NAFTA Pushes Mexican Small Farmers Out of Business, TAMIU Research Shows

As cheaper labor costs elsewhere are driving maquiladoras out of Mexico and into countries like China and Central America, Northern Mexican localities such as Ciudad Lerdo, Durango are left with suburban sprawl, yet fewer hopes for economic growth, a recent study shows.

The study, conducted by Texas A&M International University associate professor of geography Dr. Michael Yoder, also explains how Mexico's reliance on manufacturing for exportation has forced agricultural policy once favorable to small-scale farmers to take a back seat.

Dr. Yoder's paper, titled, "The Neoliberal Urban Landscape of a Small Northern Mexican City: The Case of Ciudad Lerdo, Durango," offers a case study on globalization and its effects on urban design and on small, individually-owned farms, formerly ejidos, located around Ciudad Lerdo.

According to Yoder, the signing by Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of NAFTA in 1992 and his subsequent change of the constitution to allow privatization of ejidos, or land parcels once owned by the state but granted to peasants by the post-revolutionary Mexican government, has forced economically weak small farmers to sell the properties they now own outright for construction of maquiladoras, housing and infrastructure.

"Prior to NAFTA, these farm operators or ejidatarios, though occupying small parcels, had a way of making a living," Yoder said, "But now, they have nothing to fall back on, and as a result, have to move to cities in search of wage work."

The exodus of ejidatarios to other cities, coupled with population growth as evidenced by construction of makeshift homes and a municipal planning process that can be altered at any time to suit the desires of a domestic or international investor, has caused the periphery of Ciudad Lerdo to develop rapidly and ejidos are slowly disappearing as a result, the study suggests. In addition, more ejidos had to be transformed by the government into urban space to accommodate growth.

"Ciudad Lerdo's spatial growth is now unfettered, and the unhealthy suburban form taking hold of Northern Mexico that is so wasteful of space and other resources is becoming the defining element of the city's urban design," Yoder said.

Ciudad Lerdo, which, until now has relied on denim production destined for exportation, has gained no new maquiladoras in all of 2002, and currently, shows no signs of acquiring new ones anytime soon, Yoder said.

The softened demand in the United States for consumer goods owing to the struggling U.S. economy of 2002, coupled with the movement of apparel plants to lower wage countries like China, Guatemala and Honduras, will most likely mean more trouble for Ciudad Lerdo, Yoder said.

"In the long run, the continued reliance on denim production to save the economy of Ciudad Lerdo is most likely detrimental, given that the original advantage of Northern Mexico in the realm of textile and apparel production has evaporated under the weight of globalization," Yoder said.

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