for National Geographic News
Part six of a special series that explores the local faces of the world's worst food crisis in decades.
During a protest in México City in January 2008, 28-year-old secretary Anibel Ordonez was one of many chanting "Tortillas si, Pan no!" while waving some of the flat corn disks in the air.
The chant was a play on the initials of Mexican President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party, the PAN, which also means "bread" in Spanish.
It was also a potent reminder of the effects of skyrocketing food prices on Mexico's poorest citizens.
Tortillas are filling—Mexicans eat up to ten every day—but a dramatic rise in the cost of corn flour has driven up the cost of a dozen tortillas from the equivalent of 30 U.S. cents to 50 cents or more in some stores.
By some estimates, a kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of tortillas now takes up about one-fifth of the daily minimum wage of Mexico's working poor.
"I will not make my customers pay more—at least not for now," said Francisco Barriga, the owner of a tortilla factory in the border town of Reynosa, near McAllen, Texas.
"But I am paying 12 to 20 percent more for 20-kilogram [44-pound] bags of flour I need to make the tortillas."
For the country's low-income citizens, who already spend a large percentage of their money on food, the increases are disastrous, sending frustrated citizens to the streets to rally against the biofuels and trade policies they feel are the cause.
Biofuels and Tariffs
Analysts say that speculators are helping to bid up grain prices in Mexico, especially since January 1, when protective tariffs on corn imported from the U.S. into Mexico ended.
Many experts also point out that U.S. demand for corn to manufacture ethanol is a large factor in the price hikes, especially in neighboring countries. Significant amounts of Mexican corn are now being diverted northward to take advantage of the high prices.
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