Sotero Palencia holds a withered corn cob in his hand – the result of the harshest Mexican drought in over six decades and all that is left of his crop for this year.
Gesturing to the rest of the withered maize plants in his field, Palencia explains that what he has grown will only be sufficient to feed his few farm animals and will not be enough for his family to trade, or even eat.
His story is typical of the rural parts of the state of San Luis Potosi, just north of central Mexico, one of the worst drought-hit areas in the country. In Temascalito, Palencia’s village, many farmers did not even sow fields for fear of wasting the seed.
Some 313,000 hectares of crops were lost throughout the country in the months of July and August, according to Alberto Cardenas, Mexico’s secretary of agriculture. As a result, many small-scale farmers have now left their communities to search for work. For farmers like Palencia, this has proved to be 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.”
Depending on remittances
|Farmers say withered corn is the result of the harshest Mexican drought in over six decades|
In the past, the community could rely on money from relatives in the US during difficult times. Now, with the financial crisis north of the border, this has dried up and many are left without a source of income.
State and federal authorities have devised plans to deal with the water shortage.
“We are implementing state and federal government programmes that include deforestation, planting shrubs for grazing animals and creating more places to store water,” Gerardo Mendez, a government contract worker, says.
Despite these plans, locals claim that the government will not address the principal water problems they face because of the costs involved.
In Temascalito, the two local reservoirs are so full of soil that, even when it rains, not enough water can be collected to meet the needs of local families.
According to Beatriz Benavente, the state congresswoman, this is indicative of a government which does not see rural areas as a priority.
“The former government of San Luis Potosi was more concerned with dealing with business, generating an ornamental infrastructure of museums and convention centres. Those resources 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 that the drought has taken their crops, many of the younger generation are leaving rural areas for the city or even for the US.
This has aggravated an already existing exodus of young people; 50 per cent of Mexico’s remaining rural population is aged 50 and above, according to figures from the secretary of agriculture.
With winter fast approaching and no food or jobs, the future of some rural communities appears to be hanging in the balance.