Insights on Mexico
Published on: April 6, 2023
Mexico is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The country has experienced increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events. These changes have significantly impacted agriculture, water resources, and public health.
Although Mexico is known to have the second-largest economy in Latin America, the country continues to have high rates of rural poverty and significant social and economic inequalities. The country is unique with its diverse landscape, which includes deserts, mountains, beaches, and tropical rainforests. Millions of travelers are drawn to it yearly for its cultural attractions and natural beauty.
Mexico produces several agricultural goods consumed locally or exported to neighboring countries. Despite only making up a minor portion of the nation’s GDP today, agriculture has historically and politically played a significant role in its economy. The three regions known to produce most of the nation’s commercial agricultural goods include the Gulf of Mexico and Chiapas Highlands tropics, the irrigated plains of the north and northwest, and the Bajo region in central Mexico. Despite the government’s efforts to grow the agricultural sector in Mexico, certain factors still need to improve the nation’s production capacity. These constraining factors include depleted natural resources, limited human and social resources, poor production investment, a lack of technical assistance, and market inaccessibility. These factors bring about poor yield, low income, and poverty.
The Mexican climate
Mexico’s climate is influenced by the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. The ocean currents and winds that pass over these bodies of water affect Mexico’s rainfall patterns and temperature fluctuations.
While the southern portions experience constant temperatures all year round, the northern region gets colder winter temperatures. The various climate systems result from the country’s diversified geography, which includes deserts, high mountain plateaus, and tropical coastlines. Locations close to one another also experience temperature fluctuations due to elevation variations. Also, the country’s proximity to two oceans and its complex topography increase its vulnerability to extreme hydro-meteorological events like tropical cyclones, frosts, heatwaves, and floods.
According to a climate report from the World Bank, temperature ranges from 15°C to 20°C in the central upland regions of Mexico, while in the coastal lowlands, it ranges from 23°C to 27°C. A steady 725 mm of precipitation falls annually on average, most of which falls between June and October. The far north experiences an annual rainfall of less than 50 mm. The southern areas and central highlands have a distinct wet season from June to October, with an average monthly rainfall of 550 mm in the southernmost regions. The nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts are susceptible to storms from July to October and El Niño events.
Tropical weather with high humidity and year-round precipitation usually occurs in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. With high summertime temperatures and precipitation, the Yucatan Peninsula experiences a subtropical climate. Mexico’s northern portion is known to experience less precipitation than its southern region. As a result, dust storms and droughts are common in the north and can negatively affect agricultural production.
The main Mexican crops
Mexico is the birthplace of chocolate. The ancient Mesoamericans, including the Maya and Aztecs, were the first to cultivate the cacao plant and create chocolate drinks. However, Mexico’s most lucrative crops are coffee, avocado, corn, tomatoes, and sugarcane.
Coffee is grown in several regions of Mexico, and two varieties are grown: arabica and robusta coffee. Most coffee producers in Mexico are smallholder farmers like in El Equimite. They face challenges like low productivity, damage caused by insect pests such as coffee mealybugs and coffee stem borers, and diseases such as rust.
Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados. The fruit is primarily grown for export, with 92% of the country’s production coming from Michoacán State in West Central Mexico. Land availability, cheap labor, and good rainfall patterns encourage avocado production in Mexico. However, insect pests such as avocado weevils affect the fruit’s quality, limiting its export. Also, water scarcity, deforestation, and disease infections affect avocado production in Mexico.
Since corn (a.k.a maize in British English) is a key crop in Mexico, reductions in national production would seriously affect the nation’s ability to feed its people. Maize is used in traditional tortillas, tamales, and pozole dishes. It is also used for animal feed, as well as for the production of biofuels and other industrial products. Mexico’s corn production is threatened in several ways by climate change. For instance, drought and heat stress reduce corn output and quality. Healthy corn crops are also difficult to produce in degraded soils. The fall armyworm, whose larvae cause severe damage to the crop leaves, is a major insect pest of corn.
The tomato is a crop widely grown among large-scale Mexican farmers. It is produced mainly to be exported to other countries, especially the United States. Mexico’s tomatoes are in high demand because of their flavor, quality, and relatively low price compared to other production regions. However, the output of tomatoes in Mexico is impacted by temperature extremes, bacterial or fungal infections, and insect pests that damage tomato fruits or leaves. Unfavorable weather conditions, such as flooding, can also cause a significant loss in tomato production.
Mexico is a major producer of sugarcane, which is used to generate sugar and other sweeteners. The industry is controlled by a few large-scale mills that convert the cane into raw sugar, molasses, and other byproducts. The industry supports the nation’s exports, with Mexico exporting significant amounts of sugar to the United States and other nations. However, the Mexican sugarcane industry suffers significant obstacles, such as poor soil drainage in some locations, winter frosts in some mountain areas, particularly in the more northern growing regions, a lack of rainfall, and inadequate input levels.
Mexico’s agricultural trade
The third-largest agricultural trading partner of the United States is widely known to be Mexico. About 26 billion USD worth of agricultural and allied products were exported from the US to Mexico in 2021. With a market share of about 70%, the United States has managed to keep its top spot in Mexico’s agricultural imports. Almost 39 billion dollars worth of Mexico’s overall agricultural exports is still sent to the United States, which remains the country’s top agricultural trading partner. Due to geographic advantages, the United States has maintained a significant market share in Mexico for most key agricultural products.
Since the advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), exports of agricultural goods to the United States have taken on a significant role. While just around 12% of American agricultural exports go to Mexico, the United States imports about 60% of Mexican agricultural exports. Under NAFTA, Mexico has an edge in producing vegetables, fruits, and juices, while the US has an advantage in grain production. Winter fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, and fresh flowers are the two exports to the US that are expanding the most.
What is the status of Regenerative Agriculture in Mexico
Regenerative farming is gaining popularity in Mexico as more and more farmers understand the value of sustainable farming methods for the long-term health of their communities and lands. The traditional milpa system is an example of regenerative agriculture in Mexico. The “Milpa Intercalada con Arboles Frutales” (MIAF; or “milpa”) is a traditional maize-based multi-crop system interspersed with rows of fruit trees. For thousands of years, indigenous societies in Mexico have used this system; some parts are still in use today. While maize and other crops provide food security, fruit trees are meant to provide income and stop erosion. Tree rows are covered with maize residues and tree clippings to absorb runoff and progressively build terraces.
Also, several initiatives and organizations are operating in Mexico to advance regenerative agriculture. An example of such an initiative is the Regeneration Alliance Mexico, a network of regenerative farmers, enterprises, and organizations. ReNature also has several regenerative agriculture projects ongoing in Mexico to assist farmers and corporate organizations adopt regenerative practices. Some of these projects include Arpen, an agroforestry educational center that serves as a demonstration and educational space for 4,000 citrus farmers, students, and researchers. Also El Equimite – a model farm aimed at developing the Mexican coffee sector. The project is expected to impact over 3,000 farmer families and create means of stabilizing and improving farmers’ living standards while considering environmental sustainability.