Corn Tortillas and an Election
Corn tortillas, along with rice and beans, are the most important foods in the diet of millions of people across Mexico. Analysts estimate the rate of consumption of corn tortillas in the country at about 125 pounds per person in a year.
When the price of tortillas rises, the level of anxiety in the country rises, too.
To many Mexicans, the rising price of tortillas, and the threat it represents to their traditional diet, becomes a matter of national pride. To many other Mexicans, the rising price of tortillas puts their survival at risk.
In Mexico, a nation of about 125 million people, millions of workers earn less than 90 pesos, or $5, a day. An increase of 20 percent in the price of a kilogram of corn tortillas, from about 14 pesos (or $0.75) to about 17 pesos (almost $1), would be too much for many of them to handle.
It is precisely such a 20-percent price increase which Mexico’s tortilla producers are proposing now.
Tortilla producers across Mexico say they have to raise their prices because their suppliers are raising prices. The suppliers blame the problem, in the end, on the rise in the price of fuel.
So far Mexican government officials have persuaded tortilla vendors to delay their price increases.
In the days before the election, on July 1, 2018, to determine the next president of Mexico, officials want to prevent a growing dissatisfaction with rising prices from turning into widespread protests. They want to insure a peaceful transition of power from the current administration to the new one.
Dependence on the United States
But, ultimately, Mexican officials know they can’t control fluctuations in prices, since they have no control over their cause: a dependence on the United States.
In Mexico, farmers have the ability to meet only two-thirds of the domestic demand for corn; of the remaining corn consumed in the country, 97 percent comes from the United States, where agribusiness companies produce such large quantities of corn that they can dictate prices across the globe.
At the same time, more than half of the gasoline and diesel fuels consumed in Mexico come from the United States.
In recent years, food activists have argued that Mexican farmers can improve their corn yields and re-vitalize their corn industry if they adopt new practices based on agro-ecology and resist the bio-engineered seeds pushed by agribusiness.
Today, small farmers across Mexico are seeing advances in their efforts to use agro-ecology to resurrect their native varieties of corn seeds.
Meanwhile, the candidates representing Mexico’s large, traditional political parties are jockeying for position in the race to become the country’s next president, each one blaming the other for Mexicans’ problems.
If the current frontrunner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as a leftist and a populist, can convince the Mexican electorate that he can bring down the price of corn tortillas and the price of fuel, he will win the election by a landslide.
But, at this point, rising prices for both precious commodities are creating too much uncertainty. No one can predict who will be the next president of Mexico.