It’s springtime in Indiana, and the ground is just beginning to thaw. Birds and buds are emerging after the long polar vortex of these past many days. As new life emerges, the refrigerators and fruit bowls of many residents of the Hoosier State are already full of ripe mangoes, oranges, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and basil. Even for the organic consumer, this abundance is now available year-round.
Meanwhile in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, coffee is grown using traditional methods on over 11,000 hectares certified for organic production. The harvest is coming to a close, the beans packed in containers and ready for shipping to all points north. And in Baja California, Mexico, organic tomatoes are being coaxed from the desert; they too get shipped north to meet the growing demand for organic produce by American consumers.
Over the past decade, Mexico has emerged as a significant contributor to global organic agriculture, experiencing a tenfold increase in organic production. The country’s rankings capture this significance: It is the world’s top producer of organic coffee and tropical fruits and the second largest producer of organic vegetables. There is great potential for profitability in this growing market for export.
However, organics should not be viewed merely as an extractive industry, a one-way street between production and consumption. Within Mexico, demand for organics has been growing as well. This is a boon for farmers, who have seen their market share for traditional crops, like corn, fall since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. In some places, like Chiapas, this shift can mean agricultural cooperatives that allow farmers to capitalize on economies of scale, ensuring the most direct profit for their product.
But, just as in the United States, organic agriculture can also have a very different meaning. It can mean mono-crops, big business and over-taxed aquifers. Such is the case in much of Baja, California. Just last year, on Oct. 29, 2013, the government of Mexico instituted its own guidelines for organic production, which are very similar to those implemented in the United States. While we continue to debate the merits of big business organics, we can be sure of one thing: Production in Mexico will continue to grow.