The political organization of sugarcane production in Western Mexico

E. Guzman - Flores

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    <p>The strike of CNC sugarcane producers and the immediate response by the refinery administration are a good example of the ongoing political negotiations between the main actors involved in the organization of sugarcane production in the Valley of Autlán-El Grullo. I introduced in Chapter I the protagonists of sugarcane production participating in the social drama of confrontation and negotiation. I have described in Chapters 3, 4 and 5 the socio-economic conditions in which local peasants and farmers have evolved their decision to grow sugarcane. These social actors disclosed a wide range of skills and acute understanding of social institutions. This holds true among all producers from the smallest to the largest. The ways in which these different actors have got involved in sugarcane production defy the images of powerless reactive peasants and farmers that abound in the social analyses on Mexico.<p>Sugarcane producers in the valley successfully lobbied the Mexican Government to attract public investment into the region, which arrived as a sugar refinery with the financial resources to build access roads and improve the conditions of the irrigation canals which had been neglected. The reconstruction of how these peasants and farmers brought to the region public investment to build a refinery and how they have developed, with the encouragement of the refinery, their own organizations to deal with the refinery administration, was covered in Chapter 6. In Chapter 7, the last chapter, I have closed the circle with a description of a negotiation between producers and refinery administration which reached a satisfactory agreement to all parts involved, this negotiation highlights the shifting alliances and interests among participants.<p>The methodological approach to the subjects of study was a down-up actor- oriented approach. Although I would not claim I was a <em>tabula rasa</em> when I started the research I would certainly emphasise that this approach allowed me to immerse myself in the different individual perspectives which were, in spite of their contradictions, complementary to grasp the ethos of the organization of sugarcane production in the region. The individual cases illustrated their complex structuring of institutional arrangements. As North (1993) describes, individual decision-making follows guides provided by the institutions which shape human interaction in historically contexts. These structures provide social actors with incentives and guidance in the political, social and economic arenas which they apply and develop in their organizations. Sugarcane producers assume institutional constrains to diminish the uncertainty in their everyday life. On the one hand their participation in local economic and political organizations have repercussions beyond their region as on the other the national organizations impinge on their activities. My study has focused on the ways how these different levels of political and economic organization at national and local level are brought together by the social actors involved in sugarcane production.<p>Some of these local peasants and farmers participated in the initial negotiations to bring the refinery into the valley, others had to be lured to grow sugarcane. Their decision-making, in contrast with sugarcane producers in other regions, was based on the pursue of their own interest. As I described in Chapter 2, this was possible because they could make their decision when the state direct intervention in sugarcane production was trying to boost a steady supply of sugar for the domestic market; after several private refinery owners had gone into bankruptcy precipitating the crisis of sugar production at the end of the 1960s (Purcell, 1981: 224-225). These national conditions provided local peasants and farmers with room for manoeuvre. They could join forces with sugarcane producers in other regions and ask for better terms of production. Thus, they did not have to overturn archaic structures of exploitation as sugarcane producers in other regions in Mexico did (see Ronfeldt, 1975). These conditions were propitious for an organization of production where all the parts involved may have an equal participation. However, these propitious conditions only provide the institutional arena where social actors have to negotiate and implement the agreed plans for the organization of production. In other regions, sugarcane producers have not been able to seize as much control over production as the producers in the Valley of Autlán-El Grullo.<p>The possible explanations to the type of organization of production agreed by sugarcane producers and refinery administrators in the valley have to be extracted from the specific historical conditions in which these social actors were immersed and how they not only rely on the hegemonic social, economic and political institutions but transform them to fulfil their need and aspirations. In the case of local peasants and farmers, they have learned how to deal with the dominant political party, which pervades in a corporatist way the negotiations between the governmental institutions and the civil society (see Jessop, 1990). Each local peasant or farmer has found a way to deal with the refinery employees. As I discussed in Chapter 7, the refinery administrators have a different agenda to the producers, they look up to the national echelons of public administration, which is their line of command and where they would like to secure a place. These administrators have to reconcile the producers' demands with the national policies they have to implement and their careers, which is an extremely difficult task.<p>However all parts involved in the organization of production seemed to have been able to work out a <em>modus</em><em>vivendi</em> where they have conciliated their differences and run efficiently the organization of production in the Valley of Autlán-EI Grullo, which made the refinery Melchor Ocampo one of the most efficient in the country. As it was transparent in most comments, this was not achieved easily but the results have been worthwhile the effort. And these results provide an example of a successful cooperation between public administrators and local producers.<p>The sound financial record and good level of productivity made this refinery an attractive investment when the privatising wave reached the sugar refineries in the early 1990s. As it could have been expected, the Ingenio Melchor Ocampo was one of the first refineries to be sold to CNC. How this change of ownership has affected all parts involved in the organization of sugarcane production in the valley must be assessed in a re-study.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    Award date19 Jun 1995
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789054853459
    Publication statusPublished - 1995


    • saccharum officinarum
    • sugarcane
    • agricultural policy
    • green revolution
    • economics
    • mexico

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