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Dossier Dispossession and Resistance in India and Mexico

Agribusiness in Mexico: Mechanisms for dispossession

, by JIMENEZ MARTINEZ Nancy Merari

One manifestation of Capitalism in the current scenario of globalization has been of territories and their communities being tied up to international market mechanisms, offering their resources such as raw materials, precious minerals, cheap workforce or food. The latter, agribusiness, is the object we wish to reflect upon in this text.

Agribusiness in Mexico

Agribusiness is dedicated to transforming raw materials originating from agriculture, livestock raising, or forestry, in order to give added value to products. In Mexico, this sector has had a notorious growth over the last few years, to the point that agro-industrial exports now surpass 13 billion dollars. [1] While it is true that the origins of agribusiness in Mexico date back to World War II and the mandated participation in food production to meet the demand from the United States, the importance of this economic sector grew exponentially with the signing of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

NAFTA’s coming into effect is perhaps the most important turning point for Mexico’s rural sector. Since then, public policy concerning food production has been largely export-oriented, privileging the vision of an industrialized system built to satisfy agro-industrial demand. This in turn requires a series of modernization strategies that set aside traditional agriculture and knowledge and discriminate against small farmers. Mexico is now the 12th largest producer and exporter in the world when it comes to agro-industrial products (Escandón & Pineda, 2014).

Agro-industrial projects in Mexico

While agriculture and livestock raising are widely practiced activities in Mexico, we wish to emphasize on certain projects that stand out for different reasons. In northern Mexico, an industrial agriculture model is being developed, based largely on monocropping, as well as on large-scale use of agrochemicals and genetically modified seeds. According to Greenpeace, 92% of federal resources directed towards agriculture are granted to producers in the north of the country, who represent a mere 20% of agricultural producers in Mexico.

However, the largest expansion of monocropping in Mexico is taking place in the southern state of Chiapas, in the tropical Lacandon jungle – recognized as a World Biodiversity Heritage site – where oil palm plantations now occupy 38,525 hectares of land. This represents 70% of the total planted surface of this crop in the country, and it is estimated that up to 400,000 additional hectares could be planted with oil palms. [2]

Another place where monocrop-based agricultural production can be found is in the Purepecha plateau in the central western state of Michoacán, where avocado plantations occupy more than 130,000 hectares of land. This represents 75% of the total surface planted with avocado, in this case at the expense of local pine forests, and specifically seven endangered pine species. The takeover of forests can only be explained by the high profits garnered by avocado sales: its production value surpasses 12 billion US dollars and its exports represent more than 800 million US dollars. [3]

Another agro-industrial case which has gained a substantial amount of international attention is the Yucatan peninsula in the south east of the country (comprising the states of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo), where in 2011 Monsanto – with authorization from the federal government – planted over 30,000 hectares of land with genetically modified soybeans. This caused pollution of honey – the main agricultural product in the region and the main source of income for local families [4] – with soy pollen. This pollution was detected in Europe (the main buyer of Mexican honey), where the European Court of Justice has forbidden the sale of honey containing pollen from unauthorized crops, and requires products containing over 0.9% of pollen from authorized genetically modified crops to be specifically labeled.

This case has become the object of numerous conflicts. On the one hand, there is conflict between different departments within the Mexican federal government. The Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA) granted Monsanto authorization to plant genetically modified soybeans even though the Inter-Secretarial Commission on Biosafety and Genetically Modified Organisms (CIBIOGEM) – which belongs to the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) [5] – had previously warned about the risks of such an action and had publicly spoken out against it. On the other hand, the Monsanto case has also generated conflict between the federal and state governments, a flashpoint for which was when the government of Yucatan issued a decree that declared the state a GMO-free territory, and in doing so defended its autonomy from the Federation.

The impact of this on beekeeping took the matter to an appeals court hearing, through which the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice granted a provisional suspension in 2015 of the permits for genetically modified soy production in the Yucatan peninsula that had been previously issued by the General Direction of Plant Health, which belongs to SAGARPA’s National Service for Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA). The suspension was granted on the grounds that the permits were issued in violation of the right to prior, free and informed consent of the majority of the indigenous population. While it is true that the suspension does not consider the environmental and economic consequences of soy planting, it certainly represents a step forward in the defense of the affected communities.

Two more cases need to be flagged for our purpose. The first one has to do with fodder production, specifically alfalfa sprouts, which is the main contributor to the depletion of aquifers in the northern state of Coahuila. It is important to remember that the livestock industry has an important “water footprint” and produces large amounts of potent greenhouse gases such as methane. The case of Cuatro Ciénegas, Coahuila, has become important because of the special nature of this territory, which was declared a Flora and Fauna Protection Area in 1994: “it is an oasis in the midst of the desert” (Guerrero, 2007). Because of its special characteristics, it constitutes a habitat for numerous endemic species and holds evidence of important moments in planetary biological evolution. In other words, the site is indispensable for understanding the origins of life. [6]

Finally, the last representative case that helps us give a broad overview of agribusiness in Mexico has to do with meat production. The reference here is to the main meat producer in Mexico, the largest agro-industrial compound in Latin America. In 2016, this compound completely consumed the water of Lucero, a small town in the municipality of Tlahualilo in the state of Durango in north central Mexico, endangering the whole region known as La Laguna (located between the states of Durango and Coahuila). [7] Despite this critical situation, in a desert region where water was never abundant in the first place, installation of a new plant is being planned in Vizcarra, Durango, in order to raise 52,000 heads of Holstein calves.

Effects of the agribusiness model in Mexico

When we speak of agribusiness we refer to a business model based on large-scale food production, in which cultural planting practices, ancestral knowledge and knowledge based on the observation of natural cycles have no place. This particular way of producing food has negative consequences for everyone. Everybody loses out when food is produced from genetically modified seeds, with intensive use of agrochemicals, when soil and water in which food is produced are polluted, when diversity is subordinated to monocropping. However, the largest negative consequences fall on the poorest populations.

While it cannot be said that agribusiness generates direct dispossession, it is necessary to speak of the losses that disrupt communities’ ways of life and generate unjust situations. These situations do not always present themselves in coercive forms, and, sometimes, even in consented forms. We are looking at communities that have lost their means of livelihood and food supply due to agro-industrial development, either by the of loss of control over seeds, by water being destined to other uses at the expense of subsistence agriculture, by the collapse of local economies due to the globalizing agribusiness model, or by illnesses generated from the use of agrochemicals or consumption of agro-industrial products.

Agribusiness promises food for all, but ends up excluding large sections of the population and generates food insecurity, since it compromises food survival for a deceptive comparative advantage that requires large investments at a high economical and socio-environmental cost. Researchers from the Autonomous University of Yucatan have demonstrated that the negative impacts of genetically modified soy production would be 55 times greater than its total benefits, and that the global contribution of honey to the economy is much larger than that of soy: a 3 to 1 proportion. [8]

On the one hand, agribusiness generates negative consequences for biodiversity. Monocropping, whatever species it may be (palm, soy, sorghum, etc.), can never substitute the original ecosystem and the services it provides to hundreds of animal and plant species. The implementation of monocropping in territories with high biodiversity has generated incalculable losses by way of destroying habitats, from tropical jungles to pine forests. In these scenarios, changes in land-use that damage ecosystems are a necessary condition in order to expand production to satisfy international demand.

On the other hand, agribusiness has intensified water stress throughout Mexico. The dispute over water and the allocation of consumptive user rights for agribusiness at the expense of human use and small-scale agriculture has led to shortages and situations of environmental injustice for many communities and their territories, whose existence now perils because this vital element has been assigned to agro-industrial projects. The cases of La Laguna region and Cuatro Ciénegas are emblematic of this.

Finally, the case of genetically modified soy production in the Yucatan peninsula illustrates – perhaps better than any other – the mechanisms of dispossession that agribusiness generates since it allows us to identify negative impacts on ecosystems and remind us of the complexity and interconnectivity that exists within nature. Although there are peasant groups affected by genetically modified soy production in terms of soil and water production, the harshest consequences are suffered by beekeepers, not only because their product has been polluted by the seeds, but also because bees themselves have become endangered in the region.


Agribusiness is one of the many facets of the power of capitalism. Its mechanisms of dispossession may be subtle, but they can be identified within the very mechanisms of capitalist production and reproduction.

Here, dispossession does not necessarily imply the interruption of one form of property, but signifies the loss of control over certain elements necessary for the social reproduction of communities so dispossessed. In other words, when water is allocated to a specific use at the expense of another, what takes place is not the loss of proprietary rights over water, but deprivation of access to the use of the resource that the community has traditionally had, thus disrupting the social reproduction of their lives.

This dispossession is an instrument of power that generates different types of scenarios, with privileges for some and disadvantages for others. The relationship between dispossession and privilege is closely tied to inequality, where the former two are results of power and construe different forms of inequality, which in the Mexican case are accentuated by pre-existing inequalities: poverty, marginalization, discrimination against indigenous peoples, amongst others.


Escandón Guichard J. & Pineda Domínguez, D. (2014). El comercio exterior agroindustrial mexicano y sus estrategias de exportación. Observatorio de la Economía Latinoamericana, Nº 200. Retrieved from:

Guerrero, Verónica. (2007). Cuatrociénegas, laboratorio de la evolución. ¿Comoves? Revista de Divulgación de la Ciencia de la UNAM, Year 3, No. 101. Retrieved from:

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