Coffee, Policy, and Stability in Mexico

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Case Study #9-7 of the Program: ''Food Policy For Developing Countries: The Role Of Government In The Global Food System''
The fact that poor people will resort to violence to change the political and economic system that they believe is responsible for their poverty is not new. The link between poverty, violence, and instability has started to figure prominently in the agenda of strategic discussions in global fora and national governments, sparked by the increased sense of threat from terrorism felt by societies in developed countries. Analysts seem to agree that poverty, combined with a long list of factors, including ethnic disparities, social and economic inequalities, and resource disputes, can prepare the ground for conflict. Although poverty itself does not cause violent conflict, it does provide a basis for it. This case study is about the probable link between poverty and violent social uprisings in rural Mexico. It illustrates how the sudden exacerbation of poverty and exclusion, provoked largely by the implementation of market liberalization policies, may have been the trigger that led thousands of people to turn to violent rebellion against the rule of law, with immense and far-reaching social, economic, and political costs. In the early 1990s, coffee-producing populations in southern Mexico, already living in poverty and in generally marginal conditions, suddenly and simultaneously experienced a precipitous reversal of cash flows and an alteration in their usual paths of economic exchange. These changes resulted partly from an institutional change that happened too fast. The 1989 collapse of the International Coffee Agreement and the 1990 dismantling of the Mexican Coffee Institute triggered a sudden drop in coffee prices and disarray in domestic coffee markets that destabilized the economies of thousands of coffee-producing households. This case study argues that the suddenness and magnitude of the so-called coffee crisis that ensued may help explain when, how, and why two paramilitary armies with strong backing from the local population made their first public and violent appearance in the Mexican countryside in the mid- 1990s. Through this real-life example, this case study aims to stimulate thinking about what went wrong with policy and discussion on what can be done, or done better, by stakeholder groups to achieve both poverty and stability goals. The assignment is to identify key lessons learned for the design and implementation of government action in situations similar to the one described in this case.
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13 pp.
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Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences
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Beatriz Ávalos-Sartorio (2007). Case Study #9-7, ''Coffee, Policy, and Stability in Mexico''. In: Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng (editors), ''Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies.''13 pp.
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