Trinidad and Tobago illustrate the complex ways in which the food system in a small nation may be reliant on imports. Nonetheless, the country has established a competitive niche by adopting global food-processing techniques to utilize imported intermediates in locally owned facilities, rather than having foreign firms dominate the domestic food business. Because Trinidad and Tobago are so reliant on imported inputs, however, they are very susceptible to fluctuations in international markets, placing it in a precarious position for ensuring the availability of foods essential for a healthy diet, such as fruit and vegetables. Food consumption in the country is already dominated by cereals and sugar crops, and this reliance will only increase if the prices for processed-food inputs stay low, while fresh produce prices rise.
Our last example of the impact of imported inputs on local food systems is corn in Mexico. Corn is a traditional crop in Mexico that has cultural, religious, political, and economic significance for the indigenous groups in the country. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the rapid expansion of U.S. corn exports has transformed the cultivation of corn in Mexico to mimic those types available in the United States. Between 2003 and 2004 U.S. corn exports to Mexico increased by 240 percent (Zahniser and Coyle 2004). As of January 1, 2008, all tariffs on corn were abolished after a decade-long phase out. This change is expected to further accelerate the segmentation of the corn market in the region, with dire consequences for the farmers, processors, and sustainable diversity of Mexican-based corn varieties.
Yellow corn, which is primarily used as an input for animal feed, is the dominant U.S. corn export that supplements and competes with Mexican production. The increase in demand is attributed to the growing livestock industry, particularly hog and poultry that use corn-based feed, as opposed to soybeans in China. It is projected that Mexico’s livestock industry will become more consolidated, similar to the structure of U.S. livestock producers. White corn, which goes into tortilla production, is still mostly based in Mexico, although exports of white corn have risen since 2000.
Corn in Mexico is grown on small farms, where farmers typically have around 10 hectares of farmland and less access to tractors and irrigation. In comparison, corn in the United States is grown on farms with a typical size of over 270 hectares and it is highly mechanized. Corn in Mexico goes to one of the country’s 10,000 corn millers and 45,000 tortilla producers. Due to government support for the tortilla industry, Mexican producers have an advantage in the market. Corn flour production in Mexico is very concentrated, with the Mexican companies