The strawberries of discord

Peasants point to the strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry agribusiness responsible for the drought that affects hundreds of families in the center of Michoacán.

Photography: Rodrigo Caballero.

Drought. Lagunillas.- Lagunillas has long ceased to honor its name, nothing remains of the dozens of bodies of water that filled the Huatzanguio valley and provided abundant liquid for corn and cattle.

The elderly say that by 1950, when Lagunillas officially entered the list of 113 municipalities in Michoacán, the overexploitation of the aquifers was already visible, which caused the swamps to disappear little by little and Lagunillas, which means small lagoons, to become to become everything but its name.

However, the water was still there, but below the surface, for this reason the inhabitants depend on wells for daily irrigation of water and on storms so that corn, beans and legumes grow that allow them to feed and feed their family.

The problem is that three years ago the rain stopped falling in the summer, the climate changed and now the farmers claim that the rain comes late; It should make its entrance in May and finish in mid-September, when the baby corn arrives.

Now, in September, the maize plants are no longer “güereando” as the peasants call the sprouting of the plant, their leaves do not take on an iridescent color nor do the corn hairs shine a golden color in the sunlight, because of their size it seems It is hardly July, that is, as if the planting was two months late.

“At this time of year there would already be corn on the cob, but look at how it goes, the cornfield is very late for the same reason, because the water is not allowed to arrive, if you plant one and it does not rain, the ants get in and eat the corn inside of the land, that’s why we have not been able to sow ” assured one of the farmers.

This means that corn will not sprout until October, which implies the risk of frosts beginning, which would cause the cornfields to die before they can be cultivated.

Alleged culprits

The peasants claim that the rain has been taken away from them, that now it only rains lightly instead of the usual heavy rains and that it all began when the strawberry growers arrived, those whom they angrily call “the agro-industry”.

“They arrived here without giving any prior information of the intentions with which they came; Initially, people saw good that they came, because these are areas where we survive from the fields day by day, here what is sown is not for commercialization, ”said José Gutiérrez, a resident of Lagunillas.

One of the companies is Driscoll’s, which is defined as a “family business” founded more than 100 years ago in the United States of America and producing top quality strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

On its official site, Driscoll’s assures that its operations in Mexico cover the states of Baja California Norte, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Michoacán and Jalisco, while its headquarters are located in the city of Guadalajara.

The peasants say that the strawberry companies did not bring them the jobs they had dreamed of or the economic prosperity that the municipal governments had promised, on the contrary, they took the water with “gunshots”.

No solution to the matter

In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the peasants broke the confinement conditions due to the threat that, once again, this year, they could lose their corn crops, dozens of them attended a meeting scheduled with the mayor, Macarena Chávez, whom They demanded to remove the strawberry growers from the region.

These are peasants from the municipalities of Lagunillas, Huiramba, Morelia, Pátzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan and Acuitzio, located in the central region of the state of Michoacán, who are protesting the lack of rain and well water to maintain their crops.

Through the Movement of Peasants, Housewives, Ejidatarios Youth and Workers in Defense of Water, dozens of people demand that the water return and that the “agro-industry” leave Lagunillas. Ejidatario is a term applied to people that belong to a system called ejidos, a rustic modality of property founded by the Mexican State and unique in the world.

However, their demands have not had the effect they hoped for and the response to their demands seems more and more distant: the cessation of the use of the so-called anti-hail cannons, the closure of clandestine water wells and the closure of the strawberry greenhouses that exist in the region.

The peasants had a first institutional meeting with the Environmental Safety Board on July 8, 2020, where they agreed to call the region’s strawberry growers to account to complain about their role in the lack of water in the area.

But when the meeting took place, a couple of representatives of the strawberry growers assured that the farmers had a campaign dedicated to discredit them and that at no time did companies like Driscoll’s harm the environment.

Another problem is that there is no scientific consensus that determines that the use of anti-hail cannons has an impact on the clouds that bring the expected rain, in fact, this method is questioned internationally for its effectiveness and, so far, there is no evidence that it actually works either against rain or hail.

Between institutional meetings with representatives of the three levels of government, two months have passed without any alternative to solve the problem, meanwhile the rain does not arrive and the corn does not grow in the fields.

Without water or resources

The lack of evidence means that there is less and less chance of incriminating the strawberry growers, despite the fact that their arrival coincides with the scarcity of water in the region, from which not only the farmers of the center of Michoacán are supplied, but also the city of Morelia, the state capital

20 kilometers north of Lagunillas and about 8 kilometers south of the state capital is the Cointzio dam, one of the drinking water sources in the south of the city of Morelia, which currently stands at between 30 and 40 percent of its capacity due to the lack of rain.

“We need the support of the citizens of Morelia. They should come to see their Cointzio dam that has no water, in May they will see that there is no water, four years ago at this time of year the authorities used to relieve the dam, today they have no need because there is no water, right now maybe they don’t they notice, but in a little while they will need water, ”warned Agustín Gómez, from Ejido El Pedregal, in the municipality of Huiramba.

The dam is filled year after year with rainwater, but the lack of a regular season meant that neither the dam has water nor the peasant families of the region can plant regularly, putting their subsistence at risk.

The families of the central region do not produce corn to sell it, this product is their main source of subsistence and most of what is harvested stays at home for self-consumption, the other part is sold among neighbors.

“I see several around here who say ‘well, I don’t sow, I don’t care’ but they don’t start to think that those who do plant are the ones who sell to them, if we don’t even have it for ourselves, how are we going to sell to them ”, a farmer said.

Another problem of the lack of harvest is economic losses. An average plot in the Lagunillas region is a quarter of a hectare, that is, about 2,500 square meters, which is at risk of being completely lost, leaving its owners without money.

Between fertilizer, compost, pesticide, seeds and animals that must be rented to plow the land, families have to invest between 15,000 and 20,000 pesos to plant corn and beans on that land, money that goes to waste if it does not rain.

“If the corn doesn’t grow, if the beans don’t grow, then everything goes to waste … because you can see that beans are expensive. Imagine that in that plot about 10 sacks of beans are harvested, 50 (kilos), at 20 pesos per kilo, there are 10,000 pesos that are lost, plus the corn, plus the stubble for the cows ”, assured a farmer from the Huatzanguio community.

The worst part is that in addition to losing the money invested and the harvest that could have recovered it, they now have to buy the corn, beans and stubble in stores, which represents another blow to their depressed economy.

“We are already tired, this year we are going to lose money again, it has been three years since there is no water, there cannot be another year without water, people are already upset, tired, they will not endure another year without having their water , their corn, ” José Gutiérrez said.

From fatigue to protest

On Tuesday, September 22, 2020, a group of peasants armed with sticks moved to the railways that cross the municipality of Lagunillas, they were members of the Movement of Peasants, Housewives, Ejidatarios, Youth and Workers in Defense of Water.

The protesters closed the way to the train that travels from the port of Lazaro Cárdenas as a measure of pressure against the authorities in order to follow up on their complaints against the strawberry industry in the region.

“Comrades, it is time to fight for our territory, defend it against the Yankee invasion of the strawberry companies, we let our comrades from the Pátzcuaro region know that the struggle continues,” the peasants assured in a video they released.

The protesters assured that the negotiations with the Government of Michoacán are stalled and that they have not been given an answer, so they called for more radical protest actions to ensure that their demands are met.

This is one of the first demonstration actions carried out by the peasants, however, more and more people are demanding that there be more pressure against the state authorities to respond to their demands.
“It doesn’t rain because the strawberry growers don’t want it to rain and what is the government doing, well, nothing, the government leaves us alone, that’s why we are going to fight alone for our rights,” said Ana María Reyes, a farmer from Lagunillas.

The lady, annoyed at having lost a part of her corn, beans, wheat and broad beans two years in a row, is one of the hundreds of protesters who demand to increase the protests against the strawberry growers and the state government.

However, she is not only against the producers of fruits such as strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, but also against those who have avocado orchards in the hills that surround the region.

In towns such as Tiripetío, El Pedregal, Atécuaro there are also avocado orchards, another fruit that consumes the region’s water and that contributes to putting the food security of the region at risk.

“People want to come buy me corn, what little I have, I tell them no because we don’t know when the frost will come, when the corn won’t sprout, but I tell them ‘don’t worry, we have a lot of avocado, we are going to make avocado tortillas, and instead of beans we are going to put blueberries in it,’ if we don’t do that we are going starve, ”said Ana María Reyes.


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