Mexico’s agricultural history stretches back thousands of years, and today farming continues to help shape the country’s environment, economy and culture.
More than half of the country’s total land area is used in agriculture, with crop production accounting for 13% of the total national territory.
With its varied landscapes and climates offering producers the opportunity to produce more than 200 crops, the country is a major player in Latin American food production and the eighth-largest agricultural crop producer in the world (World Bank).
Its most significant crops include tomatoes, wheat, coffee, sugarcane, sorghum and corn - a crop which is native to the country and was first grown there some 7000 years ago and occupies a third of the country’s cropland.
Other important tropical crops include banana, pineapple, mango, cocoa, rice and vanilla - another of the country’s native plants.
Thanks to the array of crops produced within its borders, agriculture is vital to the country’s trade and industry and accounts for almost 4% of its US$1.1 trillion GDP. The sector employs more than 13% of the country’s 55m-strong workforce.
Last year Mexico exported US$26bn of agricultural produce, and with an average annual growth of about 6% the country is the third-largest exporter in Latin America behind Brazil and Argentina.
Major export crops include tomatoes, corn, coffee and sugarcane, whilst wheat and cotton also count amongst some of its most profitable crops.
The majority of agricultural exports head to the United States, which receives about 81% of the country’s exported food products.
However, trade deals mean new markets have opened up to Mexico’s producers in recent years, including Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and Europe. The growth of these alternative markets means that the country’s agri-food exports are predicted to increase a further 6% by 2020.
While many of the developments in Mexico’s agricultural output in recent years have been due to developments in larger-scale and more economic farming practices, community and family farms remain vital to many areas of the country.
Production in Mexico’s central region in particular relies on community and family enterprises, with significant amounts of corn, beans and squash produced there for domestic consumption.
Ensuring the continued sustainability of these farms is one of the issues the industry needs to address, as issues such as water scarcity, rising temperatures and economies of scale are proving challenging for many producers.
As part of a national and international strategy to tackle these problems, organisations like the World Bank are encouraging Mexico’s farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices.
Techniques include silvopastoralism (growing crops alongside trees) which helps with water and soil conservation, and crop rotation in maize, wheat and beans to help improve soils, as well as water harvesting and land levelling for irrigation in maize, sugarcane, beans, and other crops.
By adopting these techniques and implementing agricultural systems which suit the country’s different conditions, it is hoped Mexico will continue to drive its production, and cement its position as an important player in global agriculture.