You can also read this story on the Al Jazeera English website here.
Sotero Palencia holds the withered corncob in his hand. It is all that’s left of his crop for this year and the result of the harshest Mexican drought inover six decades. Gesturing to the rest of the withered maize plants in the field, he tells us that what he has grown will only be sufficient to feed his few farm animals, not enough for his family to trade, or even eat.
His story is typical of the rural parts of San Luis Potosi, in the North West of the country. In Temascalito, Sotero’s village, many farmers didn’t even sow the fields for fear of wasting the seed.
313 000 hectares of crops were lost throughout the country in the months of July and August, according to Alberto Cardenas, the Secretary of Agriculture. As a result, many small scale farmers have now left their communities to search for work. For farmers like Sotero this has proved a fruitless pursuit.
“You just get told ‘No we’re already full up, come back tomorrow, come back next week’. You wander around spending the last cent you have in transport and come back with your family waiting for you and you have nothing.”
In the past the community could rely on money from relatives in the US during difficult times. Now, with the crisis North of the border, this has dried up and they are left with no source of income. State and Federal authorities have arrived to help as Gerardo Mendez, a government contract worker, explains.
“We are implementing state and federal government programs that include reforestisation, planting shrubs for grazing animals and creating more places to store water.”
Despite these plans, locals claim that the government will not address the principal water problems they face. In Temascalito the two local reservoirs are so full of soil that, even when it rains, not enough water can be stored for the needs of local families. According to Beatriz Benavente, State Congresswoman, this is indicative of a government which has not prioritized rural areas.
“The former government of San luis Potosi was more concerned with dealing with business, generating an ornamental type of infrastucture with museums and convention centres. That resource never arrived at the countryside. I think if it had got there, we would have been able to save the crops of many small farmers.”
Now the drought has robbed them of their crops, many young men are leaving rural areas for the city or even for the US, aggravating an already existent rural exodus which has left rural Mexico with 50% of its inhabitants over 50 years old., according to figures from the Secretary of Agriculture. With Winter fast arriving and no food or jobs, the future of entire rural communities seems to be at stake.