Preferred Citation: Rock, David, editor. Latin America in the 1940s: War and Postwar Transitions. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1994 1994.

10 The Origins of the Green Revolution in Mexico Continuity or Change?

The Origins of the Green Revolution in Mexico
Continuity or Change?

Joseph Cotter

The "Green Revolution" in Mexico originated in 1943 in the Mexican Agricultural Project (MAP) established by the Rockefeller Foundation. Previous scholarly works have treated the early stages of the revolution from the perspective of the economic or foreign policy interests of the United States, of which the Rockefeller Foundation is portrayed as an agent. To these authors Mexican interest in Rockefeller Foundation assistance arose from a new spirit of cooperation between the two nations during World War II and represented an abrupt shift from the proagrarian policies of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) to the emphasis on industrialization under President Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940–1946). Further, the founding of the MAP has been portrayed as the abandonment of an autarkic and progressive agricultural science policy prevailing before 1943 in favor of one relying on foreign technologies inappropriate for Mexico's small-scale peasant farmers.[1] A recent monograph captures this interpretation well through the subtitle employed in discussing the origins of the MAP: "The Green Revolution and the Counterrevolution."[2]

Hitherto no Mexican archival sources have been used to illustrate how events and trends in Mexico influenced the origins of the MAP. Why did Mexico choose to abandon Mexican-directed agricultural improvement programs in favor of technologies imported from the United States? Did pre–1943 agricultural research and extension programs represent a successful, or potentially successful, attempt to develop an alternative agricultural technol-


ogy more appropriate to the conditions of peasant agriculture? Did Mexico actually reject foreign agricultural science and technology before 1943? In this chapter I discuss pre-1943 Mexican agricultural research and extension programs and the development of Mexican agricultural research institutions during the same period. In particular I review the role of foreign agricultural science and technology, including direct technical assistance, in such programs and the attitudes of the Mexican agricultural research community toward such assistance.

Starting in the 1920s, and gaining strength during the Cárdenas administration, some agricultural researchers in Mexico adopted the ideology of "scientific nationalism": agricultural development programs had to be based on the results of research done in Mexico alone in order to be successful. Cynthia Hewitt de Alcantara's monograph Modernizing Mexican Agriculture , published in 1976, stresses the importance of this idea during the 1930s in discussing the agricultural research and extension programs of the Cárdenas administration. Relying on a 1971 interview with Edmundo Taboada, a plant genetics specialist, she argues that Mexican agricultural researchers were "little interested in importing technology from abroad."[3]

In this chapter, however, I illustrate that "scientific nationalism" was always more rhetorical than real. The lack of an experimental tradition within Mexican agricultural science continually undercut an autarkic approach to agricultural science. The Green Revolution is therefore better understood as the outcome of a long-term Mexican dependence on foreign agricultural science and technology rather than as an abrupt break from the past or an expression of the larger changes in policy led by the administrations of the 1940s. Moreover, from the perspective of agricultural science, the 1940s—so often in other respects seen as a major turning point in Mexican history—marked only a continuation, or at most an acceleration, of past trends.

Indeed, internal developments in Mexico set the stage for the arrival of the MAP in 1943. After twenty years of government-sponsored agricultural research and extension programs that had mostly failed, many concluded that Mexican agricultural researchers, particularly the agrónomos (agronomists), were parasitic bureaucrats rather than "scientists." By the late 1930s national corn production could no longer meet demand, forcing imports from the United States. In 1937 a banana disease began to destroy this profitable export industry, despite a government campaign to eradicate it.


Problems with the supply of other agricultural commodities also surfaced during the late 1930s. By this time various researchers and branches of the Mexican government had decided that foreign help was essential if progress was to be made toward improving agricultural productivity.

Agricultural Science Policy before 1933

The Mexican government first sponsored agricultural research and extension programs during the last years of the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship.[4] Between 1905 and 1910 the Mexican government sent study groups abroad, contracted a few European scientists, and introduced foreign varieties of wheat. During this period, and even earlier, the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura, founded in 1864, was training professional agronomists, although very few found employment in agriculture: most were shunned by the Mexican hacendados (landowners). Not surprisingly, most of the agronomists later committed themselves to the revolution that overthrew the Díaz regime in 1910 and participated in the first attempts at land redistribution. Among them was Marte R. Gómez, who served with the zapatistas and later as secretary of agriculture in the administration of President Manuel Ávila Camacho, who signed the agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation that established the MAP. Others rode with Pancho Villa or joined the ranks of Gen. Alvaro Obregón in Sonora. Many of the agrónomos held political office or served the ruling Partido Nacional Revolucionario during the 1920s and 1930s.[5] The close ties between the agrónomos and the Mexican state after the revolution significantly influenced the evolution of the profession, causing the public to associate it with specific policies, particularly the agrarian reform.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government again expressed interest in sponsoring agricultural research and extension programs under President Venustiano Carranza (1915–1920). Carranza founded the Dirección de Estudios Biológicos (Office of Biological Studies), a research institute within the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento (SAF) (Secretariat of Agriculture and Development), under the direction of Alfonso Herrera, a biologist. This agency, supposedly charged with conducting agricultural research, actually focused most of its attention on taxonomic projects of purely scientific interest, such as preparing catalogues of Mexican fauna and flora, but this situation led to conflicts with the Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and the decay and eventual demise of the


agency during the late 1920s.[6] The SAF also organized the "trenes de maquinaria agrícola " (trains of agricultural machinery), which toured the country promoting agricultural machinery manufactured in the United States.[7]

The commercial activities of the SAF, and its uninspiring overall performance, led to public criticism of both the agency and the agronomists, leading to a period of professional introspection during the early 1920s. At this point the agrónomos created the Sociedad Agronómica Nacional (National Agronomic Society) and sought to influence President Alvaro Obregón (1920–1924), who had some personal interest in agricultural modernization. During the organization's 1922 national convention, the agronomist Eustacio L. Contreras made a scathing attack on the corrupt practices, sorganization, and petty politics of the SAF, arguing that the guild had to develop a new sense of professional responsibility and closer relations with Mexican farmers to improve its public image.[8]

Members of the guild took Contreras's criticisms to heart. Several spoke of the profession's duty to modernize Mexico's backward agricultural practices. In meetings in 1922 and 1923 various agrónomos called for government programs to improve pest-control practices and fruit tree cultivation; to promote silk production, forest conservation, the practice of crop rotation, and the use of fertilizers; to rid the country of the Egyptian plow; and to disseminate "all the new trends the farmer must understand in order to implant them in his procedures."[9]

Other agronomists argued that the profession should engage in social, economic, and political activities such as improving rural health and education, organizing farmers into cooperatives, and helping them petition for land. These ideas led to the "proyectismo " approach to agricultural research and extension that became typical of almost all such programs until 1940.[10] The essence of proyectismo was that all Mexico's agricultural problems, technical and nontechnical, should be tackled simultaneously whatever the shortages of funds and trained personnel. Most members of the profession loudly advocated agrarian reform and called for Obregón to step up its pace.[11] During the mid-1920s the government employed more than twice as many agronomists in the Comisión Nacional Agraria (National Agrarian Commission), the agency responsible for carrying out the land refcrm, as it did in research and extension programs in the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento. Furthermore, the SAF's regional extension agents often spent their time organizing peasants and helping them petition for land.[12] Despite the


plea of Juan de Dios Bojórquez, an agronomist, that the profession should avoid becoming "a new political group" that "would act in national life with partisan ends," by the end of the 1920s the public perception of the guild as professional bureaucrats and agrarian agitators had become solidly entrenched.[13]

The desire of the agrónomos to be more active in modernizing Mexican agriculture generated a commitment to "scientific nationalism." In 1923 for example, a SAF poultry expert, Rufino Monroy wrote:

How to start? The question that all who begin poultry keeping ask. Unfortunately in Mexico, those who could give the answer have not done it, because the majority of writers on the subject have concentrated on the translation of articles from North American authors, which are hardly appropriate to our situation, given that they have been developed to confront the problems of another, in some cases very different, climate. Particularly if the article is not perfect for the locality it was written for, after it is poorly translated and put into practice outside its own locale, the advice turns out to be very bad and harmful because following it leads to disaster.[14]

This idea of scientific nationalism emerged during the early 1920s, and agricultural researchers continued to expound it during the 1930s.[15] However, the lack of an experimental tradition worked against an autarkic approach to science, and "scientific nationalism" did not go much beyond a purely rhetorical level.

The establishment of the agrónomos regionales (regional extension agents) in 1923 represented the first attempt by the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento at direct agricultural extension. Originally organized on the basis of the agronomist Gonzalo Robles's study of extension services in the United States, during its early years the program underwent several extensive reorganizations.[16] At the same time, the scarcity of funds led to continual reductions in the number of agents, until in 1933 only twelve of the originally budgeted thirty-five remained.[17] In 1925 the SAF appointed Juan A. González, an agronomist educated in the United States and a friend of Henry A. Wallace, to direct the extension service. He expanded the reach of extension programs by using prominent local farmers as agricultural promoters (promotores agrócolas ), and establishing young farmer's clubs in schools (clubes de fomento agrícola ).[18]


Extension programs under the direction of González attempted to improve cultivation of many different crops but resulted in an excessive dispersal of effort. The notion that the corn-based diet of the Mexican people was deficient, and a desire to increase peasant incomes by substituting more remunerative crops in place of corn, generated campaigns to promote the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. The Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento encouraged farmers to import seeds of foreign-developed high-yield varieties, especially cotton and wheat. The extension agents often focused their efforts on arranging empirical tests of these imported varieties, examining their performance under Mexican conditions.[19]

From the mid-to late-1920s the SAF conducted a campaign to promote the use of agricultural machinery and iron plows.[20] After the onset of the depression in 1930 the SAF began several extension campaigns to promote the cultivation of export crops, such as melons, using imported seeds, in the state of Morelos.[21] In a similar vein, the agency promoted crops that aimed to reduce imports, such as sesame or grapes.[22] By 1934 the program with imported wheat strains achieved some success by encouraging the cultivation of "Marquis" wheat in the Bajío states and "Defiance" wheat in northern Mexico, especially Sonora.[23]

To increase corn production, the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento organized the campaña en pro del maíz (campaign in favor of corn). This approach involved using lectures, demonstrations, radio broadcasts, and articles in the national press to convince farmers to practice seed selection based on the morphological characteristics of standing plants, to disinfect seeds with commercial products, to store them properly, and to conduct germination tests to ensure their viability. Although the agrónomos were familiar with the corn-breeding experiments conducted in the United States, they had little experience or interest in experimental research. The peasant, not the agronomist, was supposed to become the plant breeder.[24] Alongside the methods of the campaña the SAF tried to introduce U.S. hybrid corn varieties and test planted them in various parts of the country. In the mid-1920s the government considered establishing an autonomous department to carry out an intensive program to improve corn cultivation, including the development of hybrids. However, the plan was rejected, partly out of recognition that Mexico lacked sufficient trained personnel for a program of this type.[25]

The SAF focused on extension programs and conducted relatively little


agricultural research during this period. From 1928 to the early 1930s the Comisión Nacional de Irrigación (National Irrigation Commission) operated experimentation stations in the Don Martín irrigation district, near Rodríguez, Nuevo León, and in the "President Calles" project in Pabellón, Aguascalientes, but these stations limited their work to empirical tests of native and imported crop varieties in an attempt to ascertain which performed best under local conditions. An experimentation station established on the grounds of the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura likewise confined its works to empirical tests, usually of imported crop varieties.[26]

Between 1928 and 1930 the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento conducted tests of soil fertility using the Newbauer system of plant nutrient uptake and in 1933 with German assistance tested chemical fertilizers on coffee plantations in Veracruz and wheat fields in Jalisco.[27] Between 1926 and 1929 an SAF agronomist, Pandurang Khankhoje, who had been educated at the University of Oregon, developed a hybrid corn strain as part of his research on the genetic origins of the plant. However, the government displayed little interest in the project, and the assignment of Khankhoje to an SAF commission to Europe in 1930 disrupted the continuity of the research.[28] From 1920 to 1933 various private parties conducted agricultural research in Mexico, including developing hybrid plant varieties, but again the government expressed no interest in them and gave them no financial support.[29]

Regardless of "scientific nationalism," during the 1920s the Mexican government and agricultural researchers did not reject foreign agricultural science or technical assistance. Various Mexicans working in agricultural science spoke admiringly of the agricultural technologies of the United States and other foreign nations and called on Mexico to copy them.[30] By sending its technicians to the United States for training, the Mexican government sought to improve the agricultural statistics department of the SAF, its campaign to promote fruit and nut production and tree nurseries in the state of Chihuahua, and its rural secondary educational institutes (Escuelas Centrales Agrícolas).[31] Meanwhile, at the Colegio Agrológico in Meoqui, Chihuahua, the Comisión Nacional de Irrigación enlisted the aid of the University of California to train Mexican technicians in the science of agrology.[32] Thus in all these cases the Mexican government responded to failed programs by seeking assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, some of Mexico's more affluent and progressive agriculturists likewise sought technical advice from the


United States, and a few farmer organizations hired North American technical specialists to advise them regarding their agricultural practices.[33]

In 1928 the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento approved a request from the United States to establish a laboratory in Mexico City and a test plot in Tamaulipas when the Mexican fruit fly became a threat to North American growers.[34] After raising the idea in 1928, in 1929 the SAF gladly agreed to a U.S. proposal for a joint campaign to control the pink bollworm, which was threatening Texas cotton fields in the border areas while causing losses to Mexican growers in the La Laguna and other areas. The influential agronomists Gonzalo Robles and Luis L. León, minister of agriculture under President Plutarco Elías Calles (1924–1928), advocated importing foreign scientists to help to address the deficiencies in knowledge of experimental methods among the Mexican agricultural research community.[35]

From 1925, the first year in which fairly reliable statistics are available, to 1933 the yields of most important Mexican crops (corn, beans, wheat, henequen, coffee, bananas, cacao) stagnated, while the yields of crops whose seeds came primarily from imported sources such as tomatoes and potatoes either increased or, as with cotton, stood at the same level of those in the advanced agricultural nations.[36] This situation, combined with the crisis caused by the onset of the Great Depression, led to another outburst of debate regarding the future of agricultural development in Mexico.

Many important political figures, including former president and behind-the-scenes power broker Calles, along with prominent intellectuals decried the backward methods of Mexican farmers. Some called the agrarian reform a failure, and advocated terminating it.[37] The agrónomos , closely associated with the agrarian reform in the public's mind, likewise became subject to criticism because they were seen as responsible for the low agricultural productivity in Mexico. Between November 1931 and mid-1932 a series of articles appeared in the newspaper El Universal that accused the agronomists of ineptitude and corruption, argued they had contributed nothing to the improvement of Mexican agriculture, and demanded they end their involvement in the political cause of the agrarian reform.[38] Elsewhere, some argued that agrónomos preferred receiving financial rewards to offering any real social services and that they cared little for improving agriculture; they were content to be unproductive bureaucrats in comfortable offices in Mexico City. One report claimed the agronomists knew nothing about improving the productivity of farming; they were mere administrators or surveyors; foreign


technicians should be brought in to take over agricultural extension services.[39]

The agronomists responded by launching a campaign to defend the profession. In 1931 various graduates of the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura revived the defunct Sociedad Agronómica Nacional, calling their new professional organization the Sociedad Agronómica Mexicana (SAM). The SAM vowed to continue the struggle to bring social, political, and economic redemption to Mexico's rural lower classes through agrarian reform and the application of modern science to farming practices.[40] The approach of the agronomists to the problems of Mexican agriculture was not restricted to technical issues like the use of fertilizers or crop varieties. It also involved rural hygiene and public health, organizing the farmers to increase the power of the producer relative to that of commercial interests, raising the education level of the peasantry, combating the hold of religion on the campesino , and raising political consciousness.[41]

Yet most agronomists agreed that the profession had accomplished little toward improving agricultural productivity. However, they denied they were to blame and instead attributed the failure of earlier programs to inadequate government financial support, poor planning and leadership, insufficient program continuity, and the personnel policies of the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento.[42] Once more the Sociedad Agronómica Mexicana requested the government to certify agronomy as a profession in the service of the state and to grant the agrónomos a greater role in the planning and execution of future agricultural research and extension programs.[43] The agronomists reiterated the sentiments of "scientific nationalism" from the 1920s.[44] Yet, despite the nationalistic fervor of this period, Mexico did not reject offers of foreign scientific aid or end its reliance on foreign agricultural science and technology. The joint campaigns against the pink bollworm and Mexican fruit fly continued uninterrupted, breeding a spirit of cooperation between the technicians of the two nations and public praise for the programs, and leading in 1934 to the establishment of the U.S.—Mexican International Pest Control Commission.[45] In 1933 Secretary of Agriculture Francisco Elias Calles expressed interest in a proposal by John A. Ferrell of the Rockefeller Foundation's International Health Division that urged the foundation to expand its activities from public health to include technical assistance in agriculture and a fellowship program for training Mexican researchers in U.S. universities.[46]


Agricultural Science Policy under Lázaro Cárdenas and the Origins of the Mexican Agricultural Project

In 1932 the government began to implement reforms in the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento that established the institutional structure for the agricultural research and extension programs of 1934–1940. In August 1932 President Abelardo Rodríguez (1932–1934) signed the Ley de Servicios Agrícolas Nacionales (National Law of Agricultural Services), which attempted to forge a close link between the development of agriculture and economic, social, and political issues. The legislation also established the Consejo Nacional de Agricultura (National Council on Agriculture), a body charged to advise the SAF, to develop a national plan to improve agricultural production and to organize state- and local-level agricultural improvement programs.[47]

In 1934 Rodríguez requested the agricultural science community to provide suggestions for future SAF research and extension programs. In response one report, prepared under the auspices of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario, advocated expanded research programs, a wide range of extension campaigns to improve fruit tree cultivation, livestock raising, pest-control practices, and measures to promote the cultivation of new crops that would be more remunerative than corn and beans. It also called for steps such as increased funds for agricultural credit, the formation of farmer organizations, and others reflecting the interest of the agrónomos in the economic and social aspects of agriculture.[48] Political leaders supported these recommendations, thereby assuring the perpetuation of the diversified, proyectismo approach to agricultural research and extension throughout the 1930s.[49]

In 1934 under the leadership of Enrique Beltrán, a Columbia University trained biologist, the Instituto Biotécnico (Biotechnical Institute) conducted research in various fields, including studies on plant pest-and-disease control, the development of regulations for commercial pesticides, and research on the genetics of purebred livestock. Pandurang Khankhoje continued his corn-breeding program, working with the strain he had developed during the late 1920s. In addition to research on topics with application to agriculture, the institute did taxonomic studies of Mexican flora, fauna, and natural resources, and reflecting its director's interest in marine biology studied the fish of Lake Pátzcuaro.[50] Even so the Instituto Biotécnico experienced many problems during its first year of existence. They included equipment and


funding shortages, and interpersonal and professional rivalries with other SAF departments and employees. In 1935 Minister of Agriculture Tomás Garrido Canabal enacted and enforced various anticlerical measures within the agency, causing turmoil at the institute and provoking Beltrán's resignation.[51]

In July 1935 the new minister of agriculture, Saturnino Cedillo, appointed a veterinarian, José Figueroa, director of the Instituto Biotécnico. Reflecting his personal interests, Figueroa expanded livestock-related research, although the institute continued to conduct studies related to agriculture on topics such as plant pest control. Its list of projects also reflected the "diversified" approach to agricultural research that included studies related to human health and nutrition. It continued the taxonomic studies of the Beltrán period and conducted research on ecological topics such as "the advantages and inconveniences of importing and exporting wild mammals, birds, and reptiles."[52] Once more, however, personal favoritism at times took precedence over scientific ability in personnel decisions, and the turmoil in the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento caused by Minister of Agriculture Cedillo's dismissal and rebellion in July 1937 led to the ousting of several researchers in the institute. Tiring of the internal turmoil, in 1937 Pandurang Khankhoje left the institute, abandoning his corn-breeding research.[53]

Activities at the SAF's regional experimentation stations likewise reflected the "diversified" approach to agricultural research. In spite of the original plan to increase the range of its activities slowly under the scientific direction of the Instituto Biotécnico, the program became dominated by populist considerations. The number of stations increased from six in 1934 to fourteen in 1935, including two new ones in Minister of Agriculture Garrido Canabal's home state of Tabasco.[54] In 1935 Minister of Agriculture Cedillo announced that the SAF planned to establish two hundred stations throughout the country. Shortages of funds led to the closure of seven stations in 1936, but the SAF again increased their number in 1937, including two new stations in Minister Cedillo's home state of San Luis Potosí.[55]

The agrónomos believed the stations should perform many diverse functions, including plant-breeding experiments, empirical tests of foreign plant varieties, and the introduction of new crops. They were also intended to help to combat the hold of the Catholic church on the minds of the peasantry and to attempt to improve agriculture in all its aspects, economic and social as well as technical.[56] In practice, the stations concentrated on the empirical


testing of various foreign crop varieties, especially wheat, but at the same time more unusual crops such as soybeans and sunflowers. They focused on the propagation of foreign fruit tree varieties by establishing tree nurseries and gave demonstrations of better farming practices based on their studies of agricultural theory rather than knowledge arrived at by experimentation. Only three of the stations conducted small-scale plant-breeding experiments with corn.[57]

Several of the experimentation stations were located on lands with poor drainage and lost their experimental plantings through flooding. Scarce funds often prevented or delayed necessary construction works and undermined their ability to operate. Understaffing exacerbated these problems.[58] In at least one instance the SAF used the personnel budget of an experimentation station to pay an individual who did not work there.[59] Although various projects were submitted to the SAF that involved using plant-breeding techniques to improve crop varieties, including one for corn, the agency expressed little or no interest in these proposals.[60]

Extension programs replicated the patterns of the 1920s. Despite increased government support for experimentation, they usually had little connection with research programs. The number of extension agents fluctuated annually, from a high of thirty-six in 1934 to a low of twenty-one in 1936, climbing once more to twenty-eight in 1938. When after 1934 President Cárdenas accelerated the pace of land reform, the number of agronomists employed in this task grew to outnumber vastly those employed in positions related to the technical improvement of agriculture. In 1937 the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento proposed that "ideology" be used as a criterion for hiring employees. Favoritism led the SAF to employ individuals as "agronomists" who lacked academic degrees. In one case in Chihuahua state, Minister Cedillo's hiring of an old agrarista (agriculture agency) crony as the agency's general representative led to serious unrest among the local peasantry and to a conflict between the state governor and the federal government.[61]

Despite the enormous importance of corn in Mexico to the peasantry and urban lower classes, the groups the Cárdenas administration claimed to support, between 1933 and 1937 the extension and research efforts of the SAF placed less emphasis on the development of corn than during the early 1930s. There were two principal reasons for this neglect. Some, including the prominent anthropologist Manuel Gamio argued that the predominance of corn in the Mexican diet "victimized" the populace. The Mexican Depart-


ment of Public Health supported this argument, and provided support for SAF to promote the cultivation of other crops in place of corn.[62] But at the same time, after 1932 Mexico became self-sufficient in corn, and in 1934 and 1935 even managed to export some.[63]

In his address to Congress in 1937 Cárdenas claimed that Mexico's self-sufficiency in corn resulted from the success of SAF's campgns to improve cultivation practices.[64] Meanwhile, spokesmen for the SAF used the national press to proclaim the success of previous corn improvement programs, claiming that great progress was being made toward the modernization of Mexican agriculture.[65] Yet this spirit of optimism, and the rising tide of nationalistic sentiments that culminated in the expropriation of foreign oil properties in 1938, did not result in a turning away from foreign technical assistance programs in agriculture or from importing agricultural technologies. People in agricultural science continued to admire the farming practices of the United States and called on Mexico to emulate them.[66] The SAF upheld the practice of granting permits for the free importation of foreign seeds, trees, and plant parts. By the mid-1930s the use of foreign seed was standard practice among the rice growers of Sonora, the potato farmers of the Bajio, and the majority of northern Mexico's cotton producers. In 1937 and 1938 the Banco Crédito de Ejidal purchased quantities of U.S. wheat and cotton seed for distribution to ejidatarios (members of peasant collectives) in the La Laguna and Mexicali valley.[67]

Meanwhile, the Mexican government continued to send its agricultural scientists to the United States and other foreign countries.[68] Some Mexican agronomists and Escuela Nacional de Agricultura students, the extremely left-wing National Congress of Agricultural Students (whose members insisted that their curriculum include instruction on the overthrow of capitalism), and the nation's orange growers all called for the government to allocate more funds to send Mexican technical specialists abroad for advanced training.[69] The pink bollworm and Mexican fruit fly campaigns pursued in cooperation with the United States continued without interruption, and the former expanded in scope. These programs once more created a spirit of cooperation and goodwill between technical experts in the two nations, even among the nationalist agrónomos .[70] During these years the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento codified the recommendations of U.S. technical specialists and used fines and other coercive measures to force Mexican farmers to comply with them.[71] In 1937 the Banco Crédito de Ejidal, a hotbed of leftist agronomists, hired J. H. Harrison, a cotton grader from the


United States, to offer advice on the purchase of ginning machines. Replying to a letter published in the newspaper Excelsior that criticized the bank for hiring technical experts in the United States, bank officials informed Cárdenas that "they [had] limited themselves to giving...their opinions on the activities of the ejidatarios ."[72]

In 1938 shortages of corn, the need to import corn, and the resultant popular discontent shattered the earlier euphoria. In various parts of the country the presidentes municipales were now preventing corn from being sent to the market. Corn imports increased from 9,844 kilograms in 1936 to 3,662,500 kilograms in 1937, increasing sixfold to 22,062,330 kilograms in 1938.[73] The SAF responded by resurrecting the campaña en pro del maíz . Numerous articles in the national press exhorted the peasants to adopt the practices of the campaña .[74] The campaign appeared to have some impact, for by 1939 national average corn yields had increased 30 percent above those of 1937, although that had been a particularly poor year.[75] Nevertheless, in 1939 imports were still required to satisfy national demand.[76] The SAF devoted less energy to the campaign in 1940 and offered nothing more than the same productivity-improving ideas of the 1920s to the National Corn and Bean Growers Convention of 1940.

In late 1937 another crisis erupted when the banana plantations of Tabasco were hit by the Sigatoka disease, a malady caused by the fungus Cercospora musae . This disease had already done much damage in the banana plantations of Central America.[77] The SAF studied the procedures used by the United Fruit Company to fight the disease but concluded that the fixed tubing networks and high-pressure pumping required for liquid fungicides were too expensive for use in Mexico. Instead, it decided to conduct an eradication campaign using portable sprayers and a powdered fungicide.[78] The SAF publicly downplayed the significance of the disease, claiming falsely it had the situation under control.[79] But various difficulties delayed the onset of the eradication campaign, and by 1938 the disease was spreading to plantations in Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca.[80] Numerous farmers and their organizations pleaded for more government help to eradicate the disease, but the SAF failed to conduct a thorough spraying campaign, thereby ensuring that loci of infection remained to recontaminate the treated plantations.[81] By 1940 the situation reached crisis proportions, all but eliminating the export of bananas from Tabasco state.[82] There were accusations against the SAF of ineptitude and corruption.[83]

But the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento did not change its approach


to agricultural research and extension during the last years of the Cárdenas presidency. During the late 1930s the crises in corn production, the banana industry, and others involving sugar cane, beans, and oilseed crops thus generated a flood of criticisms against the SAF, the agrónomos , and the land reform program itself.[84] Numerous studies and reports again asserted that the agency's research and extension programs had failed largely because the agrónomos lacked practical knowledge of farming and had inadequate training in science.[85]

It was at this point that the Mexican government and those involved in agricultural research began to turn to foreign sources in a much more intensive and systematic manner for assistance in the agricultural sciences. The SAF, the Banco Ejidal, and the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Ministry of Public Education) all initiated new programs for foreign training of Mexican agricultural specialists.[86] The existing pink bollworm and Mexican fruit fly control programs expanded in scope, and the Banco Ejidal warned ejidatarios who were lax in complying with the regulations of the pink bollworm campaign that their access to credit would be suspended for a month. These steps were taken in collaboration with U.S. experts. In describing the campaign, the Memoria of the SAF in 1939–1940 stated: "The works carried out, the legislation enacted, and the results obtained have earned the thanks of the phytosanitary authorities of the United States, who have given great help to the personnel of the border area districts."[87]

The success of these joint programs in pest control led to even closer technical collaboration between the United States and Mexico. In March 1939 Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace invited members of the SAF to a meeting in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, to develop a coordinated plan of action for cotton pest control in the border regions. The SAF responded favorably to the proposal.[88] In 1940 the two nations reestablished the U.S.—Mexican International Pest Control Commission, and several agreements for close cooperation and the exchange of technical personnel were reached. By 1939 the Banco Ejidal had hired J. H. Harrison as its full-time cotton expert, and the SAF requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture to loan the services of several of its cotton graders.[89] Also in 1939 the Comisión Nacional de Irrigación employed U.S. engineers to supervise construction at its Angostura Dam Project in Sonora and El Palmito Dam Project in Durango.[90] The same year the Mexican government asked the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to loan the services of several of its experts to its counterpart in Mexico.[91] Tired of the


SAF's ineffectual campaign, in 1940 the governor of Tabasco traveled to the United States to obtain technical and financial assistance from North American business interests to control the disease.[92] In July 1940 Mexico reached an agreement with the Export-Import Bank to "encourage and promote research in the technology of agriculture."[93] At the same time the Mexican government gladly accepted the offer of technical assistance from the United States to develop a rubber industry.[94]

During the same period various agronomists, some of them leftists, argued that agricultural research and extension programs should be "depoliticized" and separated from economic concerns. In the future they wanted the SAF to concentrate on "science."[95] During the late 1930s even the "socialist" agronomists, the supporters of the collectivization of production along Stalinist lines, who were continually warning against U.S. "imperialism," became critics of agricultural science policy under Cárdenas and now supported technical assistance programs from the United States such as the Rockefeller Foundation's Mexican Agricultural Project.[96] To them, as well as to most other agronomists, saving the guild's public image through improving its skills as scientists, and producing scientific "successes" like the hybrid plants of the MAP, had now become more important than "scientific nationalism." Focusing on "science," the agronomists now believed, would improve the profession's public image: they would no longer be seen as agitators or bureaucrats but as skilled researchers and technicians.[97]

The annual reports of the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento now denounced the earlier association between technical agricultural matters and social, economic, and political questions. In 1941 the new minister of agriculture, Marte R. Gómez, implemented reforms in the SAF, seeking to avoid the mistakes and failures of the past. In an effort to place the extension programs on a more scientific foundation, Gómez disbanded the agrónomos regionales and assigned them to the experimentation stations. He also reduced the number of experimentation stations, concentrating efforts in a fewer number of locations.[98] At the suggestion of Henry A. Wallace, the stations began a plant-breeding program focusing on corn and beans.

However, Gómez's reforms could not erase the legacies of the past. Research efforts achieved more than in previous years, but they still suffered from shortages of trained personnel and a lack of program continuity; politics at times continued to interfere with agricultural improvement programs; scarce funds still disrupted various programs and had a particularly


adverse effect on pest-control campaigns.[99] Despite the efforts of Gómez to bring the number of operating experimentation stations more closely in line with available resources, by 1946 the SAF had established seven new ones. When corn shortages returned in 1943, Gómez was forced to tell the president that his agency could do nothing to address the problem.[100] That same year, in February, Gómez and President Ávila Camacho signed the agreement creating the Mexican Agricultural Project.[101]


Many members of the Mexican agricultural research community used nationalistic rhetoric and held strong views against the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s.[102] However, these attitudes did not cause them to resist or attack U.S. technical assistance programs in agriculture. In this period Mexico tried and failed in the attempt to rely primarily on its own agricultural research to modernize its agriculture. The few agricultural scientists with some training in experimental methods in Mexico did not make SAF policy, which therefore lacked effective programs. The populist politics of the state, which sought to benefit all of Mexico's farmers, further contributed to the failure to achieve tangible results. Proyectismo all but guaranteed failure, and an autarkic approach to agricultural science was clearly doomed to failure from the beginning. By 1940 an affirmative answer to the question of whether or not to seek out foreign technical assistance for agricultural research and extension programs had already been made. The outbreak of World War II closed any options Mexico might have had in choosing the source of assistance, which now had to come from the United States. Even the agronomists were happy to receive the assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation.

The establishment of the Mexican Agricultural Project in 1943 became a logical outcome of Mexico's long-term dependence on foreign agricultural science and technology. Long before 1943 those in the field of agricultural science, along with research and extension programs, served mostly as conduits for the introduction of foreign science and technology, and it was only a short step from this point to that of bringing in the foreign scientists themselves, such as was to occur through the MAP. The origin of the Green Revolution therefore possessed strong roots in Mexico's past. The program was not born primarily as a result of the circumstances of the 1940s, nor did


it represent a new form of dependence on the United States that resulted from the war and the swing to the right in Mexico during the early 1940s. The 1940s marked a major reorientation in Mexican public policy, particularly in the much stronger emphasis on industrial development. In the agricultural sphere there was more continuity, as Mexico retained its prior dependence on foreign science and technology in agricultural development programs.

10 The Origins of the Green Revolution in Mexico Continuity or Change?

Preferred Citation: Rock, David, editor. Latin America in the 1940s: War and Postwar Transitions. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1994 1994.