Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2009

Policy Space for Mexican Maize: Protecting Agro-biodiversity by Promoting Rural Livelihoods

Timothy A. Wise

March 2007

Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University


Since the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, traditional maize farmers in Mexico have faced difficult economic conditions. In barely more than a decade, as many as one million farmers may have abandoned their land under economic pressure from rising imports, low prices for maize and other traditional crops, weak local and regional demand, and large reductions in public sector support for agriculture. The losses are environmental as well as economic. With the loss of traditional maize, there has been a documented loss of the agricultural biodiversity of which these farmers and their ancestors have been stewards for centuries. With maize trade scheduled to be fully liberalized under NAFTA in 2008, many farm groups are calling for a renegotiation of the treaty’s agricultural provisions to prevent further damage. This policy analysis examines the room for alternative policies in Mexico under existing economic and environmental agreements, including NAFTA. It concludes that the Mexican government retains access to many useful policy instruments that could promote rural livelihoods while arresting the losses of important maize diversity. What is lacking is the political will to make use of them.