Migrant Workers & the Food System

I went to Costa Del Sol many years ago, and I don't remember seeing all this sitting on the warm beaches, drinking a virgin daiquiri. The farm owners must know that if migrant workers were more visible, there would be instant condemnation. Unfortunately, exploitation of migrant workers is a global problem and not much is being done about it. The vast majority of these workers have the same story: desperate working conditions, no money to pay for the cost of living and a dream to do better for their families and communities. But many of them regret even immigrating in the first place.

According to the Genesseo Migrant Center, in the United States there are approximately three million migrant workers who are primarily of Mexican origin but also from Jamaica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other countries. Most of them work in farms throughout the country, making sure we have fresh fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets. But sometimes they can't even afford to eat the food they grow.

From The Economist:

...As Tom Joad in Steinbeck’s novel discovered, many farmworkers, even as they spend their waking hours picking food for others, can barely afford to eat. Between harvests they have no work. When they do work, their wages are meagre. The workers picking grapes with this correspondent got $8 an hour. That is vastly superior to the $9 a day—not hour—which the tractor driver says he used to get at home in Mexico. But costs in the United States are higher too...

In a country where illegal immigration has become a hot topic and the national unemployment rate is reaching double digits, one would think Americans would want to take these jobs.

...At a time of high unemployment, many Americans are convinced that these aliens take American jobs. As a test, this summer the United Farm Workers (UFW), the main agricultural union, launched a campaign called “Take Our Jobs”, inviting willing Americans to work in the fields. In the following three months 3m people visited takeourjobs.com, but 40% of the responses were hate mail, says Maria Machuca, UFW’s spokesman. This included e-mails such as one reading: “We’re becoming more aggressive in our methods. Soon it may come to hands on, taping bitches to light posts.”

Only 8,600 people expressed an interest in working in the fields, says Ms Machuca. But they made demands that seem bizarre to farmworkers, such as high pay, health and pension benefits, relocation allowances and other things associated with normal American jobs. In late September only seven American applicants in the “Take our jobs” campaign were actually picking crops...

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Egypt: Its the Economy (Food, Fuel), Stupid...

For the last week, the world media has turned its focus on the ongoing protests in Egypt and other countries in the region. Many ask why there are thousands of young people taking to the streets. Democracy? Free Speech? Israel? Dictators? US foreign policy? Like in Tunisia, based on the reaction of the Egyptian protesters interviewed by the media, all of the above play a role.

While most Westerners who don't usually follow news out the Middle East may have initially thought the upheavals had something to do with Islamic fundamentalism, most protesters are not only complaining about US-backed dictators who suppress free speech, but also about many of the same issues Americans are worried about - high unemployment and skyrocketing basic living costs. With the most recent U.S. unemployment numbers out this week, Americans and Egyptians might actually have more things in common.

According to the International Labour Organization, the Middle East has the world's highest unemployment rate. Unemployment in the region is 10.3 percent compared to 6.2 percent on average globally, and approximately 40 percent of those under 25 years of age in the region are jobless.
While the IMF already predicted a "strong recovery for the job markets in Europe and the United States," the Middle East still has to work on structural factors capable of changing their dynamics. The priority, both for oil-producing countries and those that do not have energy reserves, is to absorb an already high number of young people ready to enter onto the job market, a figure that continues to grow on a yearly basis.
Furthermore, when the spike in the cost of living is added on, then you really have a problem.
Food costs are among the grievances of demonstrators around the region as global food prices hit record highs in December, above levels that prompted riots in 2008, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which warned prices of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar are set to climb.
Also, Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, bringing in 11 millions tons into the country each year. Many observers are starting to blame the growing biofuel industry. In particular, the U.S. government has been encouraging farmers to grow less wheat and more corn - thanks to subsidies, and more corn is being used to produce fuel instead of food, which contributes to rising food prices.

So, it really doesn't matter when or if Hosni Mubarak leaves office because really these bigger picture issues need to be addressed better to actually bring change for people in the region.

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