Trade and Totomoxtle : Livelihood strategies in the Totonacan region of Veracruz, Mexico uri icon

abstract

  • Following the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican farmers altered their livelihood strategies to respond to changing market incentives. While many commercial farmers responded to falling maize prices brought on by NAFTA by shifting into the production of vegetables for export, the coping strategies of low-income farmers have been varied, from diversifying income sources through off-farm employment, to migration, to searching for niche markets for new or added-value products. In the Totonocan region of the state of Veracruz, Mexico, many farmers who can no longer earn sufficient income from the sale of maize grain are turning to a byproduct of maize to generate income. The commercialization of totomoxtle, or maize husks, for domestic and international markets has not only enabled farmers to continue to profit from maize production, but it has also encouraged farmers to utilize and conserve criollo maize varieties that serve as important reservoirs of genetic diversity. Moreover, the growing importance of totomoxtle in livelihood strategies has caused some farmers to alter their maize management, selecting for better quality husks rather than for grain production. The purpose of this paper is to understand both the broad impact of NAFTA on the local agricultural economy and its more specific effects on the management of maize in the Zona Totonaca. Participation in international trade can lead to unexpected outcomes, in some cases creating new values for goods with a long history of local consumption. Commercialization of maize husks is likely to be only a temporary solution for the relief of rural poverty. Given the volatility of international markets, the long-term welfare of farmers may depend on the development of more diversified production strategies.

publication date

  • 2007
  • 2007