10 March 2010


We tend to picture a farmer as nothing more than somebody sporting a set of overalls who is surrounded by a group of fat, muddy, pigs. Farmers may wear overalls, and some do raise pigs, but their role in society is far more important than we have been led to believe. Farmers are like doctors- it is up to them to ensure the health of the ground we walk on. They must produce all the nutrients that enters our mouths, pass through our digestive systems, and sustain existence on this planet. This is a profession that requires the life-long collection of knowledge. BUT, like Rodney Dangerfield says, these days farmers “Get no respect!” In both Mexico and Thailand farmers are being evicted from their land, finding themselves in a strange new ecosystem- the city or someplace abroad.

Because farmers cannot compete with the dirt cheap prices of industrial agro-businesses and because they go into debt buying the chemical inputs necessary to produce the cash crops that our society demands, our former caretakers must surrender their soil. The soil, which was the nesting bed for the corn, which was the tortilla, the blood, the identity of Mexico, has been commandeered by an army of genetically modified seeds belonging to chemical producer turned agricultural giant, Monsanto. Where have the farmers gone? According to the documentary, Food Inc., over one million Mexican farmers now work in America, some on industrial farms or slaughterhouses under inhumane conditions and under the constant fear of deportation. In Thailand, mangos, bananas, and indigenous rice are being replaced by sugar cane, para rubber, and jasmine 105.

It is not just the knowledge of how to grow real food that is disappearing, but also another ability necessary for living. In an informal meeting with three gentlemen from an organization called “The Wisemen,” I learned about how to walk the middle way. The aging farmers said that they were content, and their effortless smiles reflected this disposition. In all seriousness, being happy where you’re at is an ability that seems to be increasingly rare. They had reached this state by seeking a balance between family and work and between the extreme ends of desire (ascetic and consumer)- simple but requires practice. Calling themselves “local capitalists,” their assets came in the form of community support, health, and reasonable profit. As Wisemen, they were responsible for disseminating local knowledge to maintain the environment, fortify the community, and incorporate fellow farmers from other villages into their network. The first pupils to receive this wisdom were their children.

As urban migration becomes the norm, both out of necessity and desire, the youth are leaving rural areas, creating family separation and weaker communities. The picture is not black and white, as some continue to cultivate land while pursuing urban labor. But, this trend begs the question: how many of us want to stay in our small towns? Well, what if there is something sweet going on their like a land reclamation project? I wonder, why might such a project be more enticing to an American studying globalization abroad, then to the average young Thai. Perhaps there is an important lesson to be learned about globalization being a means to explore the world, fulfill young rushes, and of course improve one’s condition in society. At the same time, globalization is simply a force indoctrinating young minds with these dreams which are usually more glorious as dreams, and I wonder if wise parents have the right to indoctrinate their children as well. Maybe village/ campesino1 leaders could open their own schools and educate the next generation about the value of the farmer- in a way equally enticing to the allure of the city and cheap, processed food. Thus far, parents have not been able to evolve to the point of reaching common ground with us- has there ever been a family without teenage rebellion? Even if parents do not learn, the youth, like the farmers may want to come back home… we always do.

1. One who lives in the campos of Mexico, areas heavily dependent on native corn and similar in some ways to rural villages in Thailand.

Abe Levine
Macalester College


Meira said...

Abe, this was a very interesting blog post. I really liked how you connected the problems with farming in Thailand that are also happening in Mexico. As someone who grew up where Monsanto ‘s headquarters are located, I have learned a lot about what they are trying to accomplish with genetic modified seeds and with farming. I had always learned and was told that Monsanto is doing great things for farmers and making it easier to farm. In reality they are hurting the livelihood of people both in Thailand and in Mexico. Recently, while visiting Amatlan, a village in Mexico, we learned from local farmers how they have been impacted by the new genetically modified seeds. We were told that the farmers have tried to use the genetically modified seeds, but they do not grow as well as regular seeds. Seeds that have not been modified grow better and the farmers can get better results and products to sell within Mexico or use for themselves. The Mexican government has also been trying to get the farmers to use the new types of seeds , but the farmers are resisting the change because they know the regular type of seeds are better overall. Visiting Amatlan was a great learning experience in how farming has been impacted by Monsanto and other companies and genetically modified seeds.

Meira Sondov-Gold , Drake University

Abe said...

Hey Meira, thanks for your response! I hope things are going muy bien en Mexico- it's a beautiful place. Can you tell me a little more about Amatlan- what they grow there? What are the communities like? And also, how are the farmers resisting? Are they making ground, haha. Thanks for the response and the info dude, cuidate.


Liam said...

Abe, I think you hit it right on the head--farmers are the backbone of society. Yet, as you point out, they are treated like scum; thrown into debt and left voiceless in the greedy hands of multinational corporations. I often wonder how we, as a society, can possibly treat such a valuable member in such a way? This is a discussion that I plan on bringing home with me. I am posting this late in the semester and, as a result, often times I think about how I am going to explain my time abroad in an effective manner to friends and family back in the states. Discussing farmers I think is a great start. In fact, I love talking about farmers and their relative value in society because the dialogue can go a long way in illuminating many of the world’s injustices. Also, it is hard to argue with the fact that farmers are incredible people. I mean, how is somebody going to refute the importance of food?

I came away from unit one with the impression that organic agriculture is the only sustainable manner of farming. I still think this is true. However, such a system requires a de-urbanization movement, or a reverse Green Revolution movement. That is to say, for such a system to work, we need more farmers. I am seriously exploring committing myself to this path. As far as I can see, the ability to grow one’s own food in such a manner that is friendly to oneself and the environment is an ability worth more than the majority of master’s degrees. I think it is time to start breaking down this stereotype that we hold of farmers as uneducated, tobacco spitting, overall wearing, lowlifes. I plan on starting to do so by opening up the discussion to my family and friends. And maybe one day I will get to become a farmer myself.