Tracking farming subsidies; Exposing what’s misspent and bringing programme reform

PROCAMPO, Mexico’s largest federal farm subsidy programme, was designed to support the neediest farmers. There have been concerns since 2007 that these subsidies were not going to those most in need of support. However, due to the lack of transparency and data on these programmes, it was very difficult for the public to access information on the destinations of these public funds.

In order to address this problem, a Mexican NGO called Fundar Center for Analysis and Research, requested information on subsidy distribution from the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture. 30 information requests and 16 appeals later, Fundar was able to obtain official data on the recipients of the agricultural subsidies.

Fundar and other civil society groups decided to publish up-to-date information about the farm subsidies on a database, Subsidios al Campo en Mexico, in order to make data more easily accessible for members of the public .

Analysis of the now-available data from the database confirmed initial fears of unequal distribution of these subsidies: 57% of the benefits were distributed amongst the wealthiest 10% of recipients.The analysis exposed the political influence of a small group of wealthy farmers and the lack of institutional accountability which allowed them to capture the subsidy programmes.

The website was a hit and widely used by the public- academics, policy experts and non-experts alike. The issue received national media coverage and enabled the public to hold discussions to examine whether these public funds were used effectively and appropriately. It also raised important questions such as: why was there a lack of control over the distribution of these subsidies? Why were taxpayers helping wealthy farmers get richer? Fundar was able to make a strong case for the need for transparency and accountability to the government because these questions and findings arose from official government data.

As a result, smaller farmers received more subsidies and other important reforms to the Procampo programme took place. Caps were introduced to individual payments and maximum and minimum limits were established. Public officials responsible for the programme were formally questioned in the Senate and several were removed from office. The government also introduced measures to try and regain control over fund distribution.

However, institutional accountability mechanisms still remains weak and not all of the promised policy reforms have been effectively implemented. Despite these limitations, the farm subsidy database became a public good acknowledged to be reliable and valid and it will continue the debate on any misappropriation of funds and draw attention to any lack of compliance by the government. It will continue to monitor not only how subsidy programmes are managed and implemented but whether it is done fairly.

Key Lessons

  • Reliable and valid data is essential for effective evidence-based advocacy.
  • Collaborative efforts between journalists, academics and other members of the public are essential in bringing about policy changes.
  • Powerful interest groups, reluctant government institutions resistant to change and ineffective accountability mechanisms can act as obstacles.

Website: http://fundar.org.mx

Photo credit: Tim & Annette