In recent months, the introduction of GM corn has become a hot issue in northern Mexican border states. Opponents fear that GM products will contaminate native corn species, as has already happened in different parts of Mexico, and with unpredictable, long-term environmental consequences. Pro-GM farmers think increased yields from the news crops will help them survive the Jan. 1, 2008 elimination of corn tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Meeting in Chihuahua’s Sierra Tarahumara, representatives of more than 20 indigenous Raramuri and Tepehuan communities vowed to defend the traditional corn that nourishes their cultures and livelihoods.
At the Third Annual Corn Fair held in Ejido Bacabureachi the weekend of Dec. 1, indigenous leaders agreed to implement measures aimed at protecting their corn from genetically modified (GM) varieties. Among the proposals considered was a demand to require that any corn entering the Sierra Tarahumara for any purpose have a certificate of origin.
Maria Teresa Guerrero, director of the Chihuahua City-based Community Technical Consultants, a non-governmental environmental and indigenous rights advocacy organization, said indigenous leaders also agreed that more effective lobbying was needed to goad Mexican federal authorities into taking protective actions on behalf of indigenous communities. “Until now, (authorities) have only shown commitments with businessmen,” Guerrero said.
In recent months, the introduction of GM corn has become a hot issue in northern Mexican border states. Opponents fear that GM products will contaminate native corn species, as has already happened in different parts of Mexico, and with unpredictable, long-term environmental consequences.
On the other hand, a large group of corn producers in the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Chihuahua is seriously mulling the massive planting of GM crops. The pro-GM farmers view the new crops as beacons of progress and promise that will help them survive the Jan. 1, 2008 elimination of corn tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Reportedly, GM corn produces a much greater per-acre yield than traditional species.
According to Perfecto Solis, president of the Tamaulipas Corn Producers Council, farmers are growing frustrated by regulatory delays at the federal level in Mexico. Since 1999, Mexico has followed an official moratorium on the commercial planting of GM corn.
“We can’t wait five years more, especially when we have been placed at a competitive disadvantage with US corn producers,” Solis said. “With or without regulation, we will begin to plant transgenic corn and, if necessary, we will recur to the use of force to defend our crops.”
But indigenous corn growers in Chihuahua, who cultivate small plots less than seven acres in size, maintain that the agricultural future still rests with the old corn varieties adapted to the high and dry environmental conditions of the Sierra Tarahumara. Persistent drought in the region remains a major challenge for small farmers who rely on the rains.
Speaking at the corn fair, Marcelino Moreno of Ejido Las Lajas affirmed that traditional farming wasn’t a mystery. “With the moon, as we always have done, as our elders did it, without chemicals and with a lot of work,” Moreno advised. Other fair participants stressed organic fertilization and crop rotation as essential farming methods to ensure healthy harvests.
Bacabureachi resident Luz Maria said preserving native corn was indispensable for the survival of indigenous culture. “Don’t let them do away with corn,” Luz Maria appealed, “because if corn is finished, so are the people.”
On a related note, the environmental group Greenpeace Mexico collected samples in Chihuahua in late November to test for the presence of genetically-modified organisms. Greenpeace’s sampling took place in corn-growing districts of the municipalities of Namiquipa, Nuevo Casas Grandes, Buenaventura and Cuahtemoc.