Coyotes and Big Business Profit from Wealth Produced by Campesinos

“If you throw a stone here, a tree grows. In these lands, from good to bad, everything happens”, says Ismael Gómez Coronel, a producer located on the slopes of the Tacaná volcano, in the Soconusco region of Chiapas. However, his words seem to echo in his mind, as he is immediately silent, as if reflecting, to later add resignedly: “And despite that, we are full of poverty.”

This feeling is not unique to Don Ismael, as he is known in the community, but to practically all the small producers in the region, who not only face the uncertainty of the constant changes in the climate, but also other factors such as lack of support, marginalization, insecurity, and as if that were not enough, abuses from the so-called coyotes and big business, the greatest beneficiaries of their hard work.

In 2022 alone, according to data from the Bank of Mexico, the Mexican countryside sold agri-food products with a value of almost 50 billion dollars abroad, being the tenth biggest exporting country in the world; the sector is the third largest generator of foreign currency in the country, just below the automotive industry and remittances, and in that year, companies such as Bimbo, Gruma, Nestlé, etc., which depend on food, reported record profits.

All of the above are figures that are not reflected in the lives of small producers, since at least in Soconusco, Chiapas, the lungs of the south-southeast, a region where a third of the country’s food is produced, poverty is palpable.

Agro Predators

Year after year, according to campesinos from Chiapas, the sale of their production is “secured,” because even before it is planted, the crop already has an owner: the coyotes that besiege the communities, intermediaries between small producers and large companies, who take advantage of the need to set prices below the market price, and that, in addition, they have created a “financial scheme” that keeps the most needy campesinos trapped.

“The countryside is very complicated, it has many things, one as a farmer suffers a lot. The small producer is the one who carries all the load and is the worst paid”, points out Ismael Gómez.

For example, he explains, the bean producers in the region are paid between eight and 12 pesos per kilogram by the coyote, depending on the time and supply; however, they reach large companies or distributors and place it at 15, earning three pesos without having assumed production risks, while at the table it reaches people for at least 40 pesos per kilogram.

“That money stays with intermediaries. The coyote never loses, they and the marketers take their money for sure, but the producer does not”, he laments.

Data from the Agricultural Markets Consulting Group reveal that there are agricultural products that from the field to the table of consumers become almost 500 percent more expensive. For example, last May a staple food like the jalapeño pepper was bought from the producer for 4.80 pesos, but a family bought it for 27.72 pesos, a difference of 478 percent; or, the ball onion, whose price paid to the producer is 3.20 pesos per kilogram, reaches the consumer at a cost of 16.86 pesos, a difference of 427 percent. The same is repeated in most products.

“We have no choice but to sell to the coyote, because there are no options, there are no marketing channels, and no matter how little it is, people need fast money”, he points out.

The “fast money”, that is, the peasant’s need to obtain it to survive and prepare the next harvest, has been taken advantage of by the coyotes, who, according to Gómez Coronel, when planting is about to begin, approach the small producers to identify their deficiencies, offering loans in exchange for monthly interest, plus the promise that they will sell their harvest.

“With coffee, the coyotes give people money to catch them. Since April or so, when there is no production and the money from the previous crop has run out, the coyote approaches people offering them 500, 1,500, 2,000 pesos, whatever, for which he charges interest, which goes from five to ten percent per month, plus the commitment that he will deliver his harvest, let’s say at 28 pesos per kilo, then he goes and sells it to companies here in Tapachula for 30, there he already earned without making any effort, taking advantage of the need of the campesinos”, he says.

Celia Sánchez Escobar, a small producer from the Marte R. Gómez ejido, located in the municipality of Mazatán, Chiapas, proudly says that the bananas and mangoes from her orchard have an export certificate. However, the juicy profits from the foreign market fall far out of her hands, as each season she delivers her product to the coyotes or one of the large companies that surround the common land.

“We have the sale of the harvest secure; before we harvest we already have the coyote here, the problem is that they only pay you eight thousand pesos per hectare; that is a gift, but they give us the money later, which is used for all the expenses we have. The companies pay us a little more for our harvest, but the problem is that it takes up to one or three months to pay, and at most they give you an advance for land maintenance”, says the small producer, who is part of the Sembrando Vida program.

Sembrando Vida, Shadow and Light1

The federal government’s Sembrando Vida program seeks to contribute to the promotion of food self-sufficiency, with actions that favor the reconstruction of the social fabric and the recovery of the environment. It supports more than 450,000 peasants throughout the country.

One of these beneficiaries is Mrs. Celia, who says that the 6,000 pesos that she receives monthly through the program make “all the difference” for a small farmer, because they not only serve to maintain the farms and have a better production, but rather the savings (600 pesos per month) that they receive at the end of the year is key to buying machinery.

“As campesinos, the other governments had never helped us with anything. (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) is the first President to give us support, before everything was from our pocket and it was not enough for us,” she points out.

Amalia Cueto Aguilar, another small producer who is a beneficiary of the program, not only highlights the importance of Sembrando Vida for the community, but also the delivery of fertilizers from the government, since during the pandemic their price doubled: “Before they did not even give us fertilizers, but the commissioners always kept them and sold them cheap to the rich, there was never anything for the poor.”

Both peasants know that it is a program that must be improved, since they say that one of the requirements to receive the support is not to have more than 2.5 hectares of land, when there are those who have ten or more and they divide it among their children and even employees, so that each month they receive four or five payments; that is, between 24 thousand and 30 thousand pesos.

“There are abusive people who receive four or five supports, and even then they don’t even work their field well, there they have neglected everything,” laments Amalia Cueto.

Ismael Gómez, who is not a beneficiary, goes further, and despite acknowledging that it is a good program, highlights that it is insufficient and often does not reach those who need it most: “In Chiapas, Sembrando Vida has helped some 80,000, it is a great support for those who receive it, but, unfortunately, they are giving it to those who have the most; there are people receiving up to 80 thousand pesos a month. In addition, the countryside was decapitalized; that’s the only program because everything else was removed. Each crop had its own support, but not now.”

Far from Real Costs

Another serious problem facing the countryside, says Don Ismael, are the prices paid by intermediaries and companies to the peasant for their product, which, he assures, is very low, in many cases being less than the real value of production, which it forces the use of “free labor force”, that is, that of the family.

“For example, two years ago we did the math and a kilo of Robusta coffee had a production cost of 45 to 50 pesos for us, but they paid us 30 pesos, what’s happening? Well, to lower costs and make it profitable, we use the family’s work; we do not include that in the value”, he laments.

A study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), an international non-profit organization based in Minnesota, United States, recently revealed that since 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement began, Mexico has registered a “dramatic ” deterioration in its ability to produce its own food because in at least 16 of the 28 years to 2022, the United States exported food at prices between five and 40 percent below what it cost to produce it.

“No one knows more than us, the campesinos, what the true situation in the countryside is. And without fear of being wrong, it is dramatic. Before we protested, but today people are more concerned with putting food on the table today,” he points out.

Original article by Braulio Carbajal at
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

The representatio

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  1. This section of the article, despite recognizing some flaws and abuses, portrays Sembrando Vida in a more positive light with regard to its intentions and impacts. However, from the perspective communities in resistance, as well as participants in the program, we hear the negative impacts (such as deforestation) and divisiveness that it has caused in the region. Zapatistas and CNI members alike have denounced the program for nurturing a context of counterinsurgency and community division.
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