Archive for September 2011

“The Calderón Government Has Brought Mexico a Loss of Control and Lives”

September 30, 2011

Elmer Mendoza
Mexican writer Elmer Mendoza at the Hay Festival in Segovia. Photo by Aurelio Martín.

Interview with Writer Élmer Mendoza
“The Calderón Government Has Brought Mexico a Loss of Control and Lives”
El País: “El Gobierno de Calderón ha llevado México a una pérdida de control y de vidas”
The writer, invited to the Hay Festival, has created his own language to describe the horror plaguing his country
Juan Carlos Galindo reporting from Segovia September 29, 2011

The Mexican writer Élmer Mendoza (born in Culiacán in 1949) is a man of borders: one separates Mexico from the United States and has conditioned the history of his country; another one, the diffuse border between good and evil, finally and definitively lead him to the creation of a new language transcribed from a panoply of influences, such as corridos, television, and popular voices. Mendoza is an author immersed in a continuous search with the power of necessity, with confidence, through historical justifications and the sources, literary or not, of the language of the streets, of the dives, of the gray day after day, a search which has taken him to Aristophanes and Borges’s Hombre en la esquina rosada (The Man from the Pink Corner), passing through contemporary authors of every type and origin.

Considered by many the king of narco novels, the creator of a series starring police officer Edgar “El Zurdo” (The Southpaw) Mendieta (Balas de plata (Silver Bullets) and La prueba del ácido (The Acid Test)), both published by Tusquets, Mendoza was at the Hay Festival in Segovia (Hay = “There Is”) to speak about all this with Arturo Pérez Reverte. Hours before, out in the sun on an early autumn morning, Mendoza spoke with El País about the situation in Mexico, the characters in his novels, and his veritable obsession with updating language. In a deliberate voice that did not reveal any of the violence the man has seen and lived with since he was a child, Mendoza gave us some of the keys to his work and his worldview.

Question: What’s happened in Mexico?

Answer: We have a long history conditioned by our relationship with the U.S. through illegal traffic. First it was food, then after the Dry Laws, tequila, although there was already production of opium poppy then as well. Now, we don’t produce coca, but the passage routes go through our land, and we produce methamphetamines and also cannabis, so the gringos are still enjoying a great deal of what we’re producing ourselves. Now there’s another traffic which is new but has grown greatly, and that’s human trafficking. We say our proximity to all that has made us degenerate like this.

Q: What can be done? Is there an alternative to the direct war declared by the Calderón government?

A: President Calderón and his team are people that don’t know the country they govern, or they didn’t know it. They are good people from good families, but Mexico is such a big country that the good people from good families move in a relatively limited area, and the same goes for the universities in which they study, which have nothing to do with other regions, other profiles, or other kinds of people. They arrived in office and wanted to play the Lone Ranger and believed they could solve the problem. They declared war on organized crime, but the only thing they produced was a new situation, a loss of control and a loss of lives, that has brought them nowhere over the last five years, and won’t take them anywhere in the last year left on their term. This is what’s happened in Mexico: it’s a poorly directed country where those who govern have discovered that it’s very difficult to succeed because we have corrupt police and a military under suspicion.

Q: But what hope is there for a country which, as we can see in your last two novels, more than 90% of criminal cases are not resolved, where the police commanders order their agents to close a case on false pretenses because the state attorney or a powerful businessman has been implicated?

A: The elites have fortified themselves because the corruption has permitted them to do so. They have influence over everything, and they are everywhere. They operate like so. In a state that wasn’t so corrupt, the power relationships between the state and the people wouldn’t be so corrupt, but my country isn’t like that. I have no idea what to do about it. We have to refound Mexico. We’ve asked the government to call in experts (and it hasn’t called them) to rewrite the Constitution and to reorganize the justice and education systems and the relationship between the government and the economic system.

Q: In your work El amante de Janis Joplin (Janis Joplin’s Lover) one can see very well how el narco is a stain which discreetly extends to the majority of the Mexican population.

A: In Mexico, narcotics affect, in some way or another, we say, 70% of the population, more or less, and there isn’t a class exclusion: from those in precarious economic circumstances to the consortiums which launder money, everyone, everyone, everyone is… (He stops and smiles before continuing.) There are entire regions whose life cycles are centered on the growing seasons of poppy or cannabis. There’s a time of year when cars aren’t sold, for example, but then when harvest time comes, they sell jewels there and lots of alcohol…the people who run businesses know this. They return to that market every three months at harvest time. We’re all like that. It’s too bad they don’t buy books, but that’s not one of their primary necessities.

Q: Does the search for an aesthetic of violence, for a distinct language that speaks of this limited situation, have its dangers? Can you say something to legitimize that? Because there are accusations like this from certain strata of politics and arts…

A: The aestheticization of violence is an artistic position I take so that the world’s readers can experience what the people in the Mexican streets live through. Those who want to prohibit drug runs, for example, don’t know the country: they’ve lived elsewhere for all these years. Now we’ve found the language, although all language is limited in the area of describing the effects of violence. It’s become something interesting, something we can share with the world, and the number of artists in all disciplines that are involved is what gives the movement its strength.

Q: What advantages does a black novel have in this respect?

A: The advantage of the black novel is that its subject matter is crime and so, when working in this genre, you already cover the first stratum; you don’t have to explain anything else, and this makes it a very, very effective vehicle. But over all, it’s that the black novel is absolutely social and what it wants to say touches upon all the positive aspects of society as well as the negative, the sinister, the weakness, the poverty, the dreams, the desires. In addition, when cases are resolved with the possibility of the application of law, there is a legal aspect, but this is not the case in Mexican novels.

Q: Let’s talk about Edgar Mendieta, this peculiar and attractive character, who without being an example of corruption always wades in muddy water and turns to helping the narcos he’s fighting against if necessary.

A: El Zurdo knows very well where he works and what forces can work against him and in his favor. He simply uses them. A police officer who works in a corporation, like the Mexicans do, has to use everything if he wants to survive; if he doesn’t, he won’t. Now there are purges of corrupt police, but there have been police officers who died who did a relatively good job and would be the forefathers of Mendieta. El Zurdo doesn’t want to confront the narcos, but he doesn’t want to be one of them; he uses them. Mendieta has to be very conscious of the reality in which he’s operating, so sometimes he has to be part of a conspiracy and coexist with bad guys who are not always clear.

Q: Where does your peculiar, recognizable, and unique diction come from?

A: Partly from the talk on the street, from the words that sometimes have no better explanation than that they’re arbitrary. Granted, at first I really liked to go on rampages, but now I believe that I regulate myself enough. It comes from everywhere, but basically the street. I learn a lot in bars, on television, and in lectures.

Q: But in a certain way this search is an immersion into the abyss and a crossing into another frontier.

A: The thing is I had confidence. I said to myself: “Aristophanes used unusual expressions which Sophocles wouldn’t have, language that was strong and popular.” I discovered that Dante, after he decided to write The Divine Comedy in Italian and include popular language, had to wait 12 years to publish it because his friends said they wouldn’t do it, that that language wasn’t going to go anywhere. I have two Spanish masters who have never failed me: Cervantes and Quevedo. And Shakespeare, who in Hamlet used words he liked and that only had a poetic function, or that were street expressons; sometimes he was only trying to reproduce sounds, the signifier and not the significance, and I love that. Those geniuses of literature showed me that everything has a limit, and that language is representivity and is something much more profound than simply using a word: I believe it’s also an expression of a cultural profile. I’ve noted this when I’m helping my translators. When I explain an expression, I not only have to say the probable meaning; I have to explain the origin and where it’s used, and this process has given me the confidence to use expressions with total liberty: they’re real expressions with explanations I’m capable of giving.

Q: Are you afraid of losing readers in the search of such a personal language? Because I can assure you the literal reproduction of the language of Sinaloa creates problems for readers.

A: I’m not worried about it, because my ideal reader is curious and temperamental and a person who reads for passion, and if he reads for passion, he’s capable of overcoming certain minimal obstacles.

Q: Where does the Spanish language find itself at the beginning of the 21st century?

A: I believe that we have to be proud of the language we speak. Proud in the sense that it’s a language that is alive and that is always generating new expressions we don’t know; some don’t survive and some do, but I believe it’s a very strong language. Sometimes it makes me sick that it’s not more important.

Q: What does our language need to get the consideration it deserves?

A: Less complexes. I’ve found there are more and more critics and writers occupied with the language, but our bestselling books continue to be translations, something which isn’t true in the United Kingdom, the U.S., or Germany. What’s happening to us? We have to reinforce our identity, and for that we have to keep language renewal from being blocked in places like Spain, which brought Spanish to the world. The only limitations can be our own limitations as authors, which sometimes are already too many to take into account others related the management of the public to which our work arrives.

Q: What are your principal influences in the world of contemporary Spanish novels?

A: Two novelists have influenced me. One is Mexican: Rafael Bernal, author of the genius novel which is El complot mongol (The Mongolian Conspiracy), a harsh novel, for its language, for what happens, for its detective, Garcia, who is very foul-mouthed. And there is a Brazilian writer named Rubén Fonseca, who in not all of his works, but in some, uses street language very correctly and also manages irony, a very veiled irony, which is his strong point and has to do with the profiles of his characters. I also like how the Colombians Mario Mendoza, Jorge Franco, and Santiago Gamboa manage certain forms of street language. It always gives you the sensation that you can do it. Borges and his work Hombre de la esquina rosada, a story about butchers which employs slang correctly and has a slightly ancient rhythm is one of my constant references.


How Much is a 100 Meter Flat in Madrid Worth?

September 29, 2011

Click for large-scale version

How Much is a 100 Meter Flat in Madrid Worth?
The cost of the same living space in Madrid oscillates between 1500 and 6000 euros per meter depending on the neighborhood
El País: Cuánto vale un piso de 100 metros
Inmaculada de la Vega reporting from Madrid September 25, 2011

How much does a 100 square meter flat in Madrid cost? The graph above answers this question with preliminary prices showing that the price of a square meter oscillates between 1500 and 6000 euros inside the capital.

Tasaciones Hipotecarias (Mortgage Evaluations) (TH) of the BNP Paribas Real Estate group ran this exercise which compared the costs of 100m2 flats with two restrooms on the first floor of buildings with elevators, medium quality exteriors and interiors, and a medium state of repair which do not have garages, storage rooms, balconies, pools, sports areas, or gardens.

The toolbox used and designed by TH takes into account up to 17 variables, and in this case they only changed the location of the real estate; “for coherence, the ages of the buildings also varied in keeping with the neighborhoods of the studios,” explained Antonio Roldán de la Cuadra, who is responsible for New Developments. It was necessary to vary the ages because flats with the defined characteristics have not been built in Chueca for 5 years or in Sanchinarro for more than half a century.

TH selected 33 places corresponding with the 21 Madrileño districts, with special emphasis on the most well-known neighborhoods and newest developments.

Why is the same flat more expensive in Sanchinarro than in the PAU next door to Monte Carmelo or Las Tablas? “Clearly, the quality of construction and surface area being equal, there is more pull for buyers to be next to El Corte Inglés [the most popular chaindepartment store], hospitals, or the Moraleja, and the greater demand has a bearing on the price. The same goes for Machupicha Avenue, which benefits from being in the neighborhood of the [park] Parque Conde de Orgaz.”

The greater the size, the lesser the price per square meter, and vice versa. So one must take into account that although the prices in neighborhoods like Recoletos are listed here at 6000 euros per square meter, that is for 100 square meters or more, and the most abundant flats in neighborhoods could come to 8000/m2 when one takes into account new promotions and comprehensive renovations for higher quality and smaller surface area (between 60 and 80m2). The same is true in the cheapest area of the city, Villaverde, where the majority of the flats are 50-70m2, and the majority also lack elevators, which also affects real estate value.

Roldán spoke of the difficulty of comparing new flats because of a lack of recent promotions, such that giving a single number for districts with typologies as different as Tetuán’s belies the heterogeneity of the product; in the periphery of the city, there is less oscillation.

The unitary price captured in the picture should be a starting point to orient a buyer. One must take into account that the existence or non-existence of an elevator between two stories produces a price difference of more than 40%. Height also explains an average difference of 12% between a first floor apartment used in this study and a fifth floor apartment in the same building [despite the existence of an elevator]. But it isn’t always that simple. Roldán de la Cuadra, who is also a professor of Statistics at the Universidad Carlos III, rejects the a priori use of percentages: “the presence of an elevator is not a simple coefficient. One must combine that with factors like the views or the quality of the property. The quality and location of comparable real estate near the one in question is also influential.”

These are the elements which condition the final price of a flat in order of importance: first, the floor area and location; second, the position inside the building and the existence or non-existence of an elevator; third, the quality of the real estate (exterior or interior) and its state of conservation; fourth, functional adaptation (age, number of restrooms, whether it’s a duplex, etc.); finally, elements like a garage, storage room, garden, pool, sports equipment, or a balcony.

One can ask for an open consultation on the website or other assessors’ websites. At, a consultation costs 20 euros, VAT included. Information is updated monthly. And Propiedades (Properties) tracks the evolution of prices for these properties over a given time.

Roldán defines the lethargy of the current market like so: “The buyers have the perception that waiting is favorable whereas before it was considered detrimental. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: ‘Since the price is dropping, it will drop farther,’ they say, so they keep waiting.” The experts at TH say that since the maximum level of the market in 2007, real estate prices have dropped over 30% in southern Madrid and 5-10% in star districts like Salamanca, Retiro, and Chamartín. The largest dropoffs have been in the cheap flats. The crisis has hit those of modest means the hardest.

The Barcelona Jersey Really is Heavy

September 28, 2011

Messi Nike Qatar Jersey 2011
Messi in a game against Atlético de Madrid. Photo by David Ramos (Getty).

The Barcelona Jersey Really is Heavy
El País: La camiseta del Barça pesa de verdad
Luís Martín reporting from Barcelona September 25, 2011

Barça’s shirt is heavy. Really. This isn’t a metaphor. There is evidence of what the team’s football players have had to tolerate every week since the debut of the team’s new kit, a jersey designed out of respect for the environment, made of recycled polyester composed of the equivalent of eight recycled plastic bottles. The so-called Dri-FIT fabric theoretically absorbs sweat which rapidly evaporates and “helps you stay try and comfortable at every moment” according the to Nike officials who presented the new design.

During the U.S. tour, the players noted that the shirt would become exaggeratedly soaked such that at halftime it was “as heavy as hell” and “stuck to the body like a limpet” according to sources in the dressing room. The players thought it was because of the humidity and scorching temperatures. But the same thing happened in Spain as well, against Madrid in the Supercopa games. Nothing changed after the Liga began, so in Valencia, the players sought proof to back up their complaints to management that the shirt was heavy: it was 200 grams at the beginning of the game and half a kilo of fabric and sweat at halftime. The hermetic players have not told the public of their search for a solution.

On Friday, members of Barcelona’s technical marketing department met with Nike, which is working on the problem. “In two weeks the problem will be solved,” an American representative of the company told this newspaper. That, more or less, is what the players are hoping for. The jersey is already heavy enough, metaphorically speaking, that after perspiration those words are a cliche no longer.

Man Drowns 13-Year Old Daughter During Attempted Exorcism; Belongs to Recognized Buddhist Sect with 300,000 Believers

September 27, 2011

This story hit so close to home I literally shuddered when I read it. I’ve been to Nagasu a couple times; it was a 30-minute drive from my town in Japan. The student who died was likely taught English by a good friend of mine who left the town earlier this year after finishing her contract.

Man Drowns 13-Year Old Daughter During Attempted Exorcism
Yomiuri Shimbun: 除霊すると13歳の娘に水浴びせ死なす
September 27, 2011

The Tamana County Nakayama Shingon Buddhist Church in Nagasu, Kumamoto, where a man drowned his 13-year old daughter during an attempted exorcism.

Inside the “Waterfall Room” where Tomomi was drowned. Water was poured from the tap [between the two flags]. (Photo taken on the morning of the 27th in Miyano, Nagasu-machi, Kumamoto-ken)

The location of the Tamana County Nakayama Shingon Buddhist Church.

On the 27th, the Kumamoto Prefectural Police arrested Kumamoto City Obiyama 3 employee Atsushi Maishigi (50) and fellow Nagasu-machi Miyano resident Kazuaki Kinoshita (56) on suspicion of drowning Maishigi’s 13-year old daughter to death by pouring water on her as part of an exorcism technique nicknamed the “Way of the Waterfall”.

The two allegedly performed this same kind of “exorcism” over 100 times since March.

According to the indictment, at 9 AM on August 27, the two suspects went to the Tamana County Nakayama Shingon Buddhist Church. Mr. Maishigi made his daughter Tomomi (13) sit in a chair and tied her arms and legs to it with belts, and subjected her to the “waterfall” for 5 minutes, holding her face upward while water was poured onto it from above. This is the suspected cause of her death.

After Tomomi lost consciousness, an ambulance was called which took her to the hospital, but at 3:40 AM the next day she was pronounced dead by asphyxiation.

The two testified to investigators, “There was a demon inside [my/his] daughter. She would recover if we exorcised it, so we used the Way of the Waterfall. Because she would violently resist it, we tied her to the chair.” They denied guilt: “It was not assault.”

“The Way of the Waterfall” was performed in a 3.5 square meter building separate from the main facility inside a small concrete “Waterfall Room”. Ground water was collected and poured from a height of 2.5 meters with the aid of equipment. While Atsushi Maishigi forced Tomomi to stay underwater, Kinoshita would utter incantations, according to the police report.

Men Who Performed Fatal Exorcism Belong to Recognized Religious Sect with 300,000 Believers
Yomiuri Shimbun: 「除霊」致死の宗教法人、信者は30万人
September 27, 2011
A junior high school student was drowned by her father during an attempted exorcism called “The Way of the Waterfall” at Tamana County Nakayama Shingon Buddhist Church.

According to the Cultural Department, the Nakayama Shingon Buddhism was recognized as a religion in 1952.

It has 350 temples and churches throughout the country, and as of December 2008 it had 305,555 believers. Its head temple is the Ryūkōtoku Temple in Miyaura, Kiyamae-machi, Saga Prefecture. In response to an interview request by this newspaper, a representative said, “We don’t know anything because we hadn’t heard about this until now.”

Railway Fans Pack Chiba’s Chōshi Station to Send Off “Suka-Colored” 113 Train on its Farewell Run

September 26, 2011

Crew of 113's Farewell Run Takes a Commemorative Photo
Railway fans take commemorative photos of the 113 before it departs. Chōshi Station, September 23, 2011.

Railway Fans Pack Chiba’s Chōshi Station to Send Off “Suka-Colored” 113 Train on its Farewell Run
Yomiuri Shimbun: 「スカ色」113系、ファンに見送られ記念運行
September 25, 2011

JR East passenger train #113, much loved for its kon– and cream-colored exterior (kon is navy blue), made farewell runs on the 23rd and 24th, from Tokyo’s Ryōgoku Station to Chiba’s Chōshi and Tateyama Stations, respectively, in honor of its retirement from regular service.

About a hundred camera-toting railway fans packed into Chōshi Station to reluctantly say farewell.

Train 113 began service in Chiba in 1969. It ran between Chiba and Kurihama, Yokosuka until 1999 (a route which rounds Tokyo Bay, passing through central Tokyo into Yokohama), including stints on the Sōbu Rapid Line and the Yokosuka Line. Its kon and cream paint job was nicknamed “Yokosuka Colors” or “Suka Colors” for short.

On the 23rd, the 113 made a round trip between Ryōgoku and Chōshi Stations on tracks used by the Sōbu and Narita Lines. It departed from Ryōgoku, and it arrived at Chōshi at 12:24 PM. After it had parked at “home”, the passengers and crew took commemorative photos with it.

At 2:05 PM, fans said “thank you” and waved to the car as it departed. 28 people on a “farewell team” assembled by Chōshi tourism attendants wore yellow happi coats for the occasion.

Mr. Hiroshi Sakurai (53), a former passenger, said: “We’ve been fond of this train ever since the Showa Period. There’s an intensity of feeling here and a sad aspect to this retirement as well.”

On the 24th, the train set off from Ryōgoku again and made a farewell run down the Sōbu Line and around the Uchibō and Sotobō Lines (which circle the inner and outer shores of the Bōso Peninsula [Chiba], respectively).

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World’s Leading E-Book Standard Moves to Address Japanese Vertical Writing Style

September 25, 2011

World’s Leading E-Book Standard Moves to Address Japanese Vertical Writing Style
Yomiuri Shimbun: 電子書籍の世界規格、縦書きの日本語にも対応へ
September 24, 2011

EPUB, which has become the world’s leading e-book standard, will become compatible with Japanese, which is traditionally written up-to-down and right-to-left, it was learned on the 24th.

Standards in the domestic e-book market vary between end users and mass media distributors, and this has handicapped the market’s growth. Electronic media distributors like Sony and Rakuten are seeking a single standard for large distributors. They hope a unification of world standards would increase users’ convenience. It could also possibly revolutionize the domestic publishing industry and ratchet up the heat on bookstores.

Sony and other companies are awaiting the American IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) in mid-October, when the new “EPUB 3” system will be launched. EPUB 3 is expected to reach the market by the end of the year.

International and Domestic E-Book Standards
The Current State of E-Book Standards
EPUB is the leading international standard. It is used by the American companies Apple, Google, and the like, but not by Japanese publishers. EPUB is investigating how to handle Japanese.
Inside Japan, the two leading systems are XMDF, used by Shogakukan and other companies, and Dotbook, employed by Kodansha and other firms. These two are headed toward mutual compatibility, as well.
Mass media companies themselves, like Sony and Rakuten, are also trying to bring about mutual compatibility between systems.

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More Than Two Million Women “Disappear” Each Year

September 24, 2011

Female Chinese Infant
Many Chinese girls are subjected to preventative abortion. Photo courtesy of Cordon Press.

More Than Two Million Women “Disappear” Each Year
Feticide of girls extends to the Caucasus and Balkans
El País: Más de dos millones de mujeres ‘desaparecen’ cada año
Georgina Higueras reporting from Madrid September 21, 2011

Technological advances in the detection of fetal gender has extended the barbarism of female feticide to the Caucasus and the eastern Balkans, according to a detachment from the World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development written by the World Bank. The report reveals that a million and a half selective abortions of females are carried out each year. In addition, another half a million girls younger than five die from discrimination because poor households choose to dedicate their scarce resources to the males in the family rather than the females.

The hateful practice of selective abortion of girls is utilized most of all in China, India, and South Korea, countries that have prohibited the use of ultrasounds to ascertain the sex of the fetus for over a decade and whose doctors are considered lawbreakers if they inform parents of fetal gender. Despite that, feticide of Chinese girls has risen for 20 years, up to over a million in 2008. In India, the total has slightly descended, but the report reveals that while these selective killings were only found in the north before, they are now occurring in some parts of the central and southern regions as well.

Experts attribute the cause of this barbarism to “the combination of a strong preference for sons, falling fertility rates, and the expansion of technology that allows parents to know the gender of a child before birth.” The most alarming datum corresponds to Europe and Central Asia, specifically the eastern Balkans and Caucasian republics: the number is still small, but it has doubled from 7000 in 1990 to 14,000 in 2008.

The report estimates that close to four million women are lost each year because there is also a high number – close to a million and a half – that die during reproductive age (15-49), primarily because there is a very high rate of maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa and certain parts of Asia. In Afghanistan, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Somalia, at least one of every 25 women dies from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, and an even greater number suffer from different ailments as a consequence of childbirth.

But not all the news is negative. The report also reveals important advances in gender equality have been made around the world in the last half a century such that women now have a higher life expectancy than men in every region of the planet. In 2007, the average woman’s life expectancy was 71 years, compared to 67 for men. In some developing countries, feminine life expectancy has risen up to 25 years, in part thanks to a decreased rate of childbirth.

As for education, the gains have been spectacular. We can say that there is near parity between men and women in primary and secondary education, while at the university level, there are more female than male students in 60 countries. Among the countries that have made the greatest leap in the education of women is Morocco, which had only 58% of its girls in school in 1997 compared to 88% in 2008.

In the working world, 500 million women have distinct occupations, from farmer to chief of state, and in 2008 women made up 40% of the total workforce, although positions for women in the Middle East and Northern Africa are still very deficient. There is also a significant gender gap in salaries, 20% on average.

The World Bank has urged countries to eliminate barriers to women working in certain occupations and sectors, “which would reduce the differences in productivity between male and female workers between 33% and 50%” and which would increase many nations’ productivity between 3% and 25%. It also calls for farmers to have more access to resources that would increase their productivity.