The geography of tequila: trends and issues

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Sep 152012
 

The production and export of tequila has been one of Mexico’s major agro-industrial success stories of recent times. In this post, we look at some of the related trends and issues.

Rapid rise in production

For the period 2009-2011, Mexico produced about 250 million liters of tequila a year. Of this total, 60% was “100% agave tequila“, where all the sugars are directly derived from the Agave tequilana weber azul, and the remaining 40% was “mixed tequila” (tequila mixto) where at least 51% of the sugars are from Agave tequilana weber azul, but the remaining sugars come from other non-agave sources.

Tequila production, 1995-2011. Data: Tequila Regulatory Council.

Tequila production, 1995-2011. Data: Tequila Regulatory Council.

This is a dramatic increase compared to the period 2001-2003, when the average production was about 140 million liters a year. During that period, 100% agave tequila contributed only about 20% of the total. The relative importance of 100% agave tequila has clearly increased very rapidly in the past decade.

Agave supply: from shortage to glut

While there is a clear upward trend in total production, there are periods where production has fallen, most recently from 2008 to 2009, when production fell by 60 million liters. One of the possible reasons for a short-term blip in tequila production is if there is a shortage of agave. Agaves take about 10 years to mature, so there is a lengthy time lag between planting and the first harvest of newly planted areas.

As demand for tequila has risen, some of the major producers have experienced temporary shortfalls and been unable to source as much agave as they would have liked. One of the consequences was that independent agave producers entered the market, seeking to profit from such periods. Such independent producers could do well, provided they were able to predict agave shortages a decade in advance. During the 1990s, hillsides all over Jalisco were planted with agave, many for the first time, providing a significant boost to agave supply a decade later.

Not all independents came out of this on top. The supply of agave now exceeds demand. Many of the major tequila companies have increased their own acreage of agave, or have signed forward-looking contracts with major independent growers in other areas of the designation of origin zone. Many independent agave farmers are losing out; they planted agave a decade ago, but failed to forecast the current glut.

Tequila makers currently consume about 1 million metric tons of agave a year. The Agriculture Secretariat estimates that there are about 20,000 independent growers who have no contracts, and 223 million agave plants of diverse ages for which there is no current or short-term market. As many as 30 million agave plants were considered “very mature” in 2009 and a total loss in 2010. It is likely to be several years before the production of agave falls back to a level sustainable with demand.

Exports continue to rise

Tequila exports have risen very rapidly since 2001, with only minor anomalies along the way. Mexico currently exports about 160 million liters a year. Tequila exports have performed well despite the now lengthy economic woes being experienced by the major importing countries.

Foreign ownership

Mexico’s tequila makers have undergone a similar experience to the country’s major brewing companies, in that all but one of the major tequila firms are now owned by foreign corporations. A proposed deal in which the last of the big Mexican tequila companies, José Cuervo, would also have been taken over by British firm Diageo (which owns Baileys, Johnnie Walker, J&B, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan and Guinness) was called off in December 2012.

Environmental concern

The major environmental problem associated with tequila making is wastewater. For every liter of tequila, 10 liters of wastewater (vinazas) are produced. The vinazas are nitrogen-rich, and contain high concentrations of chemicals, including heavy metals and salt.

The National Chamber of the Tequila Industry recognizes that only about 60% of vinazas are disposed of properly. Most of the remaining 40% (about 2.5 billion liters in 2008) are thought to be pumped untreated into local streams and ponds, damaging the ecosystem and destroying stream life.

The Mexican government fines distilleries that do not have adequate treatment plants for the vinazas they produce, but in the past many companies have opted to pay the fines rather than solve the problem at source.

The vinazas problem was one of the reasons why UNESCO recently considered revoking the Tequila region’s World Heritage status, awarded in 2006. Another issue that made UNESCO unhappy was a recent decision to locate a landfill site in Amatitán in the center of the World Heritage zone. In the end, UNESCO officials agreed that progress was being made; the area kept its heritage status.

There is hope on the horizon. A new cost-effective option for tequila firms seeking to dispose of viñazas has been developed by a local corporation Tecnología Nacional de Aguas. Called Proshiemex, it uses the viñazas to produce methane-rich biogas which can contribute to heating the boilers of the tequila distilleries. The remaining sludge can be easily treated in accordance with all applicable environmental norms.

Source of data:

  • Tequila Regulatory Council Statistics

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Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part two

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Sep 132012
 

In the first part of this two-part article – Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part one – we looked at the threats to traditional Tarahumara life posed by alcohol, deforestation and the construction of new or improved roads in the Sierra Tarahumara (Copper Canyon) area.

In this part, we consider the impacts of drug cultivation, mining and tourism.

Drug cultivators and drug cartels

The incursion of drug cultivators seeking land for growing marijuana and opium poppies into the Canyon country has further marginalized the Tarahumara, sometimes labelled “Cimarones” (“Wild Ones”) by the newcomers. Drug cultivators have sometimes registered parcels of land as theirs and then ejected the Indians by force. Obviously, they choose the best available land, and their cultivation methods are designed to produce quick results, rather than sustainability.

Alvarado (1996) divides anti-drug policy into various time periods. First came an emphasis on catching those responsible, then came exhaustive efforts to eradicate the crops. Crop eradication has its own serious environmental downside, since it involves the widespread and indiscriminate use of aerially-applied herbicides, alleged to include Agent Orange, Napalm and Paraquat.

Alvarado’s study is an interesting analysis of the incredible, quickly-acquired wealth (and accompanying violence and corruption) that characterizes some settlements on the fringes of the Sierra Tarahumara. In some towns, for example, there are few visible means of economic support but the inhabitants are able to purchase far more late-model pick-ups than can their counterparts in major cities. Murder rates in these towns are up to seven times the Chihuahua state average. Violence even has a distinct, seasonal pattern, with peaks in May-June (planting time) and October-November (harvest time).

The levels of violence and injustice led Edwin Bustillos (winner of the 1996 Goldman Prize for Ecology) to change the focus of CASMAC, the NGO he directed, from environmental conservation to the protection of Tarahumara lives. In 1994, CASMAC was instrumental in stopping a 90-million-dollar World Bank road-building project that would have opened up still more of the Sierra Tarahumara to timber companies.

Mining

Besides deforestation and its resultant impacts, mining has had several other adverse effects on the Tarahumara and the local landscape. Mining activity has increased in the past decade as metal prices have been high and the federal government has encouraged foreign investment in the sector. Mining leads to a reduction in wildlife and to the contamination of water resources. The most damaging pollutants are heavy metals.

Tourism

Even tourism poses a potential threat. In the past decade, investments totaling 75 million dollars have been made to improve infrastructure (highways, runways, drainage systems, water treatment facilities, electricity) in the Copper Canyon region so that the area has the hotels, restaurants and recreational activities to handle six times the current number of visitors. The plan includes three remodeled train stations and a cable car that is already in operation. Sadly, the Tarahumara were not consulted. The plan essentially deprives them of some communal land with nothing being offered in exchange. Clearly, they are in danger of losing control over even more of their natural resources, especially since improved highways will benefit other groups such as drugs growers.

Anthrologist María Fernanda Paz, a researcher in socio-environmental conflicts at UNAM’s Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, argues that these recent conflicts in the Copper Canyon region have stemmed from the federal government’s support for inflows of foreign capital, helped by modifications to the land ownership provisions enshrined in article 27 of the Constitution, changes made in 1992 during the administration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. In her view, the developers behind contentious projects first do everything possible to hide the project from public view until it is well advanced. Once people start to object, they then identify the community leaders and do everything possible to get them on their side. Before long, they have succeeded in creating a massive rift in the community, paying some very well indeed for their land, and others next to nothing.

Finally, the good news

The  Tarahumara recently (12 March 2012) won one of the greatest victories to date for indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Tarahumara (rarámuri) community of Huetosachi in the state of Chihuahua has now been recognized by Mexico’s Supreme Court as having long-standing indigenous territorial rights (but not formal ownership) that must be respected by the Copper Canyon Development Fund (Fideicomiso Barrancas del Cobre). This is truly a landmark victory. The Tarahumara have been guaranteed the right to be consulted over all Development Plans, and to select the benefits they will receive in exchange for any loss of ancestral territory. Finally, this juggernaut of a tourist development plan must respect the territories and natural resources of the Tarahumara.

This was truly David against Goliath. Huetosachi is a tiny settlement of only 16 families, about 10 km from where the main tourist complex is being built near the Divisadero railway station. The village has no water, electricity or health services.

The Copper Canyon Development Fund is now obligated to create a Regional Consultative Council allowing the villagers of Huetosachi and other settlements a say in the negotiations to decide what level of development is acceptable, and what the villagers expect in return. This council is expected to include representatives of 27 indigenous communities in the immediate area between Creel and Divisadero.

This landmark court decision could well be the first of many as indigenous groups elsewhere in Mexico fight their own battles against developers of various kinds. There could still be more court cases concerning the Copper Canyon region since it is widely expected that this initial success will lead to a legal challenge against the siting of the cable car. The villagers are also reported to be discussing how best to deal with water contamination allegedly resulting from existing hotels, and the possibility of a golf course being built on the canyon rim.

Sources:

  1. Alvarado, C.M. (1996) La Tarahumara: una tierra herida. Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua. Somewhat repetitive academic analysis of the violence of the drug-producing zones in the state of Chihuahua, based in part on interviews with convicted felons.
  2. Merrill, W.L. (1988) Raramuri Souls – Knowledge and Social Progress in North Mexico. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  3. Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.
  4. Plancarte, F. (1954) El problema indígena tarahumara. INI. Mexico. Spanish language description published by National Indigenous Institute.
  5. Shoumatoff, A. (1995) “The Hero of the Sierra Madre” pp 90 – 99 of Utne Reader (July-August, 1995), reprinted from Outside (March 1995). An account of the determined efforts by Edwin Bustillos to prevent further environmental destruction in the Copper Canyon region.

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Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part one

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Sep 102012
 

The extreme isolation of the Tarahumara (until recent years) and their adaptation of some elements of the alien Spanish/Mexican culture have enabled them to survive in what most observers would regard as an extraordinarily hostile natural environment. The effects of this isolation are reflected in their culture, in their relatively equal gender roles in terms of their economy, their flexibility of work schedule, lack of economic specialization and their willingness to share available food when necessary to ensure survival.

Their isolation has also hindered the emergence of any well‑defined leadership system. A lack of any “official” hierarchy make it much more difficult to resolve any serious disputes. It has also meant that the shy and politically naive Tarahumara have found it difficult to counteract intruders, whether they are government officials or drug‑dealers. As more roads are improved, even the furthest, most remote sanctuaries, of the Tarahumara come under threat.

Some Tarahumara have adopted more mestizo culture than others; the “gentile/baptized” distinction, first recognized by Lumholtz, with all its associated differences in settlement patters and lifestyle arose from the resistance of many Tarahumara to the imposition of a Spanish/mestizo culture that they considered “alien”. The more traditional Tarahumara still prefer to live in relative isolation and not to resettle into fixed villages where there would be insurmountable pressure on their culture.  The mestizos in the Copper Canyon region, who occupied the best land by force and formed villages in the European‑derived tradition, have far more links with modern Mexico, and have preserved their economic dominance over the Indians.

None of this means that the traditional Tarahumara way of life has remained unchanged or will not continue to undergo modifications in the future. Any changes to the environment can have serious adverse impacts on their abilities to find sufficient food. The main drivers of environmental change have been drug-growing, forestry, mining and tourism.

In addition, they have to manage changes which, to some extent, have been thrust upon them by some of the government and other efforts aimed at helping them. For example, modern medicine and education threaten to change the Tarahumara population balance. Today, more infants survive to adulthood and fewer adults die as a result of accidents. The problem for the Tarahumara is how to feed and support an ever‑growing population using existing methods of cultivation and herding.

Alcohol

Equally important is the transformation of the traditional Tarahumara system of wants by contact with mestizos. Prior to these contacts, the Tarahumara had little or no access to commercially-made alcohol. Tarahumara tesgüino took considerable time and effort to make and had to be consumed rapidly, meaning that Tarahumara could get drunk occasionally, but could not remain drunk for long. The ready availability of commercial alcohol has completely changed this dynamic.

Slightly over a decade ago, an innovative, women-led project reportedly changed the 3500-inhabitant community of Arareco (8 km from the town of Creel) for the better. Kari Igomari Niwara, a 200-member women’s organization, began in 1992, and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It has often been quoted as an outstanding example of what the Raramuri (Tarahumara) can do if left to their own devices and allowed to control their own resources. In this project, they have sought encouragement and support, rather than direction and dependence. By 1997, Kari Igomari Niwara had organized a health center, primary school, bilingual literacy program, drinking water system, bakery, three small food supply stores, a handicrafts business, a restaurant and collective transportation for the village.

One of the first collective efforts of the Kari Igomari Niwara group was to get the cantinas (bars) of Creel closed at 4pm in the afternoon, so that their husbands wouldn’t get so drunk. Almost 70% of Arareco women reported having been beaten by their husbands, the vast majority of attacks coming when their husbands were drunk. After the initial cantina victory, the men became even more repressive, but the women persisted and four years later managed to persuade the church to build them a small health center despite the objections of their local male-dominated council. The women have already reduced nutrition-related infant mortality to 25% of its former level and have brought birth rates down by 50%  (Nauman, 1997).

Deforestation

The deforestation of the Copper Canyon region has a long history and has significantly changed the resource base of the Tarahumara to the point where their traditional way of life in the canyons is probably impossible to sustain in the future. Deforestation was started by mining companies who cut trees to make pit props and burn as fuel. In the 1890s, the region started to supply timber to the USA, via concessions given by Chihuahua state governor Enrique Creel to companies such as the Sierra Madre Land and Lumber Company, owned by William Randolph Hearst. Today, many of the local ejidos continue to cut more timber than they can ever replant, and there are more sawmills in operation than could ever be sustainable.

In many places, there are clear signs of the immense environmental destruction wrought by timber cutting, often on slopes so steep that there is little chance of reforesting them in the future. Soil erosion is rampant in some areas and satellite imagery reveals huge areas that are no longer forested.

Recent droughts have not helped, and one NGO, Alternative Training and Community Development (ALCADECO) has explored their links with deforestation and migration. The NGO’s director, Laura Frade, argues that the long-term effects of drought go far beyond the obvious. Poor crops in times of drought results in the abandonment of traditional lands. Families become dependent on poorly-paid jobs in the timber industry, or on drug plantations, or dependent on the sale of handicrafts to tourists. Many of those that fail to make ends meet then become the unwilling recipients of blankets and food from charity organizations. Others move to cities like Chihuahua, where they try to survive by begging or turn to alcohol.

New and improved roads

The development of forestry required the development of roads and vehicle tracks. Road development continues to this day and is not necessarily a beneficial thing. Improved road access has opened up new areas for lumbering, mining and tourism. In turn, small stores spring up, even in remote areas, selling mestizo items such as radios, carbonated drinks, cigarettes, and manufactured clothing. The use of money has become more widespread. Better roads have enabled traders to build a credit relationship with Tarahumara Indians, offering them non-traditional goods in exchange for a share of the next maize harvest. This has led to typical problems of indebtedness and exploitation.

Further reading:

Sources:

  1. Lartigue, F. (1970) Indios y bosques. Políticas forestales y comunales en la Sierra Tarahumara. Edicions de la Casa Chata # 19, Mexico.
  2. Lumholtz, C. (1902) Unknown Mexico. 2 volumes. Scribner’s Sons, New York. Republished in both English and Spanish. Fascinating ethnographic account from the last century.
  3. Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.
  4. Vatant, Francoise. La explotación forestal y la producción doméstica tarahumara. Un estudio de caso: Cusárare, 1975-1976. INAH, Mexico.

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Founder of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda honored by National Geographic

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Jun 252012
 

Mexican environmentalist Martha “Pati” Isabel Ruíz Corzo has been awarded the 2012 National Geographic/Buffett Award for Conservation Leadership in Latin America.

The press release from the National Geographic summarizes a lifetime’s dedication to the Sierra Gorda region of the state of Querétaro:

Martha “Pati” Isabel Ruiz Corzo founded Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG), a local grassroots organization, with her husband and local residents in 1987 to rescue the Sierra Gorda bioregion in Mexico from the destruction of unregulated development. GESG has set the standard in Mexico for a “conservation economy,” establishing a new paradigm in natural protected area management with widespread local community participation.

GESG is a living model of community-based conservation management. Thanks largely to GESG’s efforts and Ruiz Corzo’s leadership, the Sierra Gorda — comprising a third of Mexico’s Querétaro State and considered the area with the most ecosystem diversity in Mexico — is now a UNESCO and federal Biosphere Reserve and is the largest federal protected area with participatory management in the world. It spans 1 million acres, and its 35,000 residents own 97 percent of the Reserve’s territory.

Ruiz Corzo’s efforts to include local communities in the management of the Reserve make her a pioneer in the conservation field. Her leadership has created opportunities for rural, low-income communities in the areas of ecotourism, reforestation, soil restoration, ecological livestock management and other profitable microenterprises.

Over the past 25 years, GESG has organized environmental education for the community members, who regularly take part in clean-up campaigns, solid waste management, soil restoration and other conservation activities. Community volunteers operate 115 recycling centers. Thanks to the residents’ stewardship of the Reserve, more than 13,000 hectares of regenerated forest and woodland has been recovered over 15 years.

Ruiz Corzo and her team have developed online and on-site courses that allow others to replicate the GESG model, which is now being applied beyond the borders of Mexico.

Ruiz Corzo also has pioneered the concept of valuing the “natural capital” of the region — the Sierra Gorda has been validated by the Rainforest Alliance and is the first forest carbon project to achieve this milestone in Mexico.

The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve covers 383,567 hectares of the state of Querétaro. Eleven core protected areas have a combined area of 24,803 hectares with 358,764-hectares of buffer zone surrounding them. The reserve is home to about 100,000 people (including cattle ranchers, seasonal farmers and forestry workers) living in 638 settlements in five municipalities:

  • Jalpan de Serra
  • Arroyo Seco
  • Landa de Matamoros
  • Pinal de Amoles
  • Peñamiller

The reserve is ecologically diverse, with a large number of distinct ecosystems; it is one of the most biodiverse areas in central Mexico. The major reason for such diversity is that the reserve straddles the Nearctic and Neotropical bio-regions. It ranges in altitude from 300 meters above sea level to more than 3,000 meters. The reserve has 14 distinct vegetation types, home to 6 feline species (including the jaguar) and 334 bird species.

Forestry is controlled, but illegal logging persists, especially on the fringes of the reserve.

Out-migration has reduced population pressures on the reserve, and remittances have helped raise household incomes, so decreasing local demand for wood as fuel in favor of gas.

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Jun 172012
 

Good news for Mexico’s coastline! The controversial Cabo Cortés mega-resort project in Baja California Sur, Mexico, has been cancelled, with President Felipe Calderón announcing that in “such an important area for the Gulf of California and the country … we should all be absolutely certain that [the project] will not cause irreversible harm”. However, Calderón did not rule out the possibility that a revised, more sustainable project might meet government approval.

As detailed in several previous geo-mexico.com posts, the Cabo Cortés project had been opposed by local residents, fishermen, environmental groups including Greenpeace and many academics:

The president of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, Gustavo Alanis, hailed the government’s decision as “a triumph for conservation, environmental protection and nature.” He said that it is “a message in favor of legality and the rule of law in the environmental sphere” that would make clear to potential investors that they are welcomed as long as they respect nature and comply with existing environmental laws.

Value-added from solid waste in Mexico

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Dec 142011
 

In a previous post, we looked briefly at the role of plastics recycling in Mexico City’s waste separation program. In this post, we describe two other developments related to solid waste disposal.

Recycling finally reaches the take-off point in Mexico

Nationwide, it took an entire decade for the plastics recycling rate in Mexico to increase from 10 to 15%. Then, in 2010, as more companies sought part of a potentially very lucrative market, the rate shot up to 17%. Admittedly, though, Mexico still lags far behind the 22% rate boasted by the European Union members in this regard.

Mexican industry generates 3.8 million metric tons of plastic waste a year (36% of it in Mexico City). The nationwide recycling capacity for plastics (geared towards hard plastic or PET) currently stands at only 646,000 metric tons, so there is plenty of room for more companies and recycling plants.

Garbage-powered street lights

The World Bank is helping finance a new bio-energy project in Monterrery which will reduce emissions by the equivalent of a million tons of CO2. This is about the same quantity as the annual emissions of 90,000 vehicles, or the amount of CO2 that would be absorbed annually by a forest with an area of 970 hectares.

The project, run by Bioenergía de Nuevo León, uses methane gas given off by decomposing garbage in one of the city’s landfills, in Salinas Victoria, which receives 5000 tons of garbage a day. The power plant’s installed generation capacity of 17mW should be sufficient to supply 90% of the nighttime street lighting in the Monterrey metro area. During the day, power from the project is supplied to the city’s metro system. Any surplus is sold to the Federal Electricity Commission and fed into the national grid.

photo of garbage

Recycling has a long way to go...

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Sep 122011
 

Richie (Rishi) Sowa is back! In 2002, Sowa, a former carpenter from Middlesbrough in England, completed the construction of his own private island paradise off the coast of Quintana Roo—built entirely of plastic bottles. Amazing but true! Sowa painstakingly constructed his island, known as Spiral Island, using more than 200,000 plastic bottles, and then lived on it! Unfortunately, his island home was entirely demolished by Hurricane Emily in 2005.

This was seemingly only a minor defeat since Sowa has since completed an even bigger and more resilient island on which to live, using the knowledge acquired from Spiral Island. His new creation is known as Joysxee. It is currently tethered to the island of Isla Mujeres, north of Cancún.

Joysxee

Joysxee. Photo: Rishi Sowa

Besides plastic bottles, Sowa used discarded wood and has planted vegetation including mangroves to help stabilize his home. His latest plan is to install a wave-powered propulsion system, allowing him to relocate his island at will, something I’m guessing he’s going to do next time a hurricane comes roaring in!

For Joysxee, Sowa has so far “reused” 125,000 plastic bottles. The island is 25 meters in diameter, and fitted with solar panels, a wave-powered washing machine. It comes complete with its own waterfall, river and (small) lakes. The island is designed to allow Sowa to be largely self-sufficient. The island’s vegetation includes many food sources such as palm trees, cacti, spinach, melons, lemons and tomatoes. The island will act as home to corals and fish as well.

Sowa’s ambition? To sail his eco-island round the world. He is the latest in a long line of English eccentrics, but you can only admire his creativity, artistry, vision and determination. Other people have sunk rusty old ships to make new underwater reefs, but how many have built an entire island from scratch, using discarded plastic bottles?

Not surprisingly, Joysxee, Sowa’s amazing home, has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction, receiving dozens of curious visitors a day. It is also a testimony to ecological sustainability.

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Which cities have the best and worst water systems in Mexico?

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Aug 182011
 

The Water Advisory Council (CCA), a Mexican NGO specializing in water research, education and policy, has published its 2011 report on Mexico’s water management, sewerage and sanitation. The report looks at data for 50 Mexican cities, each of which has a population in excess of 250,000.

The report —Gestión del Agua en las Ciudades de México (Water Management in Mexican Cities)— uses data for 20 variables to develop the following 10 indicators: drinking water coverage; drainage and sewerage coverage; continuity and extension of services; productivity; metering; physical efficiency; business efficiency; operating income; wastewater treatment; and institutionalization.

In terms of overall performance, the city of León came top, followed by Saltillo, Monterrey, Mexicali, Aguascalientes, Cancún and Tijuana. Of the top six, three (Saltillo, Aguascalientes and Cancún) are managed by private operators, while León, Mexicali and Tijuana are public water systems. There is clearly no discernible difference between the performance of private operators and the best public systems. Towards the bottom of the rankings, all the cities have public water systems. The worst-ranking cities include several in the State of Mexico, as well as others in the south and southeast of the country.

For water quality, the leader was Ciudad Victoria, followed by Colima, Monterrey, León, Torreón, Tepic and Hermosillo. The ten worst were Villahermosa, Cuernavaca, Acapulco, Oaxaca, Xalapa, Chetumal, Chilpancingo, Celaya, Chimalhuacán and Campeche.

For efficiency, the leader was Saltillo, followed by León, Monterrey, Tijuana and Aguascalientes. The least efficient were Ecatepec, Campeche, Villahermosa, Celaya, Chilpancingo and Chimalhuacán.

The report says that where the private sector is involved, the important issues are transparent tenders; clear, balanced and flexible contracts; effective controls to prevent abuse; legal certainty; and effective regulation with stable, long-term regulating agencies.  The authors also emphasize the importance of pricing that reflects costs, and of removing the payment exemptions currently given to government agencies.

The Water Advisory Council argues that the Federal Agency for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) should be in charge of all water monitoring, though its powers need strengthening to ensure it can fully carry out its mandate.

The troubled rise of the Green Movement in Mexico

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Aug 012011
 

Two specific events helped stimulate the rapid growth of Mexico’s green movement in the 1980s:

These motivated many citizens to take direct action. Membership in Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) surged, as “green brigades” aided the victims. Two months after the earthquake, representatives from 300 regional groups met and formed a coalition of green groups focused on issues such as deforestation, pollution, and opposition to nuclear power. The 1992 Rio UN Environmental Summit and opposition to NAFTA (because it neglected environmental issues) provided additional stimulus to the movement.

The number of ENGOs increased from fewer than 30 in 1985 to about 500 by 1997 when about one in twenty Mexicans was a member of an ENGO.  The ENGOs had highly professional staffs and were well funded from Mexican and international sources. Through demonstrations and militant actions they successfully stopped the construction of a half billion dollar tourism complex south of Mexico City and the proposed world’s largest salt mine in Baja California. They also were significant in the passage of new laws for environmental protection, reducing deforestation, protecting wildlife, and establishing protected areas.

Vicente Fox, the PAN/Green Party candidate, won the Presidency in 2000.  His Minister of the Environment, Víctor Lichtinger, brought scores of highly qualified fellow key ENGO leaders into the administration. While this put the nation’s leading environmentalists on the inside, it also essentially “decapitated” and deflated the ENGO movement, especially its more militant members. Despite these key appointments, Fox’s administration gave relatively low priority to environmental issues. When Fox sided with tourism investors, and decided against issuing a detailed analytical report on beach pollution, Lichtinger and many of his senior staff resigned. They mostly moved to international or academic positions and consequently did not rejuvenate the leadership of the ENGOs they had left.

Green party logo

Green party logo

For the 2006 election, the Green Party formed an alliance with PRI and came in a weak third. The party, which has suffered from despotism, bribery and violation of election laws, managed to elect 22 diputados in the 2009 election. The Calderón Presidency has obtained good environmental marks for its leadership in global warming; however its comprehensive tree-planting program has received some criticism. Current ENGO activity is focused less on high profile mass mobilizations and protests, and more on specific issues such as legislative  lobbying, public awareness, climate change, energy issues, water, deforestation, biodiversity, recycling and local tree=planting and clean-up campaigns.

Main source: Jordi Díez, “The Rise and Fall of Mexico’s Green Movement”, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 85, October 2008, 81-99.

Mexico’s environmental issues are analyzed in many chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, including chapter 30. Explore the book using Amazon.com’s Look Inside feature and buy your copy today!

Mexico’s Pemex: the government cash cow that environmentalists love to hate

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Jul 252011
 

Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the giant, state-owned petroleum company, is a symbol of national pride with revenues of over $100 billion in 2008. However, it is cash poor because most of its revenue goes to the government, covering 40% of the national budget. Pemex is $40 billion in debt and its maintenance budget is insufficient to keep its old infrastructure operating safely. About a third of Pemex’s 50,000 km of pipeline is over 30 years old and susceptible to failure.

Environmentalists love to hate Pemex because it has inflicted enormous environmental damage. The June 1979 blowout at the Ixtoc-I drilling rig in the Bay of Campeche resulted in the world’s second largest ever unintentional oil spill: over 450,000 tons, surpassed only by BP’s Deepwater Horizon, but more than ten times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. In November 1984 a series of explosions at a Pemex storage facility in San Juan Ixhuatepec in northern Mexico City started major fires killing about 500 people.

A massive gasoline leak into Guadalajara’s sewers in 1992 resulted in a series of explosions that resulted in over 200 deaths. In recent years numerous smaller, but still fatal, explosions and pipeline failures flooding rivers with oil have brought new attention to Pemex’s environmental damage and failing infrastructure.

cover of "como destruir el paraiso"

It has long been recognized that environmental damage is particularly severe near the conglomeration of Pemex facilities in southern Veracruz near the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos River. The river suffers from chronic heavy petroleum pollution, receiving massive doses periodically when pipelines break. Possibly the only beneficial outcome of the decades of widespread damage caused by Pemex in its principal areas of operation in Veracruz, Tabasco and Campeche was that it prompted the publication in 1983 of Cómo destruir el paraíso (How to destroy Paradise), a book which gave an immense boost to Mexico’s then fledgling environmental movement.

Federal environmental agencies have had only limited success in forcing Pemex to take corrective actions. Pemex recognizes the problems and applies each year for more maintenance funds from the government. The government, however, sets a higher priority on funding exploration since Mexico’s oil reserves are running out. Pemex is fundamental to the Mexican economy but needs investment in maintenance and must become more accountable for its environmental impacts.

Mexico’s environmental issues are analyzed in many chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, including chapter 30. Explore the book using Amazon.com’s Look Inside feature and buy your copy today!