Improving Food Security in Mexico: The Importance of Public Agricultural Programs and Price Guarantees

Experts from UNAM's Faculty of Economics advocate for increased public agricultural programs and attention to price guarantees to improve food security in Mexico and address regional inequality among small farmers.

Improving Food Security in Mexico: The Importance of Public Agricultural Programs and Price Guarantees
A change in favor of agriculture requires an adequate distribution of economic resources. Credit: UNAM

Researchers from UNAM's Faculty of Economics (FE) put together a study that says Mexico needs to make public agricultural programs available to more farmers, especially small farmers in the south of the country, and pay more attention to price guarantees to avoid policies that make farmers dependent on the government or favor certain people.

Luis Fernando González Martínez and Roberto Iván Escalante Semerena, specialists of this academic entity, presented research in the magazine EconomíaUNAM and in the Seminar of Agricultural Economics titled "The Challenges of Food Security in Mexico in the Post-Pandemic Context," in which it is made clear that if the application of these measures is not guaranteed, it is possible to fall into shortages of basic foodstuffs.

The experts looked at the results of the policies put in place by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2010 to 2019. The results show how important things like the amount of money given, the work area, the number of supports, productivity, and drought are to the amount and value of agricultural goods produced.

González Martínez, also a specialist in the area of continuing education at the Institute of Economic Research, pointed out that the policies implemented in recent years have only accentuated regional inequality by not taking into account that more than 70 percent of rural production units are attended by small producers, peasants, and indigenous people who have areas of less than or equivalent to five hectares.

He said that this is bad for the country's consumption needs because it lowers food security by not guaranteeing physical or financial access to food and because basic products have to be brought in from other countries.

"When the Free Trade Agreement went into effect, many tariffs or import taxes on the agricultural market were lifted." This left small producers without protection and at the mercy of the international market. "This has affected food sovereignty because we now import food that we used to produce, like beans from Peru or corn from the U.S.," the Master in Economics and Sustainable Development said.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says that a country shouldn't import more than 25% of its food. He argued that despite being crucial for food sovereignty and frequently used by the nation itself, Mexico imports more than 43 percent of basic goods like corn, soy, beans, apples, and so forth.

He also said that strategies to lessen this effect have focused on giving small subsidies to producers so they can specialize in crops with high value added. However, this has led to about 10 percent of them controlling most of the agricultural resources.

The new policy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is based on subsidies, which are meant to help the poorest people in rural areas. According to him, the issue in Mexico's rural areas has been persistent poverty as a result of low productivity and a lack of access to social protections, such as the fact that women workers only receive 28% of their income.

Meanwhile, the most vulnerable population are the thousands of day laborers who work without access to social protection and with low wages, he pointed out.

González Martnez writes that FAO data shows that when the agricultural sector is expanded to include agro-industry, inputs, and services, it makes up 7.5% of the national GDP.

However, federal resources allocated to rural development in 2019 were just 1.4 percent of GDP. He also said that because they have been cut so much since 2010, it is likely that the indicators will not do well.

Given this situation, the researchers propose that to make a change, we should not only think of increasing them but also of distributing them appropriately. This means that new policies should be made to invest in technological innovation, irrigation systems, and seeds instead of pesticides and herbicides. Instead, biotechnology, which tries to balance economic activity with innovations that are good for the environment, should be used.

"One of the important factors related to the decrease in agricultural production is climate change, and if something is not done to mitigate it, we will all be affected, but especially the small family farmer, who may no longer have even the self-consumption of his small plot of land." "We would have to redirect policies aimed at new technologies, policies to increase workers' income through salaries and not through welfare, in addition to guaranteeing that they have access to health systems, whether IMSS, ISSSTE or Social Security," said González Martínez.

For the researcher, although the current administration has promoted a significant increase in the minimum wage, this benefit does not reach farmers, whose income depends on the behavior of the international market. One measure used to help them is the so-called guarantee prices, which allow them to make a little profit.

For this reason, he considered it necessary to pay greater attention to the guarantee price program so that it does not generate greater economic dependence on the producers and does not generate clientelist policies. If this measure isn't put into place, there could be a shortage of basic foods. When the market price drops, the guarantee prices don't match up with market costs, and if the guarantee prices are low, farm workers would grow other foods instead, which could cause shortages.

On the other hand, Gonzalez Martinez said that if guarantee prices are high, the agricultural sector would not be competitive because a good policy in this area takes into account important factors like global warming and climate change, which affect traditional production.