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.


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.

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Mar 282016

In 2014 there were 285 tortillerias in Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero, when the troubles with the drug cartels really started. Now only 185 remain open as a result of drug gangs attacking the tortilla shops and workers, kidnapping owners and forcing others out of business out of fear of the violence.

Chilpancingo, with a population of over 280,000, is situated in the mountains 105 km north-east of Acapulco. As elsewhere, the tortilla shops are concentrated in the poorer barrios where local criminal gangs also tend to be located. Tortillas are sold from small shops with a view to the street, or are delivered door-to-door by young men on motor cycles.

The drug cartels in Chilpancingo, such as Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos, realized that by controlling the business owners and the employees of tortillerias, they would have a wide-spread and well-placed network of drug distribution points, lookouts and street dealers, operating under the guise of these many small legitimate businesses.


The take-over began in 2014 with the kidnapping of shop owners and workers, often involving a week’s captivity in a secure house, and demands for ransom ranging from 30,000 pesos (US$2100), up to 2 million pesos (US$140,000 for owners of multiple tortillerias.) After release, the victims were forced to co-operate with the cartel’s drug distribution and look-out system, under threat of business closure. The leader of the Chilpancingo tortilla sellers, Abdon Abel Hernandez has been threatened numerous times, kidnapped once, and his family had to borrow a million pesos to secure his release. He says about 35% of the local tortilla industry has shut down since 2014 out of fear.

The regional president of Corpamex (Mexican Confederation of Business Owners) Adrian Alarcon says he also lives with the fear of death for trying to defend his threatened union membership. “Today the tortilla industry is kidnapped by them (criminal groups) just like what happened with public transport when they forced taxi drivers and bus drivers to become the hands and eyes of the narco. The industry is completely infiltrated. The money that comes from the tortillas is used to buy weapons. We are financing them”.

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

He also stated that 36 businessmen were kidnapped and tortured in the central region of Guerrero in the first two months of 2016, with most of the victims being associated with the tortilla industry. “It wasn’t a coincidence”, he said, “that a national survey named Chilpancingo as the country’s worst city to live in. Crime has put an end to everything: investments, jobs, and the desire to make a family here. But if you think the situation here is in a critical state, you should go to Acapulco. Here, the tortilleros are kidnapped, but there they are being killed.” According to Arcadio Castro, leader of the Tortilla Association of Guerrero, 20 tortilla workers lost their lives in 2015 in clashes with organized crime.

The previous chief of police of Acapulco was dismissed after he failed to pass control examinations, known as trust tests, designed to identify those with possible links to organized crime. His replacement expects some 700 of his current force of 1901 municipal police will also fail their next control exams. Given his current budget, he has no hope of renovating his police force with younger, healthier, law-abiding officers. The assault on the tortilla industry is generally not felt in the tourist areas of the city.

In 2010 UNESCO included the traditional Mexican cuisine of Michoacán in its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in large part based on the multiple uses and cultural centrality of corn in Mexican traditional cooking. This decision was very publicly celebrated by the tortilla industry. Unhappily, today, the tortillerias of Guerrero are struggling to survive the extortion rackets of the local drug cartels.

Main source:

Oscar Balderas. Drug Cartels Are Taking Over the Tortilla Business in Mexico. VICE News, , 16 March 2016; article re-published in Business Insider.

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Good news: tax on sugary drinks in Mexico is decreasing consumption

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Good news: tax on sugary drinks in Mexico is decreasing consumption
Jun 252015

On 1 January 2014, the Mexican government implemented a 10% tax on refrescos (aka sodas, pop, carbonated drinks) and other sugar sweetened drinks, raising the price by 1 peso (about 7 cents US) per liter, in an attempt to help curb the nation’s obesity problem. The tax became law despite heavy lobbying against it by the beverage industry. An 8% tax was also added to unhealthy snacks like potato chips and cookies.

Now preliminary results of a study (not yet peer reviewed) by the Mexican National Institute of Public Health and the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, show purchases of sugary beverages dropped 6% on average across 2014, and by as much as 12% in the last part of the year. The study analyzed consumption in 53 Mexican cities, and adjusted for other factors like the small downward trend in consumption of carbonated drinks in recent years. The effect was greatest in lower income households where purchases were cut by 9% over the year and by 17% in the later months. Moreover, the researchers claim that Mexicans drank more water after the refresco tax came into effect.

soft-drinks-2014Mexicans’ consumption of carbonated drinks per capita is the fourth highest in the world (behind Argentina, USA and Chile), with the average Mexican drinking the equivalent of 136 liters of Coca-Cola a year. Government revenues from the new tax totaled 18 billion pesos (US$1.3 billion) in 2014. The National Health Alliance, a Mexican public interest coalition, is now calling for the tax to increase to 20%, and for the abolition of tax on bottled water sold in containers of under 10 liters, to make it cheaper than sugary drinks. The Alliance is also pressuring the government to follow through on its promise to use the tax revenues raised to fund programs to prevent obesity and its associated diseases – for example, making free, clean drinking water available in schools that don’t currently have it.

In its March 2015 report on Carbonates in Mexico, Euromonitor International, reporting from an industry perspective, concludes:

(The tax) is one of the many new strategies that the Mexican government is implementing to fight the rising obesity and diabetes II rates after becoming the leading country for obese or overweight citizens globally in 2013…The most affected carbonated products are those sold in big sizes where consumers are more aware of the increased cost. Some leading brands have their stronger position among the biggest sizes of the market, and these brands have seen a greater impact in their volume sales. Amongst carbonates, Coca-Cola (de México SA de CV) holds a 68% total volume share, followed by its closest competitor Pepsi-Cola (Mexicana SA de CV), at 16% .

Carbonates is expected to keep on struggling with volume growth in Mexico due to consumers wanting healthier options, the increasing trend of having RTD teas and increasing trend of fruit-flavoured beverages instead of carbonates. Additionally, government actions have strongly impacted carbonates’ consumption.”

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Video documentation of the Lacondon Indians in Chiapas

 Books and resources  Comments Off on Video documentation of the Lacondon Indians in Chiapas
Jan 162015

The Lacondon Maya are one of the most isolated and culturally conservative of Mexico’s numerous indigenous peoples. Their homeland is in the remote Lacondon Jungle in eastern Chiapas, close to the Guatemalan border. The Lacondon were the only Mayan people not conquered or converted by the Spanish during the colonial era. Until the mid-20th century they had little contact with the outside world, while maintaining a sustainable agricultural system and practising ancient Mayan customs and religion.

This short two-part video by Joel Kimmel (Part One above; Part Two below) briefly traces the history of the Lacandon back to the classic Mayan civilization. The videos document their successful, slash and burn, rotating, multicrop, subsistence agricultural lifestyle, steeped in religious ritual, and sustained over centuries in small isolated groups in the almost impenetrable Lacandon jungle.

The film then looks at the more recent outside influences that resulted in the near extinction of the Lacandon by the mid 20th century. Today their population has increased again and is estimated at between 650 and 1000, living in about a dozen villages. The second video focuses on the Lacondon’s confrontation with the modern world over the past four decades. One group, the “southern” Lacandon have opted for Christianity and the trappings of modern life, whilst some in the “northern” group, centered around the village of Naja, near the Mayan ruins of Palenque, attempt to maintain the old customs and religion. The video ends with the thoughts of a former Director of Development at Na Bolom, regarding the possibility, and immense difficulty, of trying to preserve what remains of their language, cultural heritage and ecological knowledge, treasures the world can ill afford to lose.

The videos introduce speakers and photos from the internationally famous Casa Na Bolom, in San Cristóbal de la Casas, Chiapas. This scientific and cultural research institute was founded in 1951 by Danish archeologist Franz Blom and his Swiss wife, Trudy Blom, journalist, photographer and later environmental activist. They devoted their lives to documenting the cultural history of the Lacondon people and life in the Chiapas jungle and advocating for the survival of both. Following Trudy Blom’s death in 1993, the Asociación Cultural Na Bolom has continued to operate the center as a museum, research and advocacy center, and tourist hotel. It houses an archive of over 50,000 photographs, and other documentation created by scholars over the decades.

The two videos provide visual proof of the forces of modern Mexico that have threatened the existence of the Lacondon way of life – government roads opening up the jungle to loggers and other settlers, logging permits resulting in massive clearcutting of the mahogany forests , the arrival of tourism, Coca-Cola and canned foods, mainstream education and modern technology like satellite television.

Not covered in the video is the fact that a Mexican presidential order in 1971 granted 614,000 acres to the Lacandon Community, recognizing their land rights over the, by then, more numerous settlers who had been allowed to colonize the Lacandon Forest under previous governments. This, however, has brought the Lacandon into conflict with many settler-groups, creating problems which continue to the present time. (See Chiapas Conflict on Wikipedia).

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