genetically modified seedsMany countries in Central and South America are home to strong agricultural economies. Since the 1990s, the growing use of genetically modified seeds has challenged traditional forms of agriculture. Companies such as DuPont, Syngenta and Bater sent these seeds to Latin America. Since this introduction, Latin American agribusiness has become largely dependent on genetically modified seeds. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are home to roughly 120 million acres of genetically modified crops. Promises of greater yields and less work fuel this upsurge. To understand the effects of genetically modified seeds and how farmers are gaining support, The Borgen Project spoke to Aimee Code, the pesticide program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Prosperity

Two key factors explain the effect of genetically modified seeds on poverty. The first is dependence. Code explains that “many GMO seeds are intrinsically linked with pesticide use.” Code explains further that pesticide dependence can be dangerous as “this traps farmers in a cycle of needing the pesticides and needing these seeds… it becomes more and more expensive and uncomfortable.”

The difference between this cycle of seed use and traditional methods is stark as genetically modified seeds require the user to buy new seeds each year rather than harvesting and using older seeds from past harvests as is traditional. Farmers are unable to reuse genetically modified seeds and plants because they do not own them; the seeds belong to the company that sells them.

Not only do crops themselves threaten farmers’ prosperity, but the system of genetically modified agriculture also fuels poverty. With the introduction of genetically modified seeds came the promotion of farm consolidation, meaning that fewer farmers are necessary. As a result of this farm consolidation, around 200,000 agricultural producers in South America “have lost their livelihoods” in the last two decades.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Health

“The amount of data is woefully inadequate on the health effects experienced by these farmers out in the fields,” shares Code on the issue of health in Latin America. However, even ordinary individuals can draw conclusions just from the nature of these practices. The link between genetically modified seeds and health is best explained by the pesticide use required for these crops.

Because farmers must store pesticides in the crops’ area, the pesticides constantly endanger people living around farms. To highlight the commonality of these exposures, Code reflects on her experience working in Honduras. She says, “A young man offered me water to drink out of an old pesticide bottle.” She explains the link to poor health by concluding that “these are exposures that shouldn’t be happening.”

Along with pesticides sprayed on crops, Code explains that “the seeds are often coated with pesticides, making the seeds themselves dangerous depending on the handling practices.” Unfortunately, many farmers cannot access ample personal protective equipment to protect themselves from dangerous chemicals.

Exposure to the seeds and pesticides is grave as long-term effects can include respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In the short term, these pesticides can result in nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety and cognitive harm.

Solving the Problem

The effects of genetically modified seeds remain prominent in the lives of many Latin Americans. However, ongoing solutions aim to mitigate the effects. Code explains that the two most important ways to reduce the spread of genetically modified seeds and crops are education and regulation. As the pesticide program director for the Xerces Society, she works with farmers to implement more sustainable practices.

The Xerces Society is not the only organization working to spread awareness of the value of non-GMO crops. Civil society and social movements throughout Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala have mobilized people to protect seeds and the heritage of agricultural practices. These movements are vital for boosting confidence in traditional practices, challenging narratives created by genetically modified seed companies.

Governments from across Latin America have also stepped up to help reduce the use of these seeds. Countries such as Guatemala and Ecuador have implemented full and partial bans on genetically modified seeds. Most recently, Mexico passed legislation to ban the use of transgenic corn and phase out glyphosate by 2024. These mark positive steps as government regulation can stop the trend of high-risk genetically modified seeds that have trapped many farmers. Such legislation will protect food sovereignty and the health of farmers in Mexico.

More legislative measures and actions are required to eliminate the effects of genetically modified seeds in Latin America. However, recent years have seen immense progress in efforts to reduce the seeds’ prevalence through policy action and awareness.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

mint countries Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, also known as the “MINT” countries, are the fastest-growing emerging economies in the world. While COVID-19 has socially, physically and economically impacted the MINT countries, the nations are still playing a tremendous role in helping alleviate poverty for millions of people.

Mexico

Mexico is the perfect example of an emerging economy. Due to its strong trade relationship with the United States, its GDP is higher than almost all developing countries. However, Mexico’s overall GDP is not yet enough to meet the standards for a developed country. Similarly, while the poverty rate remains high in Mexico, the percent of people living on less than $3.20 has dropped from 12.8% in 2010 to 6.6% in 2018.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mexico’s economy has declined sharply. In fact, the Mexican GDP decreased by 8.3% during 2020, its largest drop since the Great Depression. While the country has partially recovered from its economic downturn due to increased trade, it still has a long way to make up for its GDP drop from 2020.

Indonesia

Indonesia is the fourth-most populous nation in the entire world and ranks 56th in economic freedom. This statistic is a result of low tax burdens and increasing political participation. Similarly, the country is one of the top-ranked Asia-Pacific countries in terms of its economy and the country has seen steady financial improvements since 2017. In fact, Indonesia cut its poverty rate by more than 50% from 1999 to 2020.

While COVID-19 had major effects on the country, economic activity has rebounded significantly. For example, in July 2020, the government eased lockdown restrictions, which allowed for increased exports and stronger government support. Without the burdens of the COVID-19 recession, Indonesia can continue to develop its economy and reduce poverty.

Nigeria

Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa. However, the country saw relatively minimal growth during the last few years because of high oil prices. The drops in oil prices are significant because Nigeria is Africa’s biggest exporter and contains Africa’s largest natural gas reserves. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had disastrous effects on the country. The economy contracted by 6.1% in the second quarter of 2020 with 27% of Nigerians unemployed.

However, the country has made recent strides to tackle poverty and improve its economy. Due to eased lockdowns in the country, Nigeria’s oil prices have improved. Furthermore, its economy has grown by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2021, helping the country exit its COVID-19 related recession. In fact, the president of Nigeria inaugurated the National Steering Committee of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS) in June 2021. The inauguration marks Nigeria’s commitment to raising 100 million people out of poverty within 10 years, fueling optimism about the country’s future.

Turkey

Turkey, one of the wealthiest MINT countries, has had an impressive economic run since the 2000s due to open trade with other countries and cooperation with the EU. Similarly, the Turkish government has implemented government reforms in most impoverished regions of the country. These reforms successfully cut poverty rates in half.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey has been able to recover, and its economy remains strong. While the leaders of Turkey have been accused of political corruption and Turkey saw a COVID-19 spike in April 2021, the number of infections has dropped by 72% since then because of a total lockdown measure. Similarly, Turkey’s recovery from COVID-19 is expected to boost the country’s GDP by 5% by the end of 2021.

Even with the factors of COVID-19, political instability, corruption and more, the MINT countries have shown resilience and progress. By decreasing poverty, implementing reforms and recovering from the pandemic, the MINT countries move toward a bright future.

– Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Mexico
Human trafficking in Mexico has been a problem for years. Traffickers exploit both domestic and foreign victims. As a common tourist destination, it is important that human trafficking in Mexico is curbed.

What is Human Trafficking?

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Yearly, there are millions of individuals who are trafficked. Many instances involve Mexico, either as a transportation hub or a point of origin for trafficking victims. Traffickers will coerce individuals to lure them into labor or any sexual exploitation. There are still many gray areas regarding trafficking so it is very important to recognize indicators to protect potential victims. In addition to this, reporting any suspected trafficking is critical to keeping people safe.

Human Trafficking in Mexico

Mexico is not unfamiliar with this issue, with growing increments of human trafficking in the country. Due to corruption and disparities, both social and economic, certain groups in Mexico are considered more vulnerable to trafficking. These groups include women, children, indigenous people, individuals with disabilities and migrants.

Those suffering from poverty are also more vulnerable to trafficking. Individuals who are desperately in need of financial support will take up risky jobs in order to provide for their families, sometimes leading to human trafficking. Additionally, the undereducated are at an increased risk. Traffickers target girls that lack education, most likely due to economic reasons, to sell them into marriage. Human trafficking in Mexico is a result of socio-economic disparities, harmful social norms and economic inequity, all of which fuel the trafficking.

Government Efforts

Due to a lack of awareness and education, Mexico has struggled to reduce human trafficking. Legal solutions, such as the anti-trafficking law passed in 2004, are only the first step to effectively stopping human trafficking in the country. Currently, the Mexican government is reviewing the “failing” anti-human trafficking policy and working to provide better support for victims.

This review has shown that a direct financial approach by the government itself would be more beneficial to those who needed it the most. Investing in systems operations and rehabilitation would help more than corruptible laws. Furthermore, the government is acknowledging its shortcomings in data and analysis when it comes to trafficking. In order to correct this, it is working to create a better, more reliable system.

Receiving a mixed response, the Mexican government also announced the discontinuation of supporting anti-trafficking NGOs. The country intends to establish its own shelters and relief centers for victims in Mexico. Despite some criticism, this shift will hopefully have a positive impact on trafficking victims in the country.

Moving forward, it is crucial that the government and humanitarian organizations continue to make addressing human trafficking a priority. You can learn more about human trafficking in Mexico here.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Matamoros Refugee CampNot until 2019, under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program (MMP), has a refugee camp existed on a United States border. After two years of operation, on February 24, 2021, the Matamoros refugee camp closed and the U.N. Refugee Agency began its in-person registration of the 750 people who lived there. The MPP policy forced people seeking asylum in the U.S. to remain in Mexico until their cases could be heard in U.S. immigration court.

The Matamoros Refugee Camp

The influx of immigrants to the U.S. border can be attributed to root causes of “economic problems, ongoing violence, worsening corruption, challenges to democracy as well as the devastating impact of the coronavirus.” In 2017, the majority of immigrants from Central America were from El Salvador (39.7%), Guatemala (27.2%) and Honduras (18.6%).

An asylum seeker is defined as “a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country.” Since the implementation of the MPP, roughly 70,000 people made the difficult choice to leave their country of origin to seek asylum in the U.S. and about 70,000 were returned to Mexico. A refugee camp thus formed in Matamoros, Mexico, located on the southern bank of Rio Grande, directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas. At this camp, hundreds, and at times, thousands of people wait for the duration of their immigration proceedings.

The conditions of living at the camp posed serious health risks. Furthermore, as of December 2020, there were more than 1,000 reports of “rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks” against asylum seekers at the U.S. border. In addition to the risks posed at dangerous border towns, the camp faced deteriorating conditions, including a lack of access to water and sanitation. In juxtaposition to the peril faced in a crowded refugee camp, there were celebrations within the community of residents. People formed church groups and tent schools. They celebrated quinceaneras and fell in love. The refugees at the Matamoros camp showed resolve to find some level of normalcy within a period of uncertainty and fear.

Organizations Supporting the Camp

Resource Center Matamoros (RCM) is a humanitarian organization that has become a staple of social support for immigrants at the border. Gaby Zavana, the organization’s co-founder, told The Borgen Project that there were no medical resources and no infrastructure in the early days of the camp.”We initially provided food, tents and blankets, but that shifted to providing an office building for the refugees to have access to legal teams, medical teams and social support services.” The work that Zavana does within the RCM is multi-faceted. She explained that as the organization expanded, RCM started to take on the role of camp management.

Zavana says that RCM prioritized public health issues by setting up temporary camp showers so that people would not have to bathe in the river. Additionally, RCM targeted camp infrastructure, paving walkways and helping people construct better home structures and kitchens. The work of RCM extends to lobbying the Mexican and U.S. government and advocating on behalf of the asylum seekers at the U.S. border.

Angry Tias and Abuelas, the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2019, is an organization based in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. The organization has engaged in efforts to provide food to the hungry, visit the imprisoned and comfort people stranded at the border. It also set up stores in the Matamoros camp to supply essential items like diapers and cooking utensils to the migrants, free of charge.

Fixing Immigration Policy

The Biden administration announced in late February 2021 its plans to close the Matamoros refugee camp, terminate the MPP and dedicate $4 billion to address the underlying causes of migration from Central America. The administration has started processing migrants and all of the residents of the camp have now moved to await their hearings in the U.S. When asked about the environment of the camp upon hearing the news of its impending closure, Zavana told The Borgen Project that the residents were unusually quiet. The quietness could signify a deep, silent reflection of their experiences at the camp and futures in the United States.

The number of people coming to the border has increased dramatically since the termination of the MPP. Zavana says that “a big portion of RCM’s work has gone to the camp so the closure of the camp can free up resources to focus on new arrivals.” RCM is currently working on an interim shelter to house new arrivals until more shelter facilities open up.

The Road Ahead

The tides are shifting for asylum seekers at the U.S. border. The Matamoros refugee camp provided some level of security for thousands of people fleeing persecution, violence and poverty in hopes of receiving asylum in the United States. The efforts of organizations like the Resource Center Matamoros allowed camp residents to live with more dignity and humanity. The Biden administration’s upheaval of Trump-era immigration policy is promising for the past residents of the Matamoros refugee camp.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Expanding Financial Access in MexicoA good indicator of a country’s overall inequality is the percentage of the population that has access to financial services. Countries lacking financial inclusion suffer from decreased growth and increased income inequality. One of the countries with the poorest financial inclusion for income classification is Mexico. Few Mexican citizens have financial resources at their disposal. This disparity perpetuates rampant economic inequalities in the country’s most impoverished regions. The government has implemented several programs in the past five years aimed at expanding financial access in Mexico.

The Problem

Mexico is a nation burdened by inequalities. With a Gini coefficient hovering around 0.5, Mexico is one of the most unequal upper-middle-income countries in the world. Contributing to the high income and wealth inequality are the massive gaps in access to financial services.

There is an undeniable correlation between financial access and inequality. For example, countries with extensive access to financial services broaden the economic opportunities for both individuals and firms. The World Bank’s Systematic Country Diagnostic for Mexico in 2019 found that expanding financial inclusion can significantly increase income for low-income individuals and populations.

The report also found that low financial inclusion negatively impacts economic inequality, productivity, growth and employment of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Mexico is a stark example of a country with low financial inclusion. Only 37% of Mexican adults have bank accounts, which is a much lower number than the average percentage for upper-middle-income countries.

The poor level of financial access in Mexico sinks even lower for rural citizens. Although more than 20% of Mexico’s population live in rural areas, only 7% of rural residents borrowed from a financial institution in 2016. Another demographic hindered by financial access inequality is MSMEs, which provide about 70% of the employment in Mexico. Just 11% of these enterprises use bank credit due to the cost and access issues.

The Programs

To address the troubling lack of financial access in Mexico, the nation’s authorities have introduced several reform programs in the past five years. The Expanding Rural Finance Project received supplemental support from the World Bank. This allowed for greater oversight and more available resources. The Expanding Rural Finance Project authorized 192 participating financial intermediaries to supply 174,000 credits to 140,000 rural producers and MSMEs between 2016 and 2020. The average loans of $1,850 have helped ease rural poverty by providing funds for workers and employers in the area. Furthermore, more than 80% of these credit recipients were women, exceeding the set target of 60%.

In addition, the Financial Inclusion DPF, supports a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework for Fintech in Mexico. Financial institutions that adopt Fintech use technology to enhance financial services and make banking more accessible and effortless. Automated transfers, mobile payments and flexible loan management are some of the many benefits offered by Fintech-associated institutions. The newly implemented framework in Mexico is groundbreaking in the global picture and will increase financial inclusion by expanding convenient financial services.

The Results

Mexico’s programs addressing inequality in financial access have shown several signs of progress. Between 2016 and 2020, the Expanding Rural Finance Project widened financial access in Mexico for impoverished citizens, rural populations, MSMEs, women and youth. It provided hundreds of thousands of credits extending to participating producers. The project particularly helped Mexican workers on the disadvantaged end of income inequality. Of people who received credits, 17% live in communities classified as marginalized by the National Council for Population. The program distributed approximately 76% of all sub-loans in the Mexican states with the highest levels of poverty. About 12% of credit recipients had never borrowed from formal financial institutions. As gender inequality permeates income inequality, 81% of credit recipients from the project were women.

The Mexico Financial Inclusion DPF program also contributed to the expansion of financial access in Mexico. Only slightly more than a year after the program’s initiation, 93 businesses have already requested authorization to operate as Fintech institutions. About 59 of the businesses are electronic payment fund institutions and 34 are crowdfunding institutions. The quick adjustment to Fintech suggests an overarching trend for Mexican enterprises. Many want to benefit from the ease of access and innovation promoted by the Fintech model. The transition will benefit non-financial enterprises and average citizens as well. This is because the Fintech framework provides for faster payment transfers, easier loan processes and more convenient services available for remote residents.

Looking Ahead

Mexico’s glaring discrepancies in financial inclusion have supported ongoing economic inequalities for decades. However, programs administered by the government in the past several years have made strides in the right direction as financial access is widening for disenfranchised groups all over the country. If Mexico continues to expand financial access through credit programs and Fintech innovation, the country will likely see a decrease in economic inequality and reap the benefits of a more egalitarian society.

Calvin Melloh
Photo: Flickr

Addressing Water Scarcity in Mexico City
Mexico City is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere with about 22 million residents. Additionally, the city uses a lot of water. Mexico City draws on a vast sub-surface aquifer to supply water to millions of residents. Water scarcity in Mexico City continues to increase due to the aquifer shrinking every year.

The Problem

Water scarcity in Mexico City is surprising because the city should have plenty of water. In fact, the area receives more annual rainfall than London, leaving one to wonder where it all goes.

The answer to that question lies partly in Mexico City’s other water problem: flooding. The heavy rainfall that occurs every year during the wet season results in floods that stop traffic, damage buildings and cause sewage overflow. The city has created infrastructure to channel rainwater out of the area to prevent flooding. Furthermore, the existing infrastructure that pipes water is outdated and inefficient. Mexico loses about 40% of water due to leaky pipes. As the city expands and more concrete and asphalt cover the ground, less water will percolate through the soil into the aquifer. In short, as the city expands, the aquifer will get exponentially smaller.

Widespread shut-offs of city pipes are becoming more common due to the growing water scarcity. This disproportionately affects impoverished areas of the city. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this problem and has made the already unreliable water distribution trucks even harder to find for thousands of residents.

Isla Urbana

The nonprofit organization Isla Urbana teamed up with Mexico City’s government regarding the rollout of a rainwater catching system. This system promotes sustainable, reliable water access in areas outside of the city’s central hydraulic network. Additionally, this system goes on the roof and costs around $750. Furthermore, it catches and filters rainwater for use in bathing and household chores. Carbon filters can provide potable water. Additionally, Isla Urbana’s system is capable of supplying households with 40% of their annual water usage.

However, rain-catching systems have the obvious shortcoming of requiring rain to function. Mexico City does receive heavy rainfall. Yet, the city receives rainfall in only a few, select months. It also experiences a few large storms.

Ecoducto

The Mexico City planners decided to bury the area’s biggest river under concrete to make room for more buildings. Since then, the now underground river has become contaminated with waste from the city and is unusable without filtration. Thus, Ecoducto is one project that aims to use natural vegetation to filter the river’s water for public use by uncovering the river. Ecoducto is a 1.6 km long linear, living park above the Rio Piedad that also functions as a completely natural filtration system.

Furthermore, it takes water from the Rio Piedad and removes up to 99% of the bacterial content in the river. Ecoducto removes E. Coli from up to 30,000 cubic meters of water per day. Fortunately, Ecoducto costs much less to build and maintain than more expensive, fossil-fuel-reliant treatment plants. Furthermore, it currently operates at a fraction of the scale that the entire Rio Piedad could if it were daylight.

Both proposed solutions to combat water scarcity in Mexico City are in their early stages. In addition, the government’s promotion of both points to an initiative that improves water quality and access. As the weather becomes increasingly unreliable due to environmental challenges, solutions such as Isla Urbana’s rain-catching systems and the Ecoducto represent the future for sustainable and affordable resource use.

– Kieran Hadley
Photo: Flickr

E-learning in Mexico
In Mexico, education has led discourse within the public and private sectors. Improvement efforts in education depend greatly on government administrations. However, the country’s government has been hindered in its efforts to improve education. Mexico has grown a lot in the last decades, but structural inequality and regional economic disparities are prevalent. Four out of every five people are in situations of poverty or are vulnerable to poverty. Additionally, only 40% of people in rural areas have internet access and the pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. Due to COVID-19, internet service has become crucial to guarantee proper education, as well as tools for students and entrepreneurs. Increased use of e-learning in Mexico is imperative now more ever.

Previous Projects in Education

Approximately two decades ago, Mexico began to carry out several academic-related projects. Universities, such as Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the government worked together to provide information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural and remote communities. More precisely, the Virtual University of the Tecnológico de Monterrey established an initiative that built over 1,000 Community Learning Centers.

These centers guaranteed online education to rural communities by providing computers with internet access. Faculty members, teachers and students all contributed to this effort. They provided support and guidance to these rural and remote communities, which directly contributed to the development. The beneficiaries of this initiative reported that these centers helped them obtain employment opportunities, carry out their businesses and facilitated educational involvement.

In 2012, México Conectado (Mexico Connected) was implemented. The project’s aim was to provide a national network that guaranteed internet connectivity for the entire population, especially for those in rural communities. This achievement would promote greater access to all people and also contribute to social inclusion. By the end of 2012, there were approximately 14,000 connection points around the nation. Three years later in 2015, the 14,000 connection points skyrocketed to a total of 101,000 connection points. This initiative helped reduce the digital gap and promoted e-learning in Mexico’s public schools and universities.

Current Status

The pandemic has generated a shift in social demands. Actions are needed to provide e-learning — not for comfort, but out of necessity. Public health, social equalities, economic prosperity and effective education all rely on increased access to e-learning in Mexico. Currently, around 30 million Mexicans in public schools must learn from their homes. In cities, the number of people enrolled in online courses skyrocketed, but distance learning in rural areas has become challenging. The cost to rent a computer with internet access — a requirement for remote learning — is approximately $0.50 an hour. This cost may seem low but the reality is that the income in some areas in Mexico can be only $5 a day. Furthermore, nearly half of the educational institutions previously utilizing México Conectado for internet access no longer have internet service.

As a result, Internet para Todos (Internet for All) replaced México Conectado. The new program seeks to provide internet service to remote and highly marginalized areas. It aims to facilitate government actions and promote economic development. Nonetheless, budgetary insufficiencies and improper management of resources have hindered contract renewal with the suppliers as well as the overall availability of e-learning in Mexico.

As a result, the Mexican government was forced to create a distance learning program through television and radio. Although it is a way of solving the problem, it is an outdated method that does not contribute in the same way as e-learning does to the economic development of communities. Investment into the education sector is undervalued as an effective mechanism for poverty reduction. Improved e-learning infrastructure is crucial in order to achieve integrated economic development and sustainable growth.

A Call for Increased E-Learning

Education is a fundamental pillar for the progress and integral growth of societies. It is necessary to implement strategies to fulfill the current social and economic needs of communities. Currently, the education sector is shifting to e-learning due to remote schooling during the pandemic. Even after quarantine measures end, innovative internet technologies will have permanently shifted education strategies. Location will no longer inhibit access to education, as quality education is becoming accessible anytime and anywhere.

Social programs should provide these tools to all the national territories to give students and entrepreneurs the necessary tools to continue creating prosperous communities. E-learning in Mexico enables economic development and poverty reduction, making it the way to a brighter future.

Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Poverty in Mexico
Mexico has a rich tapestry of cultures mixed together. Its indigenous community reflects its own diversity with many different traditions and languages. However, indigenous poverty in Mexico is very prevalent and many seldom discuss or address the issue. Here are some facts to shed light on the challenges indigenous people face along with examples of their opportunities for a thriving future.

Poverty Statistics

Nearly 26 million indigenous people live in Mexico today. Furthermore, 68 different indigenous communities live in the country. A staggering 75% of these families live in extreme poverty. The majority work in low-skilled, manual labor jobs with little hope of upward social mobility. As a result, many have to migrate from their homes to find economic opportunities elsewhere.

The Government’s Clumsy Attempts To Help

Mexico’s government has noticed indigenous poverty in Mexico. In fact, Mexico has attempted to address the vast economic disparity by investing in large infrastructure projects and supplemental programs. However, the government did not consult with indigenous communities on implementation or whether it may unintentionally harm social and cultural values. Mexican President Obrador announced the construction of a 948 mile-long train to boost tourism in historic Mayan territory in 2018. Many activists perceived the Maya Train as an encroachment on indigenous sovereignty as it would cut through ancient jungles in the Yucatan Peninsula. Furthermore, environmental concerns arose when the construction of the train uncovered thousands of artifacts.

Education Challenges

The 2018 Report on the Evaluation of Social Development Policy indicated some harsh truths about education levels within indigenous Mexican communities. It indicated that adults between the ages of 30 and 64 had an illiteracy rate of almost 20%. More than half of the indigenous population never sought education past the primary level. This reinforces extreme poverty.

Unique Challenges of Indigenous Women

Indigenous poverty in Mexico puts women at a greater disadvantage. A study by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography revealed that indigenous women showed the lowest literacy rates and education retention. In addition, the report showed indigenous women reported high rates of domestic violence, health problems, pregnancy risks and mortality. Psydeh is an NGO that launched projects to empower women from indigenous communities. Furthermore, it is currently raising thousands of dollars to train women to launch self-sustaining initiatives for long-term community growth such as distributing stove ovens and growing organic farms.

Indigenous poverty in Mexico has a lack of upward mobility, poor quality of life and a lack of educational opportunities. Many measures have undergone implementation to alleviate inequality. Moreover, the Mexican government has provided mixed results. However, with help from organizations such as Psydeh, indigenous people can obtain more opportunities for a better life.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Improve Lives in MexicoBefore the COVID-19 pandemic, moderate poverty in Mexico had declined from 25.7% in 2016 to 23% in 2018, although 29 million people continued living in impoverished conditions. Prior to 2018, Mexico’s multidimensional poverty rate, which includes income poverty as well as factors such as access to food and education, had dropped to about 42% of the population, thereby improving lives in Mexico. However, according to CONEVAL, a public agency that measures poverty, the effects of COVID-19 could mean that 56% of the country, or 70 million Mexicans, may not earn enough to cover their basic needs. This number represents an increase of around 50% more poverty in the past 24 months. Mexican women-led associations and businesses are leading the way to reduce poverty and improve lives in Mexico.

COVID-19 and Poverty

The effects of COVID-19 could eliminate decades of poverty reduction. Global GDP fell 5.2% in 2020, but, Latin America’s drop in real GDP was expected to be closer to 7%, according to the World Bank. The IMF calculates an economic recession of 6.6% in Mexico. By June 2002, more than a million jobs were already lost due to the pandemic.

As a result, Latin America’s second-largest economy, Mexico, could be among the countries in the region that are affected worst. Up to 17 million Mexicans may soon be living in extreme poverty — an increase from 11 million in 2019.

Women Entrepreneurs in Querétaro

In the state of Querétaro, Mexico, a women-led and women-founded association is helping to lift women and their families out of poverty. Established in 2010, Mujeres y Ambiente SPR de RL de CV has combined forces with an environmentally-minded Spanish company, along with the Mexican government and Autonomous University of Querétaro, to develop cosmetics based on local medicinal plants. Mujeres y Ambiente helps women entrepreneurs in Querétaro to expand their own agricultural micro-businesses, thereby helping them to become economically self-sufficient.

Eulalia Moreno Sánchez, along with her two daughters, Ángeles and Rosa Balderas, formed a Women and Environment group in the La Carbonera community. Through consolidating micro-businesses such as selling earthworm humus, mushrooms, medicinal plants, vegetables and aromatic plants, the women utilize the cultivated raw materials which they use in their products, to help the community produce a sustainable income.

International Support for Mexican Women

The Nagoya Protocol came into force in Mexico in 2014. This international agreement supports the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources that come from traditional knowledge. Under the agreement, the women of rural Querétaro signed the first-of-its-kind permit between Mexico and Spain, which provides access to the genetic resources of traditional medicine plants cultivated in Mexico. The agreement fairly compensates local producers for their knowledge and their work, thus improving lives in Mexico. The community gets to preserve its ecosystem’s genetic resources and the women’s traditional knowledge based on medicinal plants. Members of the association are offered jobs as well as research and business opportunities.

In 2016, Sanchez and her daughters began to export lemon balm, or Toronjil, for the Spanish cosmetics company Provital. Since then, they have signed additional agreements to produce other medicinal plants for the company. With support from the UNDP (Global Environment Facility), the project establishes the legal framework for ensuring the right to protect biodiversity.

Preserving Biodiversity and Creating Jobs

In addition to alleviating poverty, the association’s goals include stabilizing the soil, cultivating a nursery and conserving biodiversity. Cosmetic products are developed from the women’s traditional knowledge about local herbs and medicinal plants. The entrepreneurs are part of the cosmetics industry’s sustainable supply chain and they serve as an example of successful conservation through the sustainable use of biodiverse resources. These activities have allowed the women to derive an income, create more jobs and open up markets, offering a way to reduce poverty and improve lives in Mexico.

Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Mexico
Renewable energy in Mexico is facing a crisis. On December 28, 2020, Mexico saw a two-hour power outage that affected 10.3 million people. Mexico’s National Center for Energy Control (CENACE) reported that the blackouts were due to an imbalance in the National Interconnected System (SIN).

SIN is Mexico’s state-owned power grid. During the blackouts, Mexico experienced a loss of 7,500 megawatts due to complications with Mexico’s fossil fuel power plants. CENACE blames the blackouts on renewable energy, although renewable energy currently accounts for only 28% of SIN’s power supply.

Following the blackouts, CENACE sought to consolidate the SIN system. Representatives from the CFE (Federal Electricity Commission) said the current SIN grid system does not have the mechanical inertia and capacity to support renewable energy sources. CFE Communication Director Luis Bravo stated that renewable energy damages “the reliability of the national system” and that CENACE will exclude renewable energy from the SIN. This will not only set back Mexico’s environmental progress, but it will also drive up electricity costs for families and businesses that the pandemic has already left struggling.

Higher Electricity Costs and Reduced Investment

Expensive electricity has long been a hindrance to Mexican households and businesses. In 2020, the state-owned electric company’s generation costs were over three times the generation costs of private renewable energy businesses. In February 2021, when the company cut power to two Oaxaca communities where many residents had unpaid electricity bills, local residents traveled to the state’s CFE headquarters to protest the company’s unreasonably high rates.

Nevertheless, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is fighting against cheaper renewable energy in Mexico in favor of government-owned fossil fuel plants. On February 2, 2021, he proposed a bill that mandates that SIN plants be the first source of statewide power. The bill also requires that the government approve all renewable energy usage.

Not only are many Mexican businesses voicing opposition, but many foreign companies, like Iberdrola, a huge Spanish producer of wind power, have stopped investing in Mexican energy projects. In June 2020, Iberdrola suspended a $1.2 billion project to create a power plant in Tuxpan that would have been an economic boon to the area. Reduced usage of renewable energy in Mexico could also damage the country’s standing in international arrangements, such as trade agreements or the Paris Climate Accord.

Renewable Energy Opportunities

Despite what their president claims, renewable energy in Mexico is affordable. While wind energy is growing within Mexico through international means, solar panels are helping domestically in rural areas.

Many businesses are starting to use solar energy. One region, in particular, Querétaro, is wholeheartedly embracing the economic benefits of renewable energy. The Federation of Producers of Corn Flour and Tortillas said solar cells currently power more than 40% of the state’s 389 tortilla shops. This organization helps shop owners take out low-interest government loans, allowing businesses to get off the SIN grid. Federation president Arthur Campos Novoa said, “Over three years, they have to pay [monthly] for the [solar panels], but after that, it will be a benefit to the business.” Businesses that receive the loans save 20,000 pesos every two months. The goal is to get 100% of Querétaro’s tortilla shops off the SIN grid.

Iluméxico

Iluméxico is another company using renewable energy to benefit everyday citizens. Its mission as a social enterprise is to empower rural communities that are living in energy poverty. Iluméxico specializes in installing small solar panels in areas with poor infrastructure. The company designs and distributes solar panels, creates affordable energy access plans and trains people in the solar panel trade. Iluméxico is Mexico’s largest provider of off-grid solar energy. It has installed nearly 25,000 systems and should reach 1 million people by 2025.

For example, Iluméxico helped Nereo Cruz of Chichicuastla, Veracruz along with his wife and four children out of energy poverty. Cruz and his family used to have to stop most activities at sunset because of their lack of electricity, but with a microloan from Iluméxico, Nereo purchased a solar home system that he slowly paid off using savings and income.

Renewable energy in Mexico is revealing political divisions. However, those fighting for a greener and more affordable future are persevering through the current crisis to continue alleviating energy poverty.

– Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr