Towards Human Rights and Food Justice!
Many migrant workers here in VT, in particular those from indigenous communities in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca commonly speak of the hopelessness in maintaining their familial, communal and traditional agricultural communities in the face of plummeting corn prices, a lack of support programs for small farmers in Mexico, unequal competition with big agribusiness, and increased drought and flooding. Thus, many workers share that they are not here because they want to be rather they are here because they have to be.
Meanwhile, Vermont dairy farmers share that they can't stay afloat because their costs of production have long been well above the price of milk. Many Vermont dairy farms struggle to pay livable wages to themselves never mind their employees. Recently, one Vermont dairy farmer filed a class action law suit against corporate giant Dean Foods for price fixing and monopolization of the Northeast Dairy market, which they argue is part of the reason for these low prices. There were 1075 dairy farms at the beginning of 2009. Now there are less than 1000!
On both sides of the border small farmers are struggling to hang on. Family farmer organizations all over the world are pushing for the creation of supply management systems, farmer support programs, guaranteed prices for small producers, and the end to policies that enable the corporate control of agriculture (1). But these measures they push for go against the dominant U.S. sponsored economic paradigms and policies of 'deregulation', 'free trade' and 'free markets'.
Now, in a bitter and twisted interdependent irony, displaced farmers from Mexico who are forced to migrate to maintain their families keep afloat many of Vermont’s rural farming communities that also teeter on the verge of extinction (Listen here).
In the 1980s and 1990s, promising the benefits of economic globalization, the US government, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) forced Mexico to 'de-regulate' its agricultural economy by eliminating its farmer support programs, assistance and various protections (2). Approximately, 10 million Mexican farming jobs were lost during these massive economic reforms due to the unequal competition it created. The U.S. pours $20 billion of subsidies into agriculture annually while Mexico provides $3.5 billion, this allows U.S agribusiness to sell corn at prices 30 percent below Mexico’s cost of production. Furthermore, the average Mexican farmer spends 17.8 days of labor to produce one ton of corn, while the average U.S. grain company spends 1.2 hours (3). This process drives small farmers off the land and forces them to migrate. Since the 1994 passage of NAFTA the number of Mexicans migrating to the U.S. each year has more than doubled.
Meanwhile, beginning in the 1980s here in the US similar types of economic reforms and 'de-regulations' forced cuts in programs that support and protect small farmers. This enabled and favored corporations like Dean Foods and global corporate agribusiness like New Zealand's Fonterra to monopolize and dominate milk markets forcing down prices well below the costs of production for Vermont family farmers (4). Recently, the cases of both Dean Foods and Fonterra highlight the negative impacts of the implementation of 'deregulation', 'free trade' and 'free market' policies in the US, which have 'freed' corporate global capital to ensure their own profits while driving family farms out of business (5) (6).
Indeed, the current broader economic crisis is due in large part to the U.S. governments' religious like commitment to the 'deregulation', 'free trade', and 'free market' formula at any cost. In practice, these polices simply open the door for increased power and profits for a handful of corporations to assert increasing control over all sectors of the economy including agriculture.
Rather than address the root causes of migration that continuously generate desperate conditions and force family farmers to migrate the national immigration debate focuses on increasing "border security" and "enforcement", which criminalizes immigrants, channels resources towards building a militarized border, and increases racial profiling. For these reasons Migrant Justice works tobring farm workers and allies together to engage the full range of these problems for meaningful systemic change at the same time that we organize for immediate and concrete improvements in the day to life of farmworkers and family farmer allies.
Join the campaign for Immigrant Rights and Agricultural Justice now!