Imported tortillas? Big Mexican farmers fear cuts will hit harvests


By Sharay Angulo, Reuters

October 15, 2020


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s most productive farmers fear they may not be able to meet growing demand after state funding cuts, warning of a rising reliance on imports of the white corn used for staples such as tortillas and tamales.


Under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the agricultural budget has been cropped by a third, with subsidies aimed at larger farmers, who account for two-thirds of corn production, almost entirely eliminated.


Mexico has historically been self-sufficient in white corn, but Jose Cacho, vice president of Grupo Minsa, warns that these changes could force Mexico’s second biggest corn flour miller to buy imported supplies in the medium term.


“There’s a risk we won’t be able to source enough,” Cacho said, referring to the 800,000 tonnes Minsa buys annually, adding that it had not bought imported corn for years.


Mexico’s agricultural ministry and the president’s office did not respond to Reuters requests for comment


Although the government says it considers all farmers important, its agriculture minister said last month that with limited resources available it must prioritize the most vulnerable in the country’s many poor rural regions.


Rural poverty has been a driver of immigration to the United States and social unrest for decades and Lopez Obrador, who ran on a pledge of helping the poor, has imposed a sweeping austerity program and tried to reassign resources to tackle it.


The government says new programs supporting smaller farmers with price guarantees will eventually reduce imports.


Mexico City-based GCMA forecasts that white corn production will to dip 3.4% to 23.5 million tonnes this year, before recovering in 2021.


However, the consultancy sees Mexico’s overall corn crop only inching up by about a million tonnes by 2024, the last year of Lopez Obrador’s term in office. That is far short of demand growth of a million tonnes each year, or about 2.5% annually.