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The Expanding Ecology of a Hot Commodity: A Century of Changes in the New Mexican Chile Pepper

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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/13080

The Expanding Ecology of a Hot Commodity: A Century of Changes in the New Mexican Chile Pepper

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Title: The Expanding Ecology of a Hot Commodity: A Century of Changes in the New Mexican Chile Pepper
Author: Carleton, William
Advisor(s): Scharff, Virginia
Committee Member(s): Truett, Samuel
Cahill, Cathleen
Department: University of New Mexico. Dept. of History
Subject(s): Chile pepper, agriculture
LC Subject(s): Hot peppers--Social aspects--New Mexico
Hot peppers--Marketing
Hot pepper industry--New Mexico--History
Hot pepper industry--Social aspects--New Mexico
Hot pepper industry--Economic aspects--New Mexico
Agriculture research--New Mexico--History
Degree Level: Masters
Abstract: Over the past century, the New Mexican chile pepper transformed from a principally local and regional crop grown by many, small scale growers into an industrial commodity on a global market. With this transformation, the ecology of the chile pepper has shifted and expanded. The actors in this ecology- the growers, the research scientists, the manufacturers of equipment, chemicals, and seeds, government legislatures, the consumers, and even the genome of the chile itself- became increasingly global with little or no ties to the local watersheds, ecosystems, and communities within the state. Driving this ecological expansion has been a close public-private collaboration between the state’s land-grant institution, NMSU, and private industry. This paper begins with an examination of Dr. Fabian Garcia, NMSU’s first chile breeder. Garcia made significant efforts to disseminate his research to large and small farmers throughout the state. Yet even during Garcia’s tenure, the seeds of a major agricultural and ecological shift in the state were beginning to sprout. This shift, part of the larger Green Revolution transforming industrial agriculture throughout the nation and the world, made satisfying the needs and goals of both small farmer and large commodity producer increasingly difficult. By the 1970s, the pepper had become a mild, uniform, and high-tech commodity that would no longer be grown primarily by small scale New Mexican farmers mainly for New Mexicans. In the years after NAFTA, when the industry began to face decline and increasing global competition, the chile’s ecology both expanded into new realms of corporate control, but also contracted. As large producers vertically integrated moved their operations across national borders, jobs for Mexican workers in New Mexican chile fields became scarcer, and smaller New Mexican growers were outcompeted by larger ones. All the while, industrial monocultures and the new potential for lawsuits to discourage seed saving have decreased, and threaten to further decrease, biodiversity in New Mexican chile fields. A public-private collaboration between NMSU and private corporations has shifted the emphasis of university research away from the empowerment and benefit of local growers, consumers, and small businesses, towards increasing markets across the globe for the profit of a smaller set of elite New Mexican growers and processors, and corporations based far beyond any local watershed.
Graduation Date: July 2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/13080

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