Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pepsi Buys Corn From Mexican Farmers

Very interesting article in the global business section of The New York Times (2/21/11), "For Pepsi, A Business Decision with Social Benefit".   PepsiCo is now buying corn directly from Mexican corn farmers, eliminating middlemen, and guaranteeing the price upfront.  According to the article,

"The deal enables the small farmers to secure credit to buy seeds and fertilizers, crop insurance and equipment.  "Before, I had to sell my cow to buy what I needed,” said José Guzmán Santana, another farmer selling to Pepsi. “Now I keep the cow and my family has milk while I grow my crop."  Pepsi
Co’s work with the corn farmers reflects a relatively new approach by corporations trying to maintain a business edge while helping out small communities and farmers." 

This appears to be a win-win business relationship for the farmers and PepsiCo.

"The corn project saved PepsiCo transportation costs because the farms were close to two of its factories, and the use of local farms assured it access to types of corn best suited to its products and processes. “That gives us great leverage because corn prices don’t fluctuate so much, but transportation costs do,” said Pedro Padierna, president of PepsiCo’s operations in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.  The social benefits of the corn program are obvious in higher incomes that have improved nutritional and educational standards among the participating farmers, not to mention its impact on illegal immigration and possibly even the reduction of marijuana production."

Students in my online course, Global Social Change, have examined and discusssed the interconnectedness of global trade, economics, poverty, illegal drugs and immigration.  This article provides us with an excellent example to illustrate how these variables interact and impact both the U.S. and Mexico.  To read the article, go to

Good Food World raises some interesting questions about the PepsiCo-Mexico relationship.
  • Who is determining which seeds they grow?
  • Are the seeds patented hybrids or GMOs?
  • Can the farmers save their own seed?
  • Which pesticides are they instructed to use?
  • Are the costs for seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides going up?
  • Who actually negotiates and sets the price for the corn? Is it a “take it or leave it” pricing from PepsiCo or do the farmers have input?  (Good Food World)
These are fair questions.    As they say, the devil is in the details.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Berkeley College Students Reflect On Academic Service Learning

“Study without reflection is a waste of time;
reflection without study is dangerous.”  -Confucius

Reading my students reflective journals is one of the most rewarding experiences of teaching an academic service learning course.  It allows me to see how students make important connections between their service project and the academic learning experience.   This is why reflection is considered to be a core component of academic service-learning. 

This course represents the second service-learning experience with our international service partner, Casa de los Angeles, located in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.   Last spring our students designed blog prototypes for Casa's social media strategy.  Now, with help from Ed Rivera of the Berkeley College library, students are conducting research to find sources of grants for Casa de los Angeles.    The following are exerpts from student journals.

I learned that we are all entitled to respect and dignity; we all have the potential to fall on hard times and no one has the right to scrutinize us for that. Giving individuals a second chance as CASA does; a chance to believe in their abilities is more than anyone can ask for; the love and respect that they have for the less fortunate is what drives the organization. We need to continue to work together to make certain that CASA gets the resources that they need to stay afloat. This is why the grant research project is so important.  So far, the service learning experience has impacted me in many ways. I am able to see life through a different lens.  Living in my small world does not always allow me to open my eyes to the world around me; to see how life for others really is.  I have mentioned in my posts how people can take what they have for granted because they have it, but once it is taken away, what do they do? There are not many organizations out here like CASA, so it is great that women and their children in need are afforded this experience.   N.D.

The experiences in this course have been memorable and invaluable.  The theoretical basis combined with projects serving real organizations is more organic and holistic; I feel as though I have a greater depth and breadth of knowledge and perspective, that getting in and getting my hands dirty is the best way to experience the field and is integral to my future.  To segue into the next stage, a graduating student requires a little push in the right direction.  Community service-learning this semester has given me opportunities to show that I am a student, a citizen, and a member of a community; to show that I can manage my own projects, to see where strengths and weaknesses lie, and to truly engage in projects and research using methods and approaches which I can apply to future work and life.  --A.A.

I have already learned so much from this experience, from the readings, videos, photos, discussions and research.  Never one to volunteer or “work for free”, I have now developed a completely different outlook. Volunteering isn’t working for free. The happiness and second chances that places like Casa de los Angeles provides each and every day is reward enough. I believe that this experience may be teaching me something about myself. I feel that I have been selfish because I have been fortunate. As I said before, my favorite discussion so far has been the chance to "meet" real families that are being supported by Casa. It made me want to reach out to them and have a chance to contribute to their growing happiness.  The fact that so many others have given their time to help out at Casa shows me that there are really good and generous people out there who don’t take life for granted. I want to be one of those people. --C.G.    

For more information about reflective journals and academic service-learning, visit the
online library at the National Service-Learning Clearing House 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Egypt Unrest: Live News

There are several excellent web sites with live news from Egypt.  One is from BBC News.  To access click on this   The site offers updated videos, Q & A, maps, updated summaries of key points, profiles of Egyptian politicians and opposition groups, and other interesting topics including:

Lessons of history
Will there be a domino effect?
Egyptians react to Mubarak speech
Anxious Israel
Protesters use voice tweets
Analysis:  Army--deciding factor
Who's next?

The Guardian news blog also has live updates, including a live Twitter feed from their journalists in Egypt.  Click

The TIME Magazine web site has news updates and a live video feed Watch Egypt Live.

Excellent student-friendly resources and supplemental course materials for appropriate courses.