Developing alternative markets in Veracruz : the case of totomoxtle



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A series of economic and political changes that occurred in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s have had major impacts on the small-scale agricultural sector in Mexico. The debt crisis of the 1980s led the government to adopt the neoliberal model. Reforms brought by the adoption of this model including trade liberalization, privatization of state-owned enterprises, reduction and cancellation of credits and social programs, along with the relative abandonment of the agricultural sector and focus on the manufacturing and services industries have caused economic, social and environmental harm to corn producers in the Totonacapan region of the state of Veracruz. In order to respond to the impacts of these large-scale policies, farmers coped by migrating to cities and U.S., and by taking advantage of the emergence of alternative markets, such as the corn husk, or totomoxtle, industry. The objective of this study is to explain the context in which totomoxtle emerged and evolved, and determine the importance and impact that this market has had on corn producers, intermediaries and exporters, men, women and children. Based on qualitative data gathered during 2011 using semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and the examination of secondary sources, I found that the totomoxtle trade has expanded considerably in the last decade becoming the main source of income and employment for many marginal households in the Totonacapan. The study questions, however, its ability to be used as a tool for poverty alleviation. Findings suggest that intermediaries and exporters obtain larger profits than farmers thus elucidating the need for more access to capital and infrastructure to achieve higher benefits for growers. At the same time, research also found evidence of the different participation of women and men during the production and manufacturing of totomoxtle. Moreover, research show that women were paid less, work for more hours and they labor in small and crowed places. Finally, data also suggests that the growth of totomoxtle production can be attributed to the increased demand and consumption by Mexican/Latino immigrant populations in the U.S., a shift in the American palate, and its overall availability in new immigrant destinations.