history of indigenous and rural people adapting ancient agricultural techniques and land use patterns to a series of disruptions and appropriations of land that began with Spanish

* “Rural Mexicans” include indigenous and nonindigenous people, peasants, scale farmers, small-scale private cattle ranchers, and communal organizations. In some contexts, these are important dis-tinctions, but for the purposes of this chapter, they add an unnecessary layer of complexity that can obscure the more general dynamics being discussed. I will use the terms farmers, agriculturalists, and peasants in a similar broad manner.

colonization; continued with the spread of estates (haciendas), development of large-scale production systems for export, the Mexican Revolution, and agricultural “mod-ernization”; and persist into the present day with globalization, economic crises, and seasonal agricultural work migration to the United States and Canada.

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the early 1500s, the agricultural systems they encountered were already very old—probably the oldest in the Americas. These systems had been productive enough to produce food surpluses and permit the rise of urban civilizations such as those of the Maya, Zapotec, Nahua, and Totonac. As the Spanish colonized Mexico, they introduced many new crops, animals, technologies, farming practices, and land use patterns. Wheat, barley, sugar cane, citrus, peaches, pears, apples, grapes, watermelons, horses, and cattle from the Old World joined the corn, beans, squash, chilies, and turkeys native to Mesoamerica (Dunmire, 2005).

These imported agricultural elements were often in conflict with indigenous ele-ments, but over a long period of time, hybrid systems were created with both Old and New World elements.

The combining of European and indigenous agriculture was seldom peaceful, and it had devastating consequences for many indigenous people. At the beginning of the colonial era in the 1500s and 1600s, the relationship between agriculture, land tenure, and the economic goals of the new society produced conflicts that resulted in rebel-lions of Indians against Spaniards. These conflicts were accentuated by the intro-duction of cattle ranching and new models for land tenure and irrigation (Hoekstra, 1992). Cattle and irrigation competed for the same land and water resources that the Indians had used for intensive agricultural systems before the Spanish arrival in New Spain (Chevalier, 1975; Gibson, 1975).

The pre-Hispanic intensive chinampa agricultural system in the Valley of Mexico suffered from reduction of available water. Agricultural lands on the plains were converted from irrigated corn cultivation into seasonal rainfall corn cultivation as the available irrigation water was directed to wheat crops and applied to vegetables and fruits of Old World origin (González, 2009; Olivares, 2007; Quiñones, 2005). As indigenous people adapted to the introduction of new technologies and plants, many of the management practices, such as weeding, that had characterized systems like the milpa were modified or abandoned (González, 2004).

Depletion of natural areas in several regions of New Spain was a common prac-tice (Melville, 1994, 1997). Several regions in the Viceroyalty, including forested areas and semiarid subtropical areas, began to be used for dryland agriculture and subsequently suffered degradation. Many ecologically rich wetlands and lakes—like the ones located in the Valley of Mexico—were drained to use the land for farming and urban expansion purposes. Moreover, after the destruction of the Indian water control systems in the Valley of Mexico, annual floods and heavy rains during the summer increased the necessity of draining the old lakes and wetland areas (Gurría, 1978; Palerm, 1973).

In the central part of the country, indigenous people responded by developing new corn seed varieties adapted to the lack of water through the cultivation cycle. In the high-altitude Valley of Toluca, where hailstorms and frosts were a problem, farmers developed the Palomero toluqueño corn variety, which was very well adapted to the harsh conditions. In the tropics, farmers developed a corn variety called marceño

that was adapted to an excess of water and annual flooding (Gliessman, 1999;

Orozco, 1999). As Indians lost their lands to the Spaniards—who built large estates (haciendas) to grow commercial crops such as sugar cane, wheat, and vegetables—

indigenous agricultural systems were refocused on family subsistence and payment of the taxes imposed by the Spanish Crown.

In the three centuries between the Spanish conquest (1519) and Mexican inde-pendence (1821), the Indian population decreased drastically, Spaniards expanded their control of empty lands, crop monocultures for export came to dominate the agricultural economy, cattle ranching expanded, and urban centers grew rapidly—

all of which radically altered the agrarian landscapes of Mexico (Aguirre Beltrán, 1991; Siemens, 1983, 1990). At the end of this period, traditional agriculture had incorporated new plants, animals, ideologies, and farming practices, as well as new agricultural systems, such as the solar in the Mayan communities, in which stone walls (albarradas) divided home gardens, restricting the movement of the animals that had formerly been hunted for food (Mariaca et al., 2007; Vanderwaker, 2006).

There is some historical evidence that the milpa system in tropical zones survived with reduced crop diversity (Blanco, 2003, 2006).

During the 1800s, Indian communities were subordinated to the newly independent Mexican state, its institutions and economic programs. Programs directed to the devel-opment of new industries were organized in different parts of the country and new crops—most notably coffee—were introduced into commercial agriculture to meet the demands of the industrialized countries (González, 1996, 2004; Sartorius, 1961). Indian communities practiced subsistence agriculture and supplied seasonal labor on the neigh-boring estates. They obtained wood, charcoal, plants, animals, mushrooms, and many other supplementary resources from the surrounding natural areas (González, 2008a).

Beginning in the 1800s, and then more importantly during the 1900s, a series of local and regional programs were organized throughout the country to develop water control systems. Some lakes, lagoons, and rivers were drained or diverted to expand agricultural lands over their old basins; there are good examples in the Lerma River basin near Toluca and also in the southwest of Tlaxcala (Albores, 1995; González, 1992, 1999, 2003a, 2008b). The land was divided among large estates, ranches, and Indian and peasant communities, which had communal organizations of property with respect to natural resources such as forests, mines, ravines, lakes, and rivers (Bilbao, 1989; Blanco, 2006; Servín, 2000). Commercial agriculture was mainly concentrated on private properties, and water was controlled for irrigation purposes; rural commu-nities mainly focused on rain-fed seasonal subsistence agriculture. Corn was the basic crop for the peasants, and it was cultivated mainly for subsistence purposes.

Modernization of industry and large-scale agriculture proceeded throughout the country from 1830 onward. At the end of the 1800s, estate owners introduced British agricultural machinery (Nickel, 1996).* From the 1930s on, development programs

* Lucas Alamán was the ideologist for the industrialization of the country during the first years of the nineteenth century. The need to modernize Mexican agriculture is found at least in the eighteenth cen-tury with the Bourbon reforms of the New Spain economy. The idea grew during the nineteenth cencen-tury;

it also was publicly expressed by several politicians and estate owners during the Porfiriato. Around the 1880s a process of mechanization can be documented for some regions of Mexico, as in southwest Tlaxcala; it was related to the lack of human labor from the towns around the estates (Nickel, 1996).

were organized along the lines of U.S. agricultural and technological models. Formal education reinforced the ideology of progress: agriculture had to be modernized.

This included the idea of having spaces without natural vegetation around culti-vated plots, which act against natural diversity. Agronomists and politicians could not appreciate the value of many traditional practices, which included managing unweeded, overgrown natural spaces near cropping areas.

In the sparsely populated regions of the southeast of the country, forested areas became important sources of raw materials for foreign companies. European and American companies cut timber in the tropical forest of Marqués de Comillas in Chiapas (Mariaca, 2002). Timber was taken by Canadian companies in the temper-ate woods of the Sierra de Juarez in Oaxaca (Guhs, 1992), and American companies obtained chicle from sapote trees in the tropical forests of Los Chenes in Campeche (Morales, 2004).

Land tenure in Mexico underwent radical changes as a consequence of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1921). The peasantry took control of some of the land in the hands of estate owners. Starting in 1916, a collective system of land tenure called ejido was imposed by the political leaders. Small-scale farmers had usufructuary rights but were forbidden to rent or sell the plots they had been allocated. Various natural areas were held in common. Isolated communities all over the country were able to use natural areas for the development of new agricultural lands for obtaining other resources, or even the creation of new agricultural systems.

One example is the banquetera,* established in the ravine slopes of the Xopilapa town in central Veracruz, where coffee and mango production was directed toward the regional markets and the local fauna was not affected by agriculture (Servín, 2000, 2001, 2002). Another strategy was developed by the Popoluca people of Soteapan in the Tuxtlas region of southern Veracruz, where coffee trees were intermixed with the natural forest (Blanco, 2003, 2006, 2007). In both cases the new agricultural sys-tems were located in the subtropical forest; they were dedicated to the cultivation of commercial products while staples were grown in the plots located near the houses (milpa). A combination of self-sufficiency and commercial production was the result of these attempts to integrate local society with regional and national sociopolitical developments. Staple crops remained the same through the years while commercial crops changed to adapt to market necessities.

The developmental policies of the Mexican government from 1940 to 1970 were mainly directed toward the industrialization and modernization of the nation, and this included agriculture. Their objective was to impose the American model of agri-culture. This model mainly involved the use of agricultural machinery instead of human labor, the intensive application of agrochemicals, the use of hybrid seeds for the cultivation of corn, and the cultivation of monoculture commercial crops instead of the basic staples. In addition, earth and plant borders and the natural areas located around cultivated plots were leveled to create terrains that could be worked with machinery (Márquez, 2007; Martínez and Gándara, 2007; Palerm, 1968).

* The banquetera is an agricultural system in which small, perched, triangle-shaped plots on hillsides are intermixed with the subtropical forest and are cultivated with coffee and mango trees in such a way that the vegetation looks undisturbed (Servín, 2000, 2001).

In recent decades, government policy has favored large-scale conventional agri-culture and paid little attention to the needs of small-scale farmers in the countryside.

The Procampo governmental program mainly helped medium- and large-scale farm-ers. At the same time, however, social programs like Progresa and Oportunidades were used by small-scale farmers as a way to improve their agriculture-based family economies (Márquez, 2007). Neoliberal economic policy in Mexico started with the Miguel de la Madrid government in 1982; it was reinforced with the new agrar-ian laws in 1992 and the NAFTA (TLCAN) agreement in 1993. The government of Vicente Fox did not make any fundamental changes in agrarian policy. The NAFTA agreement with the United States and Canada forbids direct aid to agriculture, so peasants get assistance for converting subsistence agriculture into commercial enter-prises indirectly, by using governmental social policies aimed at improving the life of poor rural families.

The recent financial crisis in the world economy has impacted the jobs of Mexican migrants and the remittances they send home, causing changes in the agrarian poli-cies of the current Calderon government. At the beginning of 2008, the government approved a new program of economic support to large- and medium-scale agricultural enterprises, with only a little more than 300 pesos each going to the poorest farmers in rural areas. However, on November 13, 2008, the Mexican Congress responded to the rise in food prices by approving more than 230,000 million pesos for the 2009 annual national agricultural budget; a part of this amount will go to support agricul-tural producers. This could signal a change in the perspective of Mexican politicians about agriculture.

Despite the powerful forces arrayed behind it, the modern agricultural model has not completely displaced traditional agriculture. Traditional practices survive in some form, recognizable as the basis for the various distinctive agricultural practices that are common to most mestizo and Indian rural communities in Mexico. These practices include the following:

1. Combining agriculture with the collection of plants and animals from the surrounding natural areas.

2. Focusing agricultural effort on both family subsistence and the selling of food and products such as mushrooms, medicinal plants, wood, and char-coal to local and regional markets.

3. Managing diverse crops in the traditional agroecosystems such as the milpa.

4. Creating agroecosystems that involve growing crops in partially modified natural systems, such as managing commercial tree crops within forests.

5. Modifying ancient agricultural practices as needed to maintain soil fertility (adding more green and animal manure to the fields, for example).

6. Leaving forested areas around the cultivated fields to protect crops from excess of sun and wind (such as is done in the tolché in the Mayan area of Yucatán).

7. Keeping alive a cultural context for farming that is shaped by a syncretic system of myths and rituals both old and new (Albores and Broda, 2003;

Alcorn, 2006; Blanco, 2006; Ellis and Porter, 2007).

9.3 ThreaTs To TradiTioNal aGriCulTure

There are many forces acting against Mexican traditional agriculture and its sustain-able agricultural practices. Some of these forces, such as NAFTA and emigration to the United States, are closely related to economic policies at the national and interna-tional global scale. Their impacts on agriculture and rural areas located in the central and southern regions of Mexico are unmistakable, even if our understanding of them could benefit from further study.

9.3.1 dietary Changes

During the last 30 years, the diets of people in rural communities have changed dra-matically, becoming more like those of urban people. Hunting and fishing for food is a thing of the past in the majority of the Mexican rural areas, and the consumption of traditional plant foods prepared at home in traditional ways has declined. The preferred foods are often processed products imported over long distances; even though they are more expensive, people prefer them because they are related to the idea of modern life. Traditional food, in contrast, is tied to old people and the past.

To increasing numbers of rural people, it is irrelevant that traditional cooking may improve nutrition and health, or that it is part of a valuable cultural heritage.

Changes in the consumption of beverages are indicative of what is happening with diet generally. The consumption of manufactured soft drinks has increased dra-matically; Mexico is first in the consumption of such drinks in the world (Coca-Cola Company, 2001). At the same time, many traditional, local beverages have nearly disappeared. These include posol (corn and cacao), posole (corn meal mixed with water, chile, and salt, or corn meal mixed with coconut pulp), balché (balche tree bark mixed with water, honey, and anise), aguamiel (nonfermented Agave juice), pinole (toasted and milled corn mixed with water), flavored water (pulped fruits mixed with water), tepache (pineapple peel mixed with brown sugar and water), atole (corn milled and mixed with water, sugar, and sometimes the flavor of some fruit such as Prunus capulli), chocolate (cacao mixed with water, sugar, and cinna-mon), and many others (González et al., 2007).

These dietary changes have many negative consequences. Among them are public health effects. The rise in soft drink consumption, for example, is tied directly to a sharp rise in diabetes, which is now the fourth cause of mortality in the country

These dietary changes have many negative consequences. Among them are public health effects. The rise in soft drink consumption, for example, is tied directly to a sharp rise in diabetes, which is now the fourth cause of mortality in the country

In document Agroecology - Gliessman (Page 190-200)