ICRPS 2014 Summer School – Livestock auctions, (more) great food, and what to do with the leftovers?

Blog #8 – July 7, 2014

by Salman Banisadr

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ICRPS took us all to a livestock market that has been in operation for over 80 years, where 5,000 animals can be sold on a Monday (from 3am to the afternoon…busy hours are earlier). Here is a brief overview of the livestock farm–there is no fixed price for each animal and regulations are not enforced. 80 % of the animals are sold for consumption and the ejido–an area of communal land used for agriculture on which community members possess and farm a specific parcel—receives roughly 15 pesos for every animal sold. Buyers receive an invoice that ensures they own the animal and that it has been inspected and passed an exam by the veterinarian. We spoke with a vet from the UNAM university who serves as a sort of liaison between the ejido and the sellers, which is part of a recent effort to improve conditions for the animals. There is no auctioneer of intermediary, it is all done through bilateral agreement and remains an important social and cultural event for the local community providing cohesion and transference of values. It is an economic and social event with community values and should not be shut down, but surfaces questions of animal welfare and the visibility and quality of our food, which are often overlooked. During our debriefing session some interesting reflections were brought up. One student reflected that context is important, and we should not judge practices, such as animal cruelty, with our western mindset. Although the treatment of the animals seemed somewhat violent in this market, comparing it with the living conditions of animals in factory farms in the U.S. and Canada, livestock live a much healthier life in Mexico.

The visit to the corn farm was very informative in terms of how families live and work in the commons in Mexico.

We visited the farm and learned that the primary patriarch was the older brother of a group of siblings and they had inherited a block of the land from their parents. Instead of selling or working their lands individually they have chosen to combine their landholdings that allows federal subsidies, and additional funding options.
What was interesting was the innovative way the farm was situated in terms of the main land had corn plantations and there were two tomato greenhouses alongside the home. This was a family-run farm, which was unique to our field trips so far. The oldest brother managed the corn and his younger brother and his wife ran the tomato production operation.

Prior to 1992 the corn farm had average yields of 3 tons per hactare. Then the family chose to explore options as a coalition farm group by combining their lands, and governmental subsidies were thus more readily available. By agreeing and accepting professional help in how the corn farm was being maintained, the yield increased over time three fold. Government subsidies pay for the new hybrid breed of seeds, not genetically modified that is banned in the state but grown through cross breeding over generations.

By utilizing the government assistance, the brothers and their wives have centered the farm on their families for a better way of living and working. One of the wives told us as we were touring the tomato greenhouses that she used to travel to work by commuting every morning and evening, taking her away from her family for long periods of time and negatively affecting family life. Today none of the families need to supplement their incomes by working off-farm to improve their livelihood.
The families surprised us with their hospitality by preparing us an amazing mole with tostadas, cream and Jamaica juice, which was very much appreciated by our hungry stomachs. Their hospitality was a most welcome boost to our spirits.

Upon our return to the campus presentations focused on food waste, a major issue in the world, which if dealt with adequately, world hunger could be significantly reduced. Below is the link to a video shown in class, which is an initiative started by a supermarket chain in France to sell fruits and vegetables that all too-often get discarded due to their deformed appearance at a 30% discount rate. Moreover, we have also attached a link to a webpage that shows a typical week’s grocery for the average family across the world, to see what a middle class family consumes and how prices vary from country to country.

What the World Eats (per week)