by Nemer E. Narchi
In December 2010 Mexico hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Quintana Roo. The conference intentionally crossed World Forest Day, celebrated on December 5, and this gave Felipe Calderón, then president of Mexico and current chairman of the World Resource Institute’s Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an opportunity to urge the nations of the world to save the world’s forests. In his speech on that day (Calderón-Hinojosa, 2010) he urged peasants to abandon their traditional agriculture in favor of environmental-services payments, arguing that a year’s harvest would not be nearly as productive of income as the US$30–100 per hectare per year they would derive from being compensated for not planting.
This speech permuted the realities of self-sufficiency by mistaking its use value for the exchange value of crops and harvests. In an attempt to manufacture consensus, it offered a remarkably narrow view of the economic mechanisms, logic, and functioning of small-scale production systems. It is true that peasants depending on rain-fed plots may not be able to produce more than a single ton of corn a year. However, Mesoamerican agroecosystems also yield hundreds of kilograms of other edible cultivars such as beans, chiles, tomatoes, and squash (Aguilar, Illsley, and Marielle, 2007) and increase biodiversity without interrupting the natural processes of vegetation renewal (Alcorn, Altieri, and Hecht, 1990; Berkes, Colding, and Folke, 2000; Ramakrishnan, 1992; Turner, 1991). In addition, the presence of traditional agroecosystems attracts animal species that are part of peasants’ diets (Navarro-Martínez, Schmook, and Martínez-Castillo, 2000) and preserves wild germoplasm from which fruits, firewood, construction materials, handicraft materials, tools, and dyes are obtained (Aguilar, Illsley, and Marielle, 2007; Alcorn and Toledo, 1998). Abandoning agriculture as a result of the negotiation of neoliberal landscapes (see Carte et al., 2010) has deleterious effects …
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Latin American Perspectives
September 2015 vol. 42 no. 5 5-18