Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
CRS program assists struggling Mexican farmers
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the July 2, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
Chuck Barrett (left) of Catholic Relief Services Mexico translated for Mexican farmers, including Jesús Emiliano Garcia (right), who discussed their economic challenges and CRS efforts to assist them during two presentations in the Spokane Diocese last month. (IR photo)
At two locations on two evenings, in the Diocese of Spokane, five representatives of Frente Democratico Campesino (FDC) introduced themselves and their organization to parishioners. Accompanied by Chuck Barrett, a program director for Catholic Relief Services (CRS)/Mexico, who served as translator, the men told their stories and responded to questions. The first presentation was the evening of Sunday, June 14, at St. Patrick Parish in Walla Walla. The second was at St. Joseph Parish, in Spokane, the evening of Friday, June 19.
Sponsored by CRS, the visitors all came from Mexico’s north central state of Chihuahua, and they all agreed that the main reason that Mexican citizens often enter the United States illegally is because they can’t earn a living wage in their own country. They also agreed that the main reason for this is directly attributable to economic policies of the U.S. government, most directly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994, which resulted in a huge trade imbalance between the U.S. and Mexico.
The main spokesperson for the group from Mexico was Jésus Emiliano Garcia. He explained that agricultural products from the U.S. sell so inexpensively in Mexico because of the U.S. government gives generous subsidies to American growers. Mexican farmers can’t afford to compete, and wages for agricultural labor in the U.S. are much higher than in Mexico. This means that Mexican growers produce at a loss and often end up leaving their land, compelled to come to the U.S. to find work. In other words, the so-called “immigration problem” in the U.S. is a direct result of this country’s own economic trade policies.
With help from apple growers in Washington State such as Broetje Orchards, based in Walla Walla, FDC started a project last year that addresses this situation. FDC tries to help Mexican farmers become capable of competing on a more equal footing with American imports. For example, apple growers on small farms in Mexico have been unable to get credit, so they cannot afford cooling systems or means of transport, which means they have no access to the high-quality apple market in their own country because it is dominated by inexpensive apples from the U.S. and China.
At the end of the growing season, therefore, small-farm Mexican apple growers are desperate for income so they end up at the mercy of middlemen – called “coyotes” – to whom they must sell their apples for extremely low, unjust prices. The FDC program, now its infancy, lends some 120 farmer families an amount equal to the average price paid by the middlemen, about 18 cents per pound, so they can earn back their costs and not need to sell to the middlemen. These families then store all their apples together in a cooling facility financed by FDC until the price of apples increases.
At present, this program is being judged a success. The net price for apples goes up, and the farmers receive as much as 51 cents per pound. Then they pay back the loans they received and have enough money to reinvest for the next growing season.
The farmer families group plans this year to sell 624 tons of apples at prices equal to the minimum wage or about one and-a-half times the minimum wage. This means they can support their families in their own country and won’t need to send family members to find work in the United States.