November 20, 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of
the Mexican Revolution that overthrew the Porfirio Díaz
regime (1876-1911). It was the world’s first social
revolution of the 20th century. A century later,
the causes that sparked this popular uprising and gave way
to the revolutionary movement are not only still present,
they are felt even more brutally by the vast majority of
Mexican families. And hunger is the leading cause.
Land! Only land! / The Indians have risen / to recover the
land that the hacendados took from them / Zapata,
leader of southern Mexico / apostle of conviction / was the
voice of the land / their voice of liberation.
Tierra, Sólo la Tierra” - Revolutionary Corrido, Mexican
One hundred years after the Revolution, Mexico is
still a country as rich as it is unjust, with a society
increasingly submerged in poverty, hunger and exclusion.
Current statistics reveal that
percent of the population concentrates 42 percent of all
million Mexicans subsist in poverty.
According to ECLAC (the United Nations Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean),
four out of every 10 Mexican children are poor,
that’s a total of 4 million or 18 percent of all poor
children in Latin America.
And the situation is not any better in the field of
education. At a public ceremony commemorating the centennial
of the Revolution, José Narro Robles, president of
Mexico’s leading university, UNAM, gave some
alarming figures: “Today,
2010, there are 5.8 million people in Mexico who do not know
how to read and write, a number not very far below the 7.8
million illiterate persons that existed before the armed
A hundred years ago the peasant movement was the architect
and main force behind the Revolution. Mexico’s powerful
groups have obviously neither forgotten nor forgiven that
“excess” and have been implementing an economic and social
model that excludes the peasant population and causes an
outrageous emptying of the countryside.
This exodus explains why
percent of the 105 million Mexicans who live in the cities
are just struggling to get by.
Of the population that remains in rural areas,
eight out of every ten persons lives in extreme poverty and
is barely surviving.
Despite increased spending in food imports,
14.42 million Mexicans were living in food
poverty in 2006, and by 2008 that figure had
shot up to 19.46 million. Recent data reveals
that 46 percent of the population suffers from
low to severe food insecurity.
There are less and less farmers, and those who do remain are
becoming increasingly poorer,
as reported by professor Víctor
Palacio Muñóz: “In 1991
nearly 58 percent of all small agricultural producers earned
a daily income that monthly amounted to less than a minimum
wage. In 2003 that percentage had increased to 77 percent,
and it is possible that it is now over 80 percent.”
“A basic food basket costs 2.46 monthly minimum wages,”
Muñóz said, illustrating the severity of the crisis that
affects rural families.
…NAFTA, good ol’ NAFTA….
Land for the peasants / that’s the main goal / because only
they, gentlemen, / will use it to grow / Favor the community
/ above the individual owner / and always put / communal
de la Canción de Zapata Vivo,” Mexican folksong)
food sovereignty has been severely eroded with the
advancement of neoliberalism and the signing of the
Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada
(NAFTA), which went into force in 1994.
If the food security of Pancho Villa’s and
Emiliano Zapata’s troops had depended on food imports as
Mexico does today to feed its population, the country
would not be celebrating 100 years of Revolution.
present, Mexico’s countryside produces more migrants than it
does food and it exports more farmers than it does farm
Miguel Ángel Escalona1
Food imports have grown steadily over the last ten years.
2004 Mexico imported 10 percent of the food it consumed; by
2006 it was importing 40 percent; and today it imports
almost 52 percent, and the tendency is for it to keep on
The birthplace of corn is importing about 33 percent of the
domestic demand for this cereal -some 600,000 tons a month-
and, as stated recently by the general secretary of the
National Confederation of Corn Producers of Mexico (CNPAMM),
“Due to domestic demand and the scarce support for national
production, in one year the country will have imported some
14 million tons of corn.”2
It also imports 75 percent of the rice it consumes, and
according to data from the National Peasant Confederation
(CNC), in the last three years beef imports have grown by
440 percent, poultry meat imports by 280 percent, and pork
by 210 percent.
From January to March 2010
Mexico - a country with over 10,000 kilometers
of coast - increased by nearly 50 percent its
imports of fresh and chilled fish.
While Mexico has the highest per capita consumption of soft
drinks in the world, with an annual 112 liters per person,
its annual per capita consumption of milk is an average of
barely 50 percent of the amount recommended by the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
But there is another problem here: the volume of milk
produced domestically is not enough to cover even that
demand and the country is forced to import about 190,000
Before NAFTA came on the scene, Mexico
exported sugar. Now the country not only imports nearly
600,000 tons of fructose, it also buys 250,000 of cane sugar
More empty stomachs,
Poor Mexico, so close to the United States, so far from
I’m leaving now, going to follow my destiny / I don’t want
to be a farmhand anymore / I’m taking the new path / blazed
by the Revolution / and if ever I come back, it’ll be as a
peasant / who won’t be working to fatten up any masters.
dejaron los olotes,” Revolutionary Corrido)
The results of a survey on the state of children and
adolescents in the context of the world financial crisis,
conducted in the second half of 2009 by the United Nations
Children’s Fund (Unicef)
and the National Council for the Assessment of Social
Development Policies (CONEVAL), would be enough to
merit another revolutionary uprising.
informs that that study found that “in just one year the
percentage of Mexican households affected by severe food
insecurity more than doubled, up from 8 percent in 2008 to
17 percent in 2009.”
The most dramatic change experienced from 2008 to 2009 was
in the percentage of homes that declared they had at least
one child who had eaten less than necessary, as this figure
jumped from 14 to 26 percent - that is, an increase of 86
percent over the period considered.
“One out of three households admitted they considered
buying cheaper or poorer quality food products as a way of
improving their home economy, and two out of three
households reported having resorted to that strategy in
2009,” Fernández-Vega notes.
According to data from the Central Bank of Mexico,
in the first 52 months of the administration of President
whose term will end in 2012,
the country squandered almost 43 billion US dollars buying
that’s double what Calderón’s predecessor spent in a similar
In March alone, a total of US$1.23 billion - or US$1.7
million an hour - were spent on food imports, primarily
milk, corn and wheat from the United States.4
National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEG)
reports that, in contrast, in that same month the country’s
dwindling agricultural activities contributed with only 3.5
percent of the national GDP.
Data from the political group Central Campesina Cardenista
reveals that Mexico currently imports 99 percent of
the powdered milk, 60 percent of the beef, 80 percent of the
rice, 90 percent of the oilseeds and 35 percent of the
sorghum it consumes.
If the trend continues -and it is expected to increase-, at
the end of President Calderón’s term
Mexico will have spent some US$70 billion in food imports.
This situation poses two resounding questions:
How many jobs would be created if this massive amount of
money were to be used to implement proper policies? How many
people would be able to live and produce decently in the
countryside? How many small and medium-sized food companies
would be developed? What kind of country would Mexico be