By TBY | Mexico | Aug 14, 2015
In order to meet the domestic demand, the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture (Sagarpa) forecasts that maize output will surge by 6% between 2014 and 2015, a trend that expects to continue in the coming years. Consequently, the nation will be able to reduce around 16% of its imports of yellow corn (also known as sweetcorn, or maize) from the US this year.
Corn is the main ingredient of the Mexican cuisine. It is a challenge to think of a traditional Mexican plate that does not have the sweet crop in it and is also tough to find an average restaurant that does not offer tortillas as a side dish. Mexicans’ passion for this staple is so significant that the country currently is the fifth largest consumer of corn in the world as the nation devours about 31 million metric tons annually.
The country is making an effort to diminish their dependency on the US maize-market and is focused on harvesting more yellow corn, a crop that is regularly used to feed the cattle. Mexico mainly grows white corn, which is for human consumption, but the country will need more yellow maize to feed the livestock as people increase their intake of meat.
Every year Mexico has to import about 10 million metric tons of yellow corn and is the second largest importer after Japan—which buys nearly 15 million tons a year. However, the long-term projections of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimate that Mexico will become the largest importer in the world by 2024. Thus, the country is still far away from achieving self-sufficiency for this crop in the near future.
The domestic production takes places in several places throughout the republic but mainly in the states of Sinaloa, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacán, Chiapas, and Guerrero. There are over 3 million producers of maize in Mexico. Corn is a cheap and easy crop to grow, as it can be harvested in a wide variety of soils and weathers. In addition to those benefits, the demand for this cereal in the nation has also increased due to the development of alternative industries such as biofuel producers.
Despite the advantages and the promising outlook, it does not seem very likely that the country will achieve a high production level that will allow it to stop buying corn from the US. In that scenario, transgenic seeds have become an attractive option and many people in the agriculture industry in Mexico support their use.
“With biotechnology and hybrid adoption in the southeast part of Mexico we could become a corn exporter in ten years,” said the President and Director General Latin America North of Monsanto, Manuel J. Bravo Pereyra, in an interview with TBY. In Bravo Pereyra’s view, the use of those technologies would move up the Mexican agricultural sector in the global value chain, it will become “more efficient,” and it could even help the Mexican farmers to have better economic development.
As for now, a large majority of the corn that Mexico imports from the US is transgenic, but genetically modified maize seeds cannot be harvested in the country. The government green lighted the use of genetically engineering for maize, but in September 2013 a federal judge passed a preventive measure that forbids selling products that could genetically modify corn seeds in the country. Thus, transgenic maize-crops cannot grow in Mexico, although this technology has been implemented to other yields such as plowing cotton and soybeans.
The sowing of these transgenic corn seeds in the Mexican agriculture has generated a controversial debate in the Mexican society. It has mainly faced opposition from ecologists, environmentalists, and indigenous groups. But the central opposition to this crop comes from the final consumer. “Corn is almost sacred in Mexico, and if you visit farmers in the countryside you will notice that corn is an important part of their identity and origins,” said José Cacho, CEO of Minsa, a major producer of tortillas in the country.
In Cacho’s opinion, the Mexican consumers will not “accept transgenic products on their table,” despite the fact that the professionals and the industry publish several studies and reports stating how harmless and safe those products are. “I believe a solution for this issue in Mexico would be for the industry to make a public statement guaranteeing that transgenic corn is to be grown only for animal consumption,” Cacho assured.