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Aug 042012
 

A study by the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) based on 2010 data calculated that routine work done in the home (almost 80% of the time-value involved by women) is worth about 2.9 trillion pesos to the Mexican economy each year, equivalent to more than 20% of Mexico’s GDP. By way of comparison, manufacturing accounts for 17.2% of GDP, and commerce 15% of GDP.

The INEGI calculation includes the costs in time/labor needed to meet the demands of the home, and the net salary that would be paid for someone undertaking those tasks.

INEGI divides work done in the home into six categories:

  • help and assistance to members of the household. [In market value terms, this is equivalent to 6.9% of GDP]
  • preparation and serving of meals [5% of GDP]
  • cleaning and maintaining the home [3.5% of GDP]
  • shopping and household administration [2.9% of GDP]
  • washing and looking after footwear and clothing [2% of GDP]
  • helping other households and voluntary work [1.6% of GDP]

INEGI’s findings suggest that some aspects of family life and the division of “duties” (such as that common to older images like the one below) are not changing very rapidly.

"La Familia" ("The Family"). School chart of unknown date.

“La Familia” (“The Family”). School chart of unknown date.

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Aug 022012
 

The rainy season is now well underway in most of Mexico, but large swathes of the north are still experiencing severe drought conditions. For example, the state of Zacatecas was recently officially declared a drought disaster zone. It is still too early to estimate the total economic impact of the drought, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that the drought has already caused agricultural damages in Mexico of $1.2 billion dollars, in addition to the $8 billion dollars of losses for Texas.

The drought has raised many issues connected to trans-border water agreements and flows, with renewed calls for them to be formally reviewed and updated. Two examples should suffice to show the seriousness of the situation.

1. Under the terms of a 1906 bilateral treaty, Mexico is entitled to 74 million cubic meters from the Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs in New Mexico. However, according to Adolfo Mata, foreign affairs officer for the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), the USA will only be able to deliver a maximum of 18.5 million cubic meters this year.

2. Meanwhile, south of the border, the governor of the state of Chihuahua has stated that his state is unable to meet its obligation to deliver water to the USA under the terms of a 1944 International Water Treaty between the two countries. He said that, “No one can give what they do not have. Chihuahua cannot meet this treaty, not for a lack of will, but because it has not rained,” adding that Chihuahua was the only desert in the world that was expected to export water. According to the governor, the treaty requires that about 80% of the rainfall that Chihuahua receives is exported.

On a more positive note, researchers at the Ibero-American University have announced the development of a hydrogel capable of absorbing 200 times its own weight of water before gradually releasing it. The hydrogel could be a useful additional to the range of drought mitigation measures available for farmers. Climate change scientists predict that northern Mexico will suffer from more frequent and more severe droughts in coming decades.

The hydrogel, which is expected to cost 800 pesos (60 dollars) a kilo when it comes on the market, is a mix of natural gelatine and polyacrylic_acid  Hydrogel can only be used in orchards or other areas where the soil remains undisturbed by regular plowing, so it will not help farmers growing corn or beans, for example. The hydrogel has been tested in citrus orchards in San Luis Potosí, and succeeded in halving the required frequency of irrigation from twice a week to once a week, saving water and reducing energy costs. Each citrus tree required a kilo of hydrogel each year.

Previous posts related to the drought:

Jul 302012
 

The Copper Canyon region in Mexico is the informal name for the area, in the south-west part of Chihuahua state, where several deep canyons bisect the Sierra Tarahumara. The 10,000 km2 area, part of the Western Sierra Madre, is home to about 50,000 Tarahumara Indians, one of the largest native Indian groups in North America. While generally referred to in English as the Tarahumara, the people’s own name for themselves is Raramuri“, literally “the light‑footed ones” or “footrunners”.

Location of Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon region)

Location of Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon region)

While the Tarahumara have so far succeeded in keeping many aspects of their distinctive culture relatively unadulterated, the pressures on them have increased considerably in recent years as improving highway links have made the region more accessible, not only to tourists, but also to developers looking to exploit the region’s forest and mineral resources.

Spanish-speakers usually refer to this region as the “Barrancas del Cobre” (Copper Canyons, plural). The table shows the seven main canyons, only one of which, strictly speaking, is the Copper Canyon. The precise number of canyons depends on whether they are defined by rivers or by local names since different stretches of canyon along a single river have sometimes been given different names.

Canyon Elevation at the rim (meters / feet a.s.l.) Elevation of stream in canyon floor (meters / feet) Depth (meters/feet)
Canyons south and east of railroad
Urique (south of Urique village) 2370 / 7775 500 / 1640 1870 / 6135
Sinforosa (Río Verde) 2530 / 8300 700 / 2300 1830 / 6000
Batopilas 2500 / 8200 700 / 2300 1800 / 5900
Urique (mid-point, aka Copper Canyon) 2300 /7545 1000 / 3280 1300 / 4265
Canyons north and west of railroad
Candameña (below Basaseachi Falls) 2540 / 8330 900 / 2950 1640 /5380
Chinipas 2000 / 6560 400 / 1310 1600 / 5250
Oteros 2220 / 7280 700 / 2300 1520 / 5980

The major canyon is the Urique Canyon. This is the one seen by most tourists because it is the closest to the railway line that traverses the region. Both the Urique River and the Batopilas River flow into the River Fuerte, which enters the Gulf of Mexico near Los Mochis.

Tarahumara place names

The Tarahumara have very few place-names. They do not usually have identifying names for specific mountains, streams, trails or landmarks , but do give names to every small settlement, even if it only consists of two or three homes.  These names serve to distinguish one family from another, but a single family may have several farms, each with a different name. The Tarahumara do have “a rather complete terminology for plants, animals, and birds.”  [Bennet & Zingg, 1935] The place-names for settlements are usually two-part names, consisting of a descriptive name plus a place suffix.

Examples include:

  • Aworítci, from aworíki, “cedar tree” (tci gives idea of a grove of trees).
  • Wisarótici, from wisaró, “poplar tree.”
  • Tcimétabo, from tcimáka, “leather money bag”, plus -tabo, place-ending.
  • Wagítali, from wagítci, “dead tree.”
  • Garitcí, from garíki, “house.”
  • Kusárare, from kusáka, “eagle.”

In future posts, we will delve further into the geography of the  Copper Canyon region and the lifestyle of the Tarahumara Indians.

Sources:

Bennett, W. and Zingg, R. (1935) The Tarahumara. Univ. of Chicago Press. Reprinted by Rio Grande Press, 1976. Classic anthropological work.

Gajdusek, D.C. (1953) “The Sierra Tarahumara” in Geographical Review, New York. 43: 15‑38

Schmidt, R.H. (1973) A Geographical Survey of Chihuahua, monograph #37 Texas Western Press.

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Jul 282012
 

Oaxaca’s single biggest cultural event, held in the second half of July, has come to be known as the Guelaguetza, which is Zapotec for “offering” or “mutual help”. It celebrates the cultural and ethnic diversity of the state. This year’s edition (the 80th) of the Guelaguetza ends on Monday 30 July, so this is the final weekend.

A massive open-air amphitheater, seating 100,000 people, is a permanent fixture on the side of the Fortín hill which overlooks the north west quadrant of Oaxaca city. The original Aztec garrison (for the collection of tributes), known as Huaxyacac, was established by Ahuitzotl at the end of the fifteenth century on this very hill. Today, a massive statue of Benito Juárez (cast in Rome in 1891) stares out over the suburbs.

Guelaguetza

The Guelaguetza

The Guelaguetza may have its origins in Mixtec and Zapotec celebrations of their corn crop. Later, the festival was carried on by the Aztecs in honor of their corn god, Xilonen. Later still, in the eighteenth century, the Spanish Carmelite missionaries linked the festival to their own Christian rites for the Virgen del Carmen (16-24 July). The timing holds even more significance today since July 18 also marks the anniversary of the death of Juárez, a much-revered politician of humble, indigenous origin, who served five terms as president of Mexico in the nineteenth century.

Guelaguetza

In the 1930s, the fiesta of the Guelaguetza took on its modern hybrid form, which includes a parade of stilt-walking “giants”. During the Guelaguetza, the Fortín hill is the scene for spectacularly colorful regional folkloric dances performed by several different ethnic groups (Mixtec, Zapotec, Trique, Popolac, Chootal, Chinantec, Mazatec, Mixe) from the seven main geographic regions of the state. The entire city comes alive with color. Color is everywhere from the beautifully hand-embroidered dresses and huipiles, to the food, to the paper streamers decorating the streets and to the mixture of merchandise sold on the sidewalks.

For travelers unable to visit in July, some central hotels, including the Camino Real, luxuriously housed in an architecturally-gorgeous former convent, and the Monte Alban opposite the cathedral, offer a weekly, scaled-down version of the Guelaguetza, year-round.

Want to read more?

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Jul 262012
 

In a recent post, we mentioned a video on the Global Post website about transport developments in Mexico City. Global Post has published another short video in the same series, that is equally interesting and valuable as a teaching resource:

My first experience of a solar-powered stove was during an environmental education workshop in the state of Michoacán some 25 years ago. I was underwhelmed by its performance, but the more modern (and much more efficient) designs featured in this video definitely merit a much closer look.

The video focuses on the work of Gregor Schäpers, a self-taught solar engineer, and his company Trinysol, that makes solar-powered stoves and boilers. The company, located in the village of El Sauz in the state of Hidalgo, a short distance north-east of Mexico City, is a good example of the development of appropriate technology.

One of Trinysol’s first projects was working with a women’s cooperative in the village of  San Andrés, who produce a sweet  syrup from green agave plants. The process involves hours of cooking, and therefore requires a large input of energy. Prior to the installation of Scheffler reflectors and solar-powered hotplates, the women relied on gas.

Solar reflectors, San Andrés.

Schäpers has since set up hundreds of solar-powered boilers, and dozens of solar stoves in the region. Some are designed for individual families; others are suitable for small-scale industrial use, for example to provide energy for bakeries (panaderias) or tortilla-making plants (tortillerias).

According to the figures offered in the video, it costs about 4,000 dollars to build and install heating for a panadería, but can save the owners up to 5,000 dollars a year in energy costs. The investment is therefore fully recouped within a year. The system should last for 30 years, so a solar-powered system represents a significant improvement to the economics of many small businesses, giving them the opportunity to expand or allocate more of their scarce resources elsewhere.

Jul 232012
 

Mexico’s 2010 population of 112 million makes it the world’s 11th largest country in terms of population. The rate of population increase is now slowing down as fertility rates fall. The rate of increase, which was 2.63%/yr for the period 1970-1990, fell to 1.61%/yr for the period 1990-2010.

Even as the total population continues to grow over the next few decades, some very important changes are underway in Mexico’s population structure.

The graph divides Mexico’s population into three age categories: under 15 (youth), 15-59 (working age) and 60+ (elderly).

Mexico's population structure, 1970-2010

Mexico’s population structure, 1950-2010

The percentage of the total population of youthful age peaked in about 1970 at 46.2% and has since fallen to 29.3% in 2010. Over the same time period, the percentage of working age population has risen from 48.2% to 61.6%, while the percentage of elderly has gone from 5.6% to 9.1%.

Why is this important?

Perhaps the most obvious change is that government spending on schools and services for youth needs to shift towards spending on health care, pensions and services for the elderly. There are already some suburbs of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area that have experienced a dramatic shift in average age. Perhaps the most notable example is the Ciudad Satelite area, an area originally intended to be, and planned as, a genuine satellite settlement. A few decades later, the urban expansion of Mexico City had swallowed it up. An area which once had many young families now has very few children. The homeowners association of Ciudad Satelite [see this 3 min Spanish language video] estimates that 75% of the area’s 50,000 inhabitants is now elderly.

The major benefit of the changing population structure would appear to be that, in 2010, there are more wage-earners (and tax payers) for every person of non-working age (assumed for simplicity to be youth under 15, and the elderly aged 60+) than at any previous time. In other words, the total dependency rate is lower than ever before.

Economists argue that this “demographic dividend” should raise GDP, and could offer many significant advantages, such as enabling greater government expenditures on infrastructure or on social services. They point to several countries in East Asia as examples where economic growth spurts went hand-in-hand with a period of demographic dividend.

Despite the claims of economists, I’m not convinced that Mexico will prove to be an equally good example of the benefits of a demographic dividend. In Mexico’s case, the early phase of higher youthful population (and considerable economic growth) was accompanied by a high rate of emigration of working age Mexicans to the USA. Admittedly, emigration has now slowed, or stopped.

As Aaron Terrazas and his co-authors point out in Evolving Demographic and Human-Capital Trends in Mexico and Central America and Their Implications for Regional Migration [pdf file],

“But across Latin America, and in sharp contrast to East Asia, favorable demographic change has failed to translate into economic growth and prosperity. National income per capita has increased only modestly since the start of the demographic dividend, with Mexico outperforming its southern neighbors at comparable points in time. And emigration from the region has continued to grow despite the demographic transitions in Mexico and El Salvador, with the United States absorbing between one-fifth and one-quarter of the region’s annual population growth.”

Whether or not Mexico experiences a demographic dividend, it will not last for ever. In Mexico’s case, it looks set to last only about about 20 years. By 2050, according to current predictions, about 26.4% of the Mexico’s population will be youthful, and 27.7% elderly, while the percentage of working age will have fallen to 45.9%.

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Jul 212012
 

A great new web portal about Mexico City’s Historic Center has just been launched by Mexico City authorities (Spanish language only at present). The portal offers hundreds of links to articles about buildings, streets, events, restaurants and almost anything you can think of relating to this vibrant heart of the capital city. In fact, the site is so interesting, I’ve just spent an entire afternoon engrossed in it!

There is one small detail on this site, however, that should not go unreported. The site’s developers have included a link to a map, vital for anyone wanting to explore this area on their own. Sadly, the file size of this map is truly massive, and will deter most users from daring to download it onto their smart phones unless they have time on their hands and an “unlimited data” plan. The map weighs in an obese 13.0 MB, quite ridiculous for what is essentially a single sheet map with no interactive functionality.

In the interests of cooperating towards a better end-product, Geo-Mexico offers its readers this smartphone-ready version, not quite as clear as the original, but sized at a much more healthy 178 KB:

Enjoy!

Jul 192012
 

A short Global Post video offers a valuable, up-to-date teaching resource about Mexico City’s latest attempts to tackle air pollution, and lower carbon dioxide emissions:

The video provides an introduction to Mexico City’s “green transportation revolution”, in which electric vehicles are gradually being phased in to replace conventional taxi fleets, bicycle routes are created, modern, fuel-efficient buses extend their coverage, and biodiesel buses have been introduced along a major arterial route. The initial priority has been on the downtown area of Mexico City, the Historic Center (Centro histórico) . This 3.5-square-kilometer area receives 70,000 vehicles a day, responsible for emitting 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Pollution in this area has been reduced significantly in recent years. City authorities use the Historic Center as a testing ground for pollution-reduction strategies, prior to rolling them out elsewhere across the giant metropolis.

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Jul 162012
 

Mexican drug cartels and related violence have received enormous attention. For an overview, see Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas of operation, a 2012 update. All Mexicans are aware of the issue and millions have been affected directly. What are their current views and attitudes? A face-to-face survey in April 2012 by the Pew Research Center of 1,200 Mexicans in Mexico sheds light on this issue.

Most Mexicans (80%) support President Calderon’s decision to use the military to fight drug traffickers. On the other hand, less than half (47%) think the campaign against drug traffickers is “making progress”. Fully 30% feel the government is losing ground. While they support use of the military, 74% indicate that human rights violations by the military and the police are a “very big problem”.

Mexicans are not sure which political party is better for dealing with Mexico’s drug problems. Just over a quarter (28%) think President Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) (28%) would do a better job compared to 25% for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and only 13% for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Fully 23% said that none of the three major parties is capable of resolving the issue. A possible reason for this is that only 14% blame mostly Mexico for the problem, compared to 22% who mostly blame the USA and 61% who blame both countries.

In general, Mexicans want the USA to help solve the drug problem. Fully 75% favor the USA training Mexican police and military personnel and 61% also approve of the USA providing money and weapons to the country’s police and military. On the other hand only a third favor deploying USA troops within Mexico, while 59% oppose this.

Mexicans feel that their country is facing some serious problems. Three-quarters of Mexicans think cartel-related violence (75%) and human rights violations by police and military (74%) are “very big problems”. The related issues of crime (73%), corruption (69%) and illegal drugs (68%) were also identified as “very big problems” by most survey respondents. Apparently, Mexicans do not feel very safe. More than half (56%) said they were afraid to walk alone at night within a kilometer of their home, 61% for women and 51% for men. Unfortunately, Mexicans are not very optimistic that the country’s drug violence problems will go away any time soon. On the bright side, 51% of the surveyed Mexicans felt their economy would improve in the next year compared to only 16% who thought it would worsen.

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Jul 142012
 

One way of looking at the spatial pattern of how well tourism is doing is to examine hotel occupancy rates. Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat regularly publishes data for 70 tourist destinations across the country, ranging from major vacation resorts to cities where business-tourism is more important. Hotel occupancy rates have risen steadily in Mexico for 14 consecutive months, with a 6.3% increase year-on-year for the period January-May.

Some destinations are doing better than others.  Occupancy in the Riviera Maya, Cancún and Puerto Vallarta rose by 3.1%, 8.7% and 10.6% respectively, compared to 5.6% in Huatulco (Oaxaca), 8.5% in La Paz and 8.1% in Loreto (both in Baja California Sur).

The increase in large cities (Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey) was smaller than average, while occupancy rates for four mid-sized interior cities rose much faster than average: 23.8% in Querétaro, 32% in Zacatecas, 35% in Aguascalientes and 37% in Guanajuato.

The increase in occupancy rates for other destinations for the period Jan-May included:

  • Puebla 15.1%
  • Oaxaca 8.0%
  • Mérida 6.3%
  • León 1%
  • Tijuana 6.6%
  • San Luis Potosí 16.9%
  • Morelia 10.1%
  • Villahermosa 33.1%
  • San Cristóbal de las Casas 12.2%.
  • Xalapa 8.9%

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