Mexico emerges as a leader in organic agriculture production

The following is my first article as a Student Reporter Fellow. Over the next few months, myself and a handful of other fellows from around the world will be writing pieces that highlight global food issues. I couldn’t be more excited to contribute! 

It’s April in Indiana, the ground just beginning to thaw. Birds and buds are emerging after the long polar vortex of these past many days. The peas are just starting to sprout and the white blossoms of the fruit trees are all promise, of apricots and peaches and pears that will begin to ripen only when we’ve found our way to the other side of the summer solstice. As new life emerges, the refrigerators and fruit bowls of many in the Hoosier state are already full: of ripe mangoes and oranges and bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and basil. Even for the organic consumer, this abundance is now available year-round.

It’s April in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. Here coffee is grown using traditional methods on over 11,000 hectares certified for organic production. The harvest is coming to a close, the beans packed in containers and ready for shipping to all points north. April in Baja California, Mexico, where organic tomatoes are being coaxed from the desert, they too shipped north to meet the growing demand for organics by American consumers.

Over the past decade, Mexico has emerged as a significant contributor to global organic agriculture, experiencing a ten-fold increase in organic production. The country’s rankings capture this significance: it is the world’s top producer of organic coffee and tropical fruits, the second largest producer of organic vegetables.

There is great potential for profitability in this growing market for export. However, organics should not be viewed merely as an extractive industry, a one-way street between production and consumption. Demand for organics has been growing in Mexico, as well.

This is a boon for farmers, who have seen their market share for traditional crops, like corn, fall since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

In some places, like Chiapas for example, this shift can mean agricultural cooperatives that allow farmers to capitalize on economies of scale, ensuring the most direct profit for their product. But, just as in the United States, organic agriculture can also have a very different meaning. It can mean mono-crops, and big business, and over-taxed aquifers. Such is the case in much of Baja, California.

While we continue to debate the merits of big business organics, we can be sure of one thing: production in Mexico will continue to grow. Just last year, on October 29, 2013 the government of Mexico instituted its own guidelines for organic production. The organic labeling program is similar in many ways to the program in the United States, with many of the same rules and regulations.

Read more in this great NY Times piece and on the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service website.


If only pirates have poles: the future of fishing on the high seas

On April 2nd, I was fortunate to attend a class with Rick Loomis. A photographer for the LA Times, Loomis is known for his work covering environmental issues and conflict zones. In 2007, he and team of journalists won a Pulitzer Prize for the piece Altered Oceans. Click on the photo to check it out, it’s worth a moment (or more) of your time:

LoomisOcean   (Photograph by Rick Loomis)

Loomis captured startling videos and still photography, of beauty and of destruction. At one point he said to us, “There is nothing left, we’ve eaten it all.” And he is a man who knows. Who devoted years of his life to finding out.

There is a growing consensus, a growing concern:
We are running out of seafood. The sea is running low on life.

Like with so many environmental issues, the consensus runs short on a solution. One solution, proposed last week by a biologist and a resource economist, is elegant, simple, and on its face impossible — close the high seas, giving species time to grow and rebound.

The idea may seem outlandish but as Professor Crow White, one of the paper’s authors points out, “”All big ideas have to start somewhere.” And we do. Need to start somewhere. As soon as possible. If we hope to have fish in the future.

Check out this article on The Salt for more.


2014: Year of the Family Farmer

Hear ye! Hear ye! 2014 is the Year of the Family Farmer. Raise your glasses in celebration, and offer a toast to the everyday farmers, nurturing the food stuffs that nourish all of us.

Family farming, you say? Isn’t that just a relic, a simple nostalgia of bygone days?

For at least the last half century, we’ve heard the mantra that bigger is better when it comes to our farms. If we scale up and institutionalize, we can liberate ourselves from the land and hand over the pesky business of growing food to corporations with profits to maximize and innovations to innovate. But we have found so much to be lacking in this new food system that we are experiencing a backlash, a resurgence of food growers and producers and entrepreneurs.

In less developed countries around the world the advice for so long has been that agriculture is inextricably linked to poverty;that the way to transcend the poverty trap is to leave behind the business of subsistence agriculture for the promise of manufacturing, and eventually for a transition to knowledge-based economies. As though we will all one day be able to stop producing food, and then goods, so that eventually our only products will be knowledge.

But in this promise, we have again found so much to be lacking. As people increasingly move from rural areas to urban ones, job opportunities have not kept pace, leading to a rise in unemployment and urban slums. We also know that up to 80% of people in developing countries are still engaged in food production. Perhaps most importantly, we know that small farms are more productive than large ones, despite popular conceptions to the contrary.

We tend to believe that large farms are more productive than small ones, but the data tells a different story. According to data analysis by the Institute for Food and Development Policy, “For every country for which data is available, smaller farms are anywhere from 200 to 1,000 percent more productive per unit area.” And they are without a doubt more diverse: economically and ecologically.

In declaring 2014 the Year of the Family Farm, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is recognizing what we know and using it to challenge the prevailing claims. According to their website:

Families share everything. They share their living space and their mealtimes. They share their aspirations, dreams, successes and failures. Throughout the developed and developing world, farming families reap the benefits of sharing the workload too.
In fact, with over 500 million family farms in the world, this is the predominant form of agriculture, and it is inextricably linked to world food security.

Yet more than 70% of the food insecure population is made up of family farmers in rural areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Near East. They cannot reach their full production potential because they lack the access to natural resources, credit, policies and technologies they need.  

Check out for more info.