Orchards contrast with desert in the Casas Grandes area of Chihuahua.
Mexico’s apple and peach industry appears to be rebounding after decades of difficulties and decline, says Dr. Terence Robinson, who thinks this might be tied to improvements in the Mexican economy in general.
Agriculture in Mexico has been hit by a number of political and economic factors during the past century or so.
In the 1920s and 1930s, as a result of the Mexican revolution, the government redistributed the land, breaking up large holdings and allowing no one person to own more than 100 hectares (250 acres) of farmland. The land tracts were so small and the people so poor that they could not use modern farming techniques, so agriculture stagnated. Farmers mostly grew corn, using primitive farming methods. Land ownership restrictions endured until the 1980s.
In the 1960s, Mexican agriculture went through a modernization when the government provided subsidies to help farmers buy fertilizer and quality seed. Agriculture flourished until the country’s economic crisis of 1978, which was fueled by a large national debt. The currency was devalued, the government took over the banks, and no loans were available. Robinson said the currency was so weak that it dropped in value almost daily. This badly affected the apple-growing community because when growers took their apples out of storage to sell in the spring, the value of the crop might be half of what it had been at harvest. Mexico went through another economic crisis in 1988.
Robinson said the northern part of Mexico, including Chihuahua State, has never rebounded, and that agriculture declined through the 1980s and 1990s.
“Poverty is a way of life in Mexico,” he said. “A lot of people live in extreme poverty.”
Many people, who don’t see much opportunity in Mexico, have been going north over the U.S. border in search of jobs. As a result, there’s a shortage of local workers in Chihuahua, and farmers with labor-intensive crops hire workers from poor regions in southern Mexico.
But orchardists in Chihuahua now say they are optimistic about the future of their industry, and tree fruit acreage is expanding.
There are more affluent people in Mexico than before, Robinson noted. “I have seen in my lifetime a growing middle class in Mexico. There’s a substantial middle class that has enough money to have their own home, cars, and modern conveniences. That’s tremendous progress.”