According to Mexican farmers, government workers are asking them for bribes

Many activists refer to the program as “Sowing Death”

According to Mexican farmers, government workers are asking them for bribes
The government launched the program in a bid to help farmers and promote reforestation - Photo: Mario Jasso/CUARTOSCURO.COM
English 07/06/2020 12:58 Newsroom Mexico City Carlos Carabaña and Montserrat Peralta Actualizada 13:14

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Every month, farmer Raúl Esteban paid between MXN 100 and MXN 200 to the operators of the “Sembrando Vida” program, which aims to promote farming and planting trees. Charly López said project managers threatened to remove him from the program if he doesn’t agree to bribe them.
 
One year after the federal government launched one of its main projects, which consists on giving MXN 5,000 per month to farmers to work two and a half hectares, these two farmers and many others have revealed they were sent seeds once the rainy season was over, reported water shortages, droughts, dead plants, supply shortages, and logging.
 
According to documents obtained by EL UNIVERSAL, “Sembrando Vida” is following an improvised pattern.
 
Among the main issues are the lack of timber and fruit trees, supplies, materials, and equipment for nurseries, as well as experts and beneficiaries who don’t follow the program principles, along with an unclear roll.
 
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A document that dates back to September 17, 2019, indicates that “one of the biggest challenges to overcome is represented by the timely sowing of timbre and fruit trees, considering that we don’t have enough selection of plants to fulfill the demand of every community of farmers.”
 
A document from October 21, 2019, reveals that only 66% of the resources allocated to equipment were used. 

In March 2019, a month after the program was launched, farmer Armando Cruz joined “Sembrando Vida.” First, Cruz received 200 trees; however, the number later decreased and the expert told him he would have to use his money to purchase plants and seeds. The farmer explains that he spends almost half of the money the government pays the program beneficiary in plants and since experts force him to dedicate all his time to the program, he is struggling to make a living
 
Another document indicates that the program was unable to fulfill the needs of farmers in eight states: Campeche, Chiapas, Durango, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Veracruz, and Yucatán. It also contains a proposal to directly grant economic aid to the farmers’ representatives.
 
Although journalists requested the roll to the Welfare Ministry several times, the government department failed to provide concrete information. According to the reports released every three months, the program had 54,000 beneficiaries by March 2019; 212,000 by June 30, and 225,000 by December 31, 2019. 
 
Furthermore, a document from June 24, 2019, reports that several people have failed to fulfill their obligations and must be removed from the program. 
 
When the Welfare Ministry was questioned about the documents and the information contained in this article, it said experts are constantly monitored and that it wouldn’t tolerate corruption, and that more information would be released.
 
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Troubling numbers
 
According to Gustavo Sánchez, a member of the Mexican Network of Farmers and Forestry Organizations, there is “confusing information regarding the program, one of them is how the roll of beneficiaries is created.”
 
Sánchez adds that there is not “a public call and it’s not clear which criteria are used, there is [neither] an external evaluation of how they are picking [people]. The tradition of using programs to fight poverty in a clientelist way is a problem.”
 
Furthermore, Sánchez said it’s not clear if “Sembrando Vida” is a program to fight poverty, if it’s a reforestation program, or if it is an environment assistance program.”
 
Another issue is the plants: “Every year, Mexico produces quality plants for 20,000 hectares, then they plan to plant 500,000 in a year without having dedicated the previous biological cycle to produce the necessary supplies (…) Those of us who have been involved in forestry for a while knew it wasn’t going to be achieved, having quality plants is not improvised.”
 
In 2019, the Welfare Ministry aimed to farm 574 million plants and trees but it could only produce 80 million. It was argued that the Defense Ministry had a lack of plant selections, as well as climate factors. Nevertheless, there are several complaints against the experts: “Some academics told us that they stopped advising the program regarding the criteria to select promoters and experts after noticing they were being ignored and the criteria used was political.” Sánchez explained that “For example, they told us that one of them was a psychologist with no knowledge in forestry.”
 
According to farmers from Campeche, Tabasco, and Yucatán, the so-called experts requested bribes between MXN 100 and MXN 200. 
 
A farmer from Tabasco explained that the government sent money to create a biofactory, a toilet, and an irrigation system, for his nursey: “They had the money but them the told us that there wasn’t, that we had to cooperate to build the biofactory.”
 
In Tabasco, farmer Charly López says experts request MXN 50 per month from each beneficiary, to allegedly purchase supplies; however, they are always asked for more money. He adds that “Noone questions anything because we live under the threat that we are going to be removed from the program. We give them money to prevent it.”
 
Sergio Rivera, a member of Veracruz NGO Calixaxan, said that “ in a visit to inspect the work in a community in the mountains of Totonacapan, we observed that they were deforesting a coffee plantation and several cedar trees. (...) The farmers who were with me told me that they were ‘sowing death,’ that people do this to enter the program.”
 
Local organizations in Quintana Roo also use the name “sowing death,” where the program logged a part of the jungle to create a nursery, as shown in satellite pictures. In another case registered in the state, the Forestry Association of Quintana Roo revealed farmers logged almost 10,000 jungle hectares.
 
Despite several testimonies, the program administration has denied the accusations. 
 
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