Sustainability Rankings of Livestock Systems
Stephanie Sierra is a student in veterinary medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is originally from Camarillo, California. Stephanie assesses the sustainability of three Mexican livestock systems. For her second portfolio entry, she was prompted her to compose a letter to the Governor of the State of Wisconsin after seeing the state capital building in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
ECONOMIC. PROAN certainly has an economic advantage with their massive economies of scale. The fact that the company continues to expand and produce many of its own inputs, coupled with its sheer enormity, makes PROAN very resistant to waxing and waning economic tides. The tropical dairy has less economic sustainability. By focusing on lowering input costs at such a small production scale, the system is permanently limited to low profits because the price of basics (like feed and minimal labor) will never drop below a fixed minimum. This system has been designed for farmers with other sources of income, and not as a sole means of supporting a family. The small holders of San Felipe have the lowest economic sustainability, mainly due to the Ejido system and common lands. These farmers have a strong market for their sheep products; however, the increase in sheep-rearing on common lands has led to rapid depletion of resources, and the fate of all livestock rearing on these lands is likely not promising. Unless these small holders find a more collaborative means of farming, the limited resourced of the lands will be depleted quickly, leaving little economic opportunity in dairy production.
ENVIRONMENTAL. The tropical dairy receives the highest environmental ranking because it is a fairly low-impact operation in comparison with the other systems. The cows are low producers, and require much fewer inputs. They also appear to be much more sparsely concentrated on farm land, causing fewer negative environmental impacts. The small holders of San Felipe have some pressing environmental issues, namely the erosion that has plagued the area since the decline in use of maguey plants. While erosion is a pressing issue, many large areas of erosion seem to be ‘fixed’ in the sense that they have not become more pronounced over several decades. In addition, it appears as if some farmers have caught on to new ways of preventing further erosion. While their environmental sustainability is not optimal, there is hope. PROAN is the least environmentally stable of the three systems. PROAN imports almost all of their feed inputs from the United States, which in turn relies upon highly industrialized agricultural technologies for production. Both the agricultural production and the transportation of these products make PROAN a very ‘un-green’ operation. Massive industrial crop production relies on monoculture, high levels of pesticides, and high levels of fertilizers, all making this aspect of PROAN environmentally unsustainable.
SOCIAL. The small holders of San Felipe are the most socially sustainable system because of the inherent value of ‘barbacoa’ in their micro-culture. The popularity of sheep barbacoa essentially gives farmers a permanent market, and ensures that they can always amass a savings account in the form of their flock. PROAN has tapped into the livestock revolution very adeptly, and produces products that are meant to feed the ‘masses’ that seek a more permanent addition of animal products in their diet. The company focuses on the basics: eggs and milk. These staples will remain in households with a rising economic status, and always provide a large market for their products. The tropical dairy is the least socially sustainable system. Because farmers cannot turn these farms into full-time work, they will always be a side project, with very low social value. In a tropical region that faces all extremes of precipitation and crop quality in the course of a year, dairy production requires extensive modification from standard systems. While the effort is a good one, perhaps these regions should focus their energy into developing industries that are more appropriate for the region and its geography.
A Petition in the Name of Art...and Justice
Orozco’s paintings depicted the social struggles of the 20th century, namely the struggle of the working class in the face of Mexican independence. The struggles themselves were graphic, and Orozco chooses to depict this as a reminder to lawmakers today.
Dear Governor Doyle:
Our capitol building deserves a make-over.
Please don’t misunderstand. While the landscaping is beautiful on the Capitol Lawn, and the paintings inside are regal and inspiring, there is something particular missing from the building. That something is history. Not the history from our textbooks in grade school. There is a greater history that our state, in fact our country, needs to face. This is a history that no one wants to remember, and therefore the history that we should remember.
I have recently returned from a visit to Mexico, where I had the fortune of touring the capitol building of the state of Jalisco in Guadalajara. Please take note of the differences:
Guadalajara’s building was decorated by the work of a famous artist, Jose Clemente Orozco, who painted murals that still inspire a sense of justice from the warnings they make: behind many great tales of liberation are even more tales of oppression.
While many follies of our own history are not tales to be proud of, they are part of our history nevertheless. The most respectful way to treat those who have been mistreated in the past is by remembering them in our history, and learning from our history.
History books in school fail to tell the story. Slavery is treated as if it were a blip in history that didn’t last more than a moment. The genocide of Native Americans is remembered as a cheerful Thanksgiving dinner. And students are lucky if they have even heard of Japanese internment camps during WWII.
We cannot learn from our history if we are not willing to accept it. I propose that we take some inspiration from Orozco. It is time to reclaim our history. We do not have to feel proud of every moment. But as responsible citizens, we do have to feel obligated to learn from it.Sincerely,