May 052016
 

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has started the process of consultation with the Conference of Parties through its Bureau, and announced his intention to appoint Patricia Espinosa Cantellano of Mexico as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Espinosa

Espinosa. Credit: UN Photo: Devra Berkowitz

Ms. Espinosa Cantellano has more than 30 years of experience at highest levels in international relations, specializing in climate change, global governance, sustainable development and protection of human rights.

Since 2012, she has been serving as Ambassador of Mexico to Germany, a position she also held from 2001 to 2002. She previously served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico from 2006 to 2012.

[Text of UN press release, 3 May 2016]

May 022016
 

This little 77-page gem only recently came to my attention, but is sufficiently interesting, for lots of different reasons, to make it well worth reading if you have the chance.

Written in straightforward, non-academic language, Stanislawski sets about unpacking the factors explaining the land use patterns for eleven towns in the western Mexico state of Michoacán. Stanislawski knows the land use patterns of these town, because he painstakingly compiled them, with the help of multiple informants in each town, in the 1940s.

Aria de Rosales. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Aria de Rosales. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Stanislawski explains that his purpose was to find a method that would reliably identify the “personality differences” that he had intuitively recognized, during earlier fieldwork, for towns in Michoacán. He set out to map the four distinct categories of land use – stores, crafts, administrative offices and services – that he thought would likely reveal the “distributional aspects that might indicate differences between towns.”

Pichátaro. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Pichátaro. (Stanislawski, 1950)

He assumed that each town would be influenced by its geographic area, and therefore chose eleven towns that he thought would be a systematic sample: one in the coastal lowlands, three in the low Balsas valley, two in the upper Balsas valley (close to the temperate slopes), four within the mountain ranges of the volcanic area of Michoacán, and one at an elevation of 2400 m (8000 ft).

The maps he produced revealed that “the geographical region could not explain the differences between the towns except in part.” At least as important, Stanislawski decided, was which of the two basic cultural groups – Hispanic or Indian – was predominant in the town. He proposed a threefold classification: Hispanic, Indian or dual-character.

On this basis, Aria de Rosales (upper map), with its imposing plaza the focus of most commercial activity, is an Hispanic town. On the other hand, Pichátaro (lower map), where the plaza is unimportant, is Indian. Of course, these differences, identified by Stanislawski in the 1940s, do not necessarily apply today. Since the 1940s, transport systems have changed, there have been waves of migration out of many Michoacán towns, and the range of economic activities in towns has increased significantly, with a trend away from primary activities and a sharp rise in tertiary 9service) activities.

In the 1980s (sadly ignorant at the time of Stanislawski’s work), I employed a small army of geography students to undertake a somewhat similar mapping exercise in various Michoacán settlements, ranging in size from the small village of Jungapeo to the mining town of Angangueo and the large city of Zitácuaro. For an example of this kind of work, see The distribution of retail activities in the city of Zitácuaro, Michoácan, Mexico. Sadly, those 1980s maps were later discarded during a clean-out of the department map cabinet by a well-intentioned, if ill-informed, successor.

Source:

  • The Anatomy of Eleven Towns in Michoacán (review) by Dan Stanislawski (University of Texas, Institute of Latin American Studies, Latin American Studies X, 1950); reprinted by Greenwood Press, New York, 1969.

Apr 282016
 

Like most geographers, I collect maps and information wherever I travel; you never know what surprises await. Tourism publications are especially interesting since they are specifically designed (one assumes) to show the best side of the places described.

My collection of tourist brochures associated with Jalisco and the Lake Chapala area dates back more than thirty years. Many early versions had stylized maps, drawn by graphic designers, not cartographers, with sound (if uninspiring) text in Spanish. English translations were often unintelligible. In the 1980s, several bilingual members of the now-defunct Association of Travel Reporters, based in Guadalajara, offered to help the Jalisco State Tourism Department improve its translations, but the offer was politely declined.

chapala-brochure-2016

As this latest brochure relating to Lake Chapala shows, translation standards have not improved significantly since then, and remain a long way off “native speaker” level. This is particularly unfortunate, given that this area of Mexico has the largest concentration of English-speakers in the country.

Here, for example, is the English translation of the attractions of San Juan Cosalá:

One has to closely experience San Juan Cosalá in order to feel and enjoy it to the most, so come and discover a place you will never want to leave, for every happy moment can be lived here, as just by visiting you feel enveloped in an affluent of joy and vitality.

In getting to know it, just stroll across its Pier, or admire the harmonious architecture in San Juan Evangelista Church, or enjoy the exquisite aromas of seafood, bouncing from restaurants enlivened with fine music while walking over the Piedra Barrenada (Drilled Stone); or the rest;  freshness and fun offered in thermal waterparks and world level spas.

Undated tourism brochure, collected April 2016

Undated tourism brochure, collected April 2016

The cartography (above) also leaves a lot to be desired. A key (not shown in this post) is provided but the Jalisco Tourism department clearly needs to hire a geographer if they want to publish useful and meaningful maps. Details worth noting include:

  • No symbol in the key for the “gas station” signs shown on the map. The map shows only four gas stations in this area (and none in Chapala or Ajijic); there are dozens of others not shown on the map, including several in Chapala and Ajijic.
  • The map has no scale.
  • The Isla de los Alacranes, a short boat-ride from Chapala, is shown a long way south of its true position, and a lot further from Chapala than it really is.
  • The dark blue area is, according to the key, the Chapala Lakeshore. I have absolutely no idea what it really represents! Lake Chapala’s catchment area is a completely different shape to the dark blue area. The “Chapala Lakeshore” should, obviously, also include the south-east section of the lake around Las Palmas and Cojumatlán. Much of the area colored dark blue is out of view of the lake, and drains towards the Santiago River, not the lake.
  • Placing the word “CHAPALA” in the north-east section of the dark blue area is totally misleading. The area where the word is written is NOT in the lake basin, not in view of the lake, and is not even in the municipality of Chapala. Again, I have no idea why the artist responsible for this map chose to ignore geography.

It is 2016, and Jalisco State tourism officials still need to improve the quality of their brochures and maps. Come on guys! Time to up your game!

Apr 252016
 

Cuatro Ciénegas (“Four Marshes”) is a city and municipality in the northern border state of Coahuila. Founded in 1800, it has some historical significance, since it was the birthplace of Venustiano Carranza, Mexico’s president from 1915 to 1920.

The natural nearby “marshes” are highly unusual. Situated in an arid region (part of the Chihuahuan desert), they include several natural springs that feed more than 200 small ponds and wetlands. Some of the water supporting these unique wetlands, which cover an area of 84,400 hectares, is believed to be more than 200 million years old. The wetlands are an integral part of the UNESCO-designated Cuatro Ciénegas biosphere reserve. The reserve is home to several endemic organisms, including microorganisms such as cyanobacteria that historically helped produce oxygen for the Earth’s atmosphere. The area is considered “a living laboratory of evolution and the origin of life”.

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect)

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect.com)

Human activities in the surrounding area have led to severe water stress on the Cuatro Ciénegas marshes. The basin’s average natural recharge rate (replenishment rate) is about  25 million cubic meters a year, but the average yearly extraction rate, almost all for agricultural use, is close to 49 million cubic meters.

Water stress may be exacerbated in coming years by climate change, which may reduce rainfall while simultaneously increasing evapotranspiration.

Scientists have also identified five particular exotic (introduced) species that pose a significant risk to the long-term quality of the Cuatro Ciénegas wetlands. Whether naturally or deliberately introduced, these five species – African jewelfish, blue tilapia, giant cane (giant reed), Guatemalan fir and tamarisk (salt cedar) – threaten to displace endemic species and change natural nutrient flows and food chains. Guatemalan fir and tamarisk soak up water as they grow, further drying out the marshes (though, eventually, when little water is left, they will die off). The blue tilapia carries parasites that can jump to local species that have no resistance to them. The African jewelfish occupies the same ecological niche as the endemic mojarra and gradually replaces it.

Mexico’s Comision Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONAMP), is now working with the Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation (FNCN) and the Canadian government agency Parks Canada to develop and implement a control and eradication program to tackle these five invasive species. The long-term survival of this highly unusual ecosystem may well depend on this program’s success.

Related posts:

Apr 212016
 

Mexico is by far the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of avocados. Production topped 1.3 million metric tons last year, well ahead of the USA (240,000 tons) and Chile (205,000 tons). Mexico’s avocado exports have risen by a staggering 414% over the past eight years to more than 600,000 metric tons in 2015, worth close to US$2 billion.

logo_brands_avocados-from-mexicoThe state of Michoacán is by far the most important single state in Mexico for avocado farms and accounts for 8 out of very 10 avocados sold in the USA, according to the Association of Avocado Producers, Packers and Exporters of Michoacán (APEAM). APEAM says that more than 50% of all the avocados consumed in the world come from Michoacán. In the town of Tancítaro, one of the main centers for avocado-growing, APEAM estimates that nine out of every 10 pesos can be traced back to avocado production. Mexico’s avocado industry employs more than 300,000 people in total, 100,000 directly and over 200,000 indirectly.

Many avocado farms are quite small. Mexico has more than 12,000 avocado producers with individual farms under five hectares in size. As noted in this previous post, the clearance of land for avocado cultivation can barely keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

Problems with drug cartel activity continue. As we noted a few years ago, narcos insist on their cut of the profitable avocado business and have made life difficult for growers, traders and truck drivers. The Wall Street Journal has reported that this makes Michoacán avocados the equivalent of African blood diamonds. Avocado producers reportedly have to pay cartels up to 1,000 pesos (US$60) a hectare to avoid problems.

Cartels aside, export success looks set to continue for a while longer, since China and South Korea have now opened their markets to receive Michoacán avocados.

Related posts

Apr 182016
 

Only weeks after the suspension of hotel construction work in the Malecón Tajamar area of Cancún due to the wanton destruction of mangroves, work on another major hotel project in Cancón has also been stopped.

This time, it is the building of Riu Hotel’s 95-million-dollar, 530-room, Hotel Riviera Cancún, with two 70-story towers, that has been halted. The project is in the Punta Nizuc area of Cancún’s Hotel Zone, off Boulevard Kukulcán. A judge has now ordered that the project be permanently suspended because it infringes a federally-protected zone that extends 100 meters from nearby mangroves in the Nichupté protected area.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

The judge also ruled that Fonatur (the National Tourism Development Fund) had illegally sold a beach access road to benefit the Riu development. In addition, the municipal government of Cancún had approved a change of land use category (zoning) for the area in order for the hotel construction to begin. The original zoning limited construction to a height of only three stories.

According to press reports, Luis Riu, the president of the Riu hotel chain, claims the issue has nothing to do with mangroves but is about political influence, and because the wealthy owner of a neighboring hotel had been upset at not acquiring the land himself.

Despite these local successes, it is unlikely that this latest setback to hotel construction on the coast really signals a sea-change in Mexico’s attitude to unbridled development of its shoreline. There are still numerous other projects underway in other parts of the country that endanger local habitats, as well as many more major projects on the drawing board. Even so, it is encouraging that the judicial process is showing signs of siding with environmentalists and those seeking to ensure that Mexico’s magnificent coastline and scenery survive its grandiose tourism development plans.

Related posts:

Apr 142016
 

Mexico is the world’s ninth largest coffee producer and second largest producer of organic coffee. However, coffee production in Mexico in recent years has been affected by adverse weather conditions (untimely rainfall, frosts, excess humidity) which have been ideal for the expansion of coffee rust disease (roya del café) in many production areas. The 2015/16 coffee production forecast is for 3.3 million 60/kg bags (sacks), the same as the 2014-15 total production, and much lower than historical production outputs of around 5 million bags.

About 35% of Mexico’s coffee production area is located at elevations of 900 meters or higher above sea level; another 43.5% grows between 600 and 900 meters. Coffee grown at the higher elevations is generally higher quality than that grown at lower elevations.

Mexico's exports: coffee

Coffee, one of Mexico’s most important agricultural exports

Mexico has about 500,000 coffee farmers, looking after 600,000 hectares of coffee trees in twelve states. Plantations in the states of Chiapas, Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Puebla account for about 93% of total production. Almost all coffee-growing areas have been affected by outbreaks of coffee rust. The most affected states are Veracruz, with about 70% of the area affected, and Chiapas with about 60% of the area affected. About 40% of the coffee planted area nationwide has been affected somewhat by coffee rust.

Coffee rust is a fungal disease that can cause plant defoliation. In moderate cases, leaf defoliation reduces plants’ ability to produce fruit (the seeds of which are the actual coffee bean). In serious cases, the trees will die. The rust has spread northward from Central America, and reached Chiapas 4-5 years ago.

coffee

The Agriculture Secretariat (SAGARPA) has responded by installing about 35 nurseries in states most affected, growing coffee plant varieties resistant to rust. But these trees will need about 4 years to come into production so government officials do not expect coffee production to rebound until 2019. Sagarpa’s objective is to renew at least 250,000 hectares before the end of this administration’s term in 2018.

The SAGARPA program, aiming to increase coffee production and productivity, includes US$83 per producer as incentive, technical assistance packages of up to $140 dollars per hectare, and 500 coffee plants to renovate coffee plantations, as 80% of plants are old and less productive and often rust-prone.

However, coffee organizations complain that resources are not reaching the affected areas fast enough and that program implementation has been too localized instead of having a nation-wide strategy.

Some state governments and international companies are offering support for various types of price-enhancing certifications such as organic, Fair Trade etc. Some indigenous communities are planting their coffee trees among other trees like lime and avocado to diversify production and provide shade that helps coffee quality and enhances eligibility for value-added certifications like Rainforest Alliance and Shade Grown.

As production techniques continue to evolve, some producers have increased plant density from 2600 plants per hectare to 5000 plants per hectare.

Shade grown coffee

Shade grown coffee

Recent figures suggest that about 96% of Mexico’s coffee is of the Arabica variety. The remaining 3-4% is the Robusta variety, used in the production of instant coffee. Mexico is importing large quantities of Robusta variety coffee beans as the large Nestle plant in the city of Toluca has been increasing its output of instant (soluble) coffee. However, Nestle has also increased the use of Arabica coffee in its products. SAGARPA is now supporting the planting of Robusta coffee to decrease coffee bean imports and to support Mexico’s goal of becoming a major producer of soluble coffee.

Mexico is also producing excellent organic coffee, a trend which is increasing among producers. However,  coffee rust has hit areas of organic coffee more than conventional plantings. According to SAGARPA, about 7 to 8% of growers are cultivating organic coffee, mainly for export.

About 40% of Mexican coffee production is marketed for local consumption, according to AMECAFE, and the remaining 60% is for export. The USA continues to be the main international market for Mexican green coffee beans.

Domestic consumption

Coffee consumption in Mexico has been increasing, with estimates of up to 2.6 million 60 kg. bags total usage this year, and consumption (of roasted and soluble coffee) at between 1.3 and 1.5 kg/person.

The importation of coffee is expected to rise in 2016, in order to meet domestic demand.

Increased consumption has been driven by government and retail advertising and by the growing number of specialty coffee shops in Mexico. (Starbucks alone has opened 500 coffee shops in Mexico). Soluble coffee still makes up about 68% of domestic consumption but ground coffee consumption is increasing among the middle class, whilst high-income consumers often want fashionable value-added imported coffee.

Related posts

Apr 112016
 

According to ECOCE, a non-profit environmental grouping of 24 food and beverage firms, representing more than 80 brands such as Peñafiel, Bonafont, Herdez, Jumex and Coca-Cola, Mexico is the world’s leading recycler of hard plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and containers.

Mexico has 14 PET recycling plants, the construction of which represents total investments of around US$314 million.

Ever wondered what thousands and thousands of crushed plastic bottles look like? Try this short video showing the processes involved in a PetStar PET-recycling plant:

In 2015, Mexico produced 722,000 metric tons of PET, of which 364,000 tons (50.4%) were recovered for recycling. This rate of recycling is well ahead of Canada (40%), Brazil (42%), the U.S. (31%) and the European Union (21%). Recycled PET, worth about $250 a ton, is reused to make bottles, containers, and various textile products.

60% of Mexico’s recycled PET is destined for the national market, the remaining 40% is exported to China, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Source:

Related posts:

Apr 072016
 

In August 2012, in The value in Mexico of unpaid work in the home, we saw that a study by the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) based on 2010 data had calculated that routine work done in the home (almost 80% of the time-value involved comes from women) was worth about 2.9 trillion pesos to the Mexican economy each year, equivalent to more than 20% of Mexico’s GDP. The INEGI calculations included the costs in time/labor needed to meet the demands of the home, and the net salary that would be paid for someone undertaking similar tasks.

INEGI has just published updated statistics on this topic.  In 2014, unpaid work by women in the home was equivalent to 18% of GDP. This figure means that female contributions in the home continue to make a greater contribution to national GDP than manufacturing (16.7%), commerce (15.5%) or education (4.1%).

The latest INEGI figures show that for every 10 hours that women work (paid or unpaid), men work only 8.3 hours. According to INEGI, the average value of unpaid work by women in the home in rural areas amounted to  51,808 pesos a year (about US$4300 at the then rate of exchange). The value for women married or living with a partner was 61,456 pesos, compared to 26,082 pesos for single women. The average in households which included children under 6 years of age was 60,628 pesos.

Of 29 million Mexicans in employment (in 5.7 million economic units), women account for 43.8% (graph):

% of women in different sectors of the workforce

% of women in different sectors of the workforce, 2014

The figures do reveal a slight decrease in gender inequality since the employment of women is rising slightly faster than that of men, by about 2.0%/year compared to the overall figure of 1.4%/year. In 2014, about 50% of service workers, 34.5% of manufacturing workers, and 11.0% of construction workers were female.

Related posts:

Apr 042016
 

The world’s first ecological museum was designed and built in Mexico, at the archaeological site of Xochicalco, in the state of Morelos. The museum, about thirty kilometers south of Cuernavaca, was built as part of Mexico’s celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus.

The project, which overs 12,676 square meters, was begun in 1993. Basic construction was completed in 1994 and the museum was formally inaugurated in April 1996.

Xochicalco is an interesting archaeological site, best known for its astronomical significance. Some archaeologists have made a case that its most lavishly-decorated pyramid commemorates a major conference of astronomers, held here in the eighth century AD, in order to plan a calendar adjustment.

At Xochicalco, the scenic and imposing ruins visible today reflect only a small part of what was formerly a much more extensive city. Numerous constructions, linked by cobblestone tracks, rise above the platforms; they include palaces, temples, ball courts and more than one “observatory”.

Xochicalco remained prominent until about AD1000, after which it was abandoned. When the Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century, they learned of the ruins, but had no inkling of their astronomical significance.

Two of the many natural underground caves at Xochicalco show clear evidence of architectural modification, with the perforation of an artificial hole or “chimney” from the cave to the ground above. These vertical shafts enabled very precise celestial observations. For instance, the vertical north side of the five-meter-long chimney down into one cave would have resulted in a precisely vertical beam of sunlight on the days the sun is directly overhead.

Xochicalco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and receives about 800,000 visitors a year.

 

Xochicalco site museum

Xochicalco site museum

The challenge in building the museum is that there is no established settlement near the archaeological site, so there was no local provision of potable water, drainage or electricity.

As a result, the local Mexican architect, Rolando J. Dada y Lemus, designed a building that was almost entirely self-sufficient.

The project, which is fully wheelchair accessible. had three components:

  • Access, parking and exterior gardens, covering 4,550 square meters
  • Entrance patio and three interior gardens, 1,237 square meters
  • Six covered exhibition rooms connected to an entrance hall which has a view of the site, restaurant, administrative and service areas, 1,870 square meters

The museum has parking for 70 cars and 14 buses, and can accommodate 600 people at a time.

How is this museum so sustainable?

  • Underlying the museum is a 550,000-liter cistern. For a few months during the winter dry season, water has to be trucked in from a nearby reservoir – this is the only “input” from outside.
  • The museum’s interior temperatures remain moderate all year because there is a 20-cm gap between exterior and interior walls. When exterior walls heat up in summer, that heat has little effect on the temperature of the interior walls.
  • Shallow outdoor pools around the perimeter cool outside air before it enters the building.
  • Skylights, used to illuminate the exhibits, also allow warm air inside the building to escape.
  • Photo-voltaic solar panels provide sufficient power for computers, lights, and the cistern pump.
  • Rainwater is captured and utilized for much of the year.
  • Wastewater is treated and used to water the gardens

The museum cost 6 million pesos to build, but the energy savings alone mean that all that cost has already been “recuperated”. (Similar size museums have electricity bills of around 1 million pesos a year)

Sources: