“Rural Mexico’s Silent Crisis” Photographs by Joseph Sorrentino

A photographic exhibit by Dr. Joseph Sorrentino, entitled “El Campo: La Crisis En Silencio – Rural Mexico’s Silent Crisis,” is on display in Edward G.  Miner Library from September 1 through October 31, 2009. An artist’s reception is scheduled for Thursday, October 15, from 2-4 p.m., featuring a presentation by Dr. Sorrentino at 3 p.m. and a Fair Trade coffee tasting, courtesy of Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters.

"Pablo" by Joseph Sorrentino

"Pablo" by Joseph Sorrentino

The images elicit a range of emotions from the viewer – sadness, empathy, shame, respect, hope. All images are in black and white, an approach that complements and strengthen’s Dr. Sorrentino’s message.

In the artist’s own words:

“Rural Mexico (el campo) is in crisis and that crisis is becoming a disaster. Over 80% of campesinos (rural workers) are considered “extremely poor,” which is defined as earning about $2 a day. While campesinos always have been poor, their situation recently has worsened. Coffee growers have been hit with depressed coffee prices, cacao growers are facing a fungal infection that has wiped out 80% of their harvest, vanilla growers can’t find markets; and with the full implementation of NAFTA, campesinos are effectively competing with multinationals. As it becomes increasingly difficult to earn money in villages, more people—mostly young men—leave to seek work in larger Mexican cities and the US. In many villages, there are almost no young men left. Surprisingly, in spite of the closeness of Mexico and America and the long history between us, there is little in the media about this crisis. Instead, virtually all the coverage is about the drug wars, swine flu, and immigration.

I have made six extended trips to Mexico, the last two focusing on the crisis in el campo. The poverty there is worsening and the only glimmer of hope I found were the groups working to promote fair trade, which guarantees farmers a better price for their goods. These groups also promote organic farming, sustainable agriculture and campesino rights. But these groups face repression from within Mexico (often severe) and a scarcity of markets outside.

Some of the world’s best coffee comes from the mountains of Oaxaca and Puebla, where many campesinos grow organic, shade-grown coffee. This is coffee that is not only gourmet but grown in a way to minimize negative impacts on the environment. Yet campesinos growing it live in dire poverty. The only hope that the situation will change lies with organizations that promote Fair Trade. A study published by two researchers from Tufts University in 2005 found that Fair Trade can double a campesino’s income. Fair Trade organizations not only pay more for coffee (and other products) but offer a large range of programs designed to lift campesinos out of poverty.

Although I bought Fair Trade (FT) coffee before my stay in the coffee-growing regions of Oaxaca and Puebla, since then I’ve become more convinced that Fair Trade is the only…well, fair way to do business. FT coffee can double a campesinos income. When I wrote an article about FT coffee earlier this year, I learned that the difference in cost between a cup of FT coffee and non-FT coffee is two cents. Turns out it doesn’t cost much to make the world a little more just.”

E-mail: joso1444@usa.net

Website: www.sorrentinophotography.com

Affiliated NGOs: Instituto Maya; Tosepan Titataniske (www.tosepan.com); Comercio Justo Mexico (www.comerciojusto.com.mx); Sin Maiz No Hay Pais (www.sinmaiznohaypais.org); ANEC (www.anec.laneta.apc.org); The Mexican Vanilla Plantation (www.themexicanvanilla.com.mx)

This project was supported by the Justice and Journalism Fund established by USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism with Ford Foundation funding and the Puffin Foundation.

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