FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Family Farming Observatory

Family Farming in Mexico

Family farming is a strategic sector in Mexico that feeds more than 112 million people. In recent years, it has been suggested that this sector needs to be viewed under a different lens; in other words, it should be considered part of the solution to generate food, income, and employment and not the root of the problems in Mexico's countryside. The following is a brief summary of the current situation of this important sector of Mexico's economy[1].

In order to define family farming in a country as heterogeneous as Mexico, a series of factors must be taken into consideration. A study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Nutrition (SAGARPA) and FAO has identified three major groups:

Subsistence family farms: Food production for on-farm consumption characterized by inadequate productive resources and the need to supplement income with non-farm activities or government aid.

Family farms in transition: Production for on-farm consumption and sale, with minor shortages of productive resources; additional sources of income are rarely needed.

Consolidated family farms: Sustainable production and sale in local markets, with no shortage of productive resources; other sources of income may sporadically be required.

The study drew data from SAGARPA baseline information, which provided an overview of the rural sector and revealed, using the group classification cited above, that 81.3% of Mexico's 5.4 million rural economic units (REU) can be considered family farms. The aim of the study conducted by SAGARPA and FAO was to identify family farms with business production potential. According to the study, 39.6% of REUs in Mexico have this potential. Table 1 provides a summary of the characteristics of family farm REUs with business production potential.

Table 1: Socio-economic characteristics of family farming RUEs with business production potential

 Subsistence Family FarmsFamily Farms in TransitionConsolidated Family Farms
REUs with business production potential (percentage, 100% = 2,147,619 REUs)17.456.825.8
Average total surface area (hectares)
Average farmland surface area (hectares)
Average value of assets (Mexican pesos)6.75832.68942.711
Number of family members who participate in an REU2.62.41.7
Percentage of REUs located in areas with high and extremely high marginalization71.973.443.2
Average gross annual income (Mexican pesos)17.35436.15045.330
Percentage of REUs with access to credit3.32.45.5
Average schooling (years)
Percentage of women running REUs24.821.823.8
Percentage of the population that speaks an indigenous language38.631.411.0
Percentage of REUs with land tenure91.890.592.0

Source: SAGARPA & FAO 2012. Agricultura Familiar con potencial productivo en México.

The stratification of REUs with business production potential is as follows: 17.4% were classified as subsistence family farms, 56.8% as family farms in transition, and 25.8% as consolidated family farms. When total income earned by REUs from crops is taken into consideration, the following were identified as the most important cyclical products: corn (58.2%), beans (14.5%) and sorghum (10%). Also, the major perennial crops that generate income are: coffee (33.1%), sugarcane (20.6%) and alfalfa (6.9%). Figure 1 presents a summary of production stratification by agricultural sector: agricultural production, livestock production, forestry production, fish production or aquaculture, and other non-agricultural activities.

The states with the greatest number of family farming REUs with business production potential are: Coahuila, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz and the state of Mexico. The map in Figure 2 shows where these family farming REUs with business production potential are located.

Chart 1. Stratification of the economic activity of family farming REUs with business production potential

Source: Drawn from data gathered by SAGARPA & FAO 2012.

Chart 2. Location of family farming REUs with business production potential.

Source: SAGARPA & FAO 2012. Agricultura Familiar con potencial productivo en México.

With regards to the institutional framework to strengthen family farming in Mexico, it should be noted that SAGARPA is key for the development of this sector. SAGARPA is a Federal Executive body whose objectives are to encourage the adoption of a support policy aimed at allowing improvements in production, promoting the comparative advantages of Mexico's farming sector, integrating the range of activities within the rural sector to be incorporated into the rest of the economy's chains of production, and encouraging producer organizations to collaborate with Mexico's own programs and projects, as well as with its proposed goals and objectives for the farming sector as part of the National Development Plan.

The history of SAGARPA dates back to 1842 with the creation of the General Directorate for Industry and its Department of Agriculture and Livestock Production. Later, in 1853, the Ministry of Development, Colonization, Industry and Trade was formed. Several structural changes were made to the Ministry, which was then transformed into the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources in 1976, and later, in 1995 into what is currently known as SAGARPA.

The following are the current programs that provide assistance to Mexico's agriculture, livestock, and fishery sectors:

  • Assistance for Investments in Equipment and Infrastructure
  • PROCAMPO Productivo farm subsidies program
  • Capacity development, Technological Innovation and Rural Extension
  • Risk Prevention and Management
  • Programa de Acciones en Concurrencia con las Entidades Federativas en Materia de Inversión, Sustentabilidad y Desarrollo de Capacidades (Investment, sustainability and capacity development initiatives in conjunction with federal aid agencies)
  • Strategic Projects
  • Sustainability of Natural Resources

The government of Mexico recently created a program with the collaboration of CIMMYT, known as MasAgro (Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Farming), The program is aimed at improving food security through research and development and capacity development and technology transfer in rural areas for small to medium corn and wheat producers to increase crop yield, ensure stability, increase income, and mitigate the impact of climate change in Mexico.

MasAgro is divided into four interconnected components:

  • Discovering the Genetic Diversity of Seeds
  • International Strategy for Increasing Corn Yields
  • International Strategy to Increasing Wheat Yields
  • Sustainable Development with Producers

[1] This section draws on a summary of the study Agricultura Familiar con potencial productivo en México (Family farming with production potential in México) conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Nutrition (SAGARPA) and FAO.