The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) brought insecurity to the doorsteps of Mexican farmers. Flooding the market with U.S. rice, it drove more than 18,000 rice growers out of business, causing a drastic decline in production. Today, the government and the country’s rice growers’ association aims to raise national production to 360,000 tons by 2018 (nearly double the amount expected in 2016) and break the dominance of US rice in the Mexican market. It will depend largely on three things: a strengthened rice sector, support from the federal government, and the success of recently released improved rice varieties. According to the Mexican Rice Council, which represents 13 private companies and 11 state agricultural councils, Mexico had 25,000 rice growers and 74 related businesses before NAFTA. Afterward, the numbers fell to 6,200 growers and 20 businesses. 5 years ago, tons of cheap rice from the U.S. began to flood the Mexican market, causing local production to collapse. The Mexican rice sector was ill-prepared to cope with NAFTA, the agreement among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that came into effect during 1994. To make matters worse, the Mexican government lowered subsidies for rice growers. Disease outbreaks took a further toll on production. The most critical year for Mexico´s rice sector was 2011, when the country imported 89 percent of its rice supplies from the United States and Asia.
Three organizations joined hands to combat the challenge to reinforce Mexico’s rice sector, namely, the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR); creation of the Consortium for Rice Research and Development (Cindearroz) and National Institute for Research on Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock (INIFAP). The joint efforts of the FLAR´s 17 member countries led to the development of a new model for high productivity involving improved agronomic practices, which has been replicated in Mexico with encouraging results. Every year, FLAR sends about 250 improved lines from its headquarters at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), based in Cali, Colombia, for performance testing in Mexico. Since 2012, FLAR has also developed with CMA a program for training technicians and farmers in improved rice agronomy
In the most difficult period for Mexico´s rice production, it became obvious that the country needed a new generation of improved rice varieties to be developed by INIFAP, using germplasm provided by FLAR. As a result of this collaboration, growers now have two aces up their sleeve for competing with imported rice: INIFLAR Riego and INIFLAR Riego Temporal, new varieties that have long, thin grains like those of rice from the U.S. and Asia but that better match the quality preferences of Mexican consumers. The new variety created long ago by IR8, which is called Milagro Filipino (Filipino Miracle) in Mexico and is still preferred by some consumers came back to restore national production for the benefit of local consumers. Other varieties like INIFLAR Riego and INIFLAR Riego Temporal planted by the farmers might be the precursors to a new stage in production but are showing results and have already started gaining ground in Mexico. Farmers are waiting for the first harvest, which they believe could reach 10 tons per hectare. This year, they were sown on more than 3,000 hectares and will enter the Mexican market for the first time. Today, these farmers hope that Mexican-grown rice can make a comeback. Mexico´s 6,200 rice growers hope that the rice sector can witness a new miracle, which will not come from the Philippines this time, but from the joint efforts of a sector that believes in the future.