Mexico’s Fair Trade coffee faces an uncertain future

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Aug 302011

An earlier post looked at why Mexico’s coffee harvest was unlikely to meet expectations this year. The 2010-11 harvest, hit by poor weather, totaled a disappointing 4 million 60-kg sacks (240,000 metric tons), almost entirely Coffea arabica and about 70% destined for export. This post looks at some recent trends relating to the production and consumption of coffee in Mexico.

Mexico is the world’s seventh largest coffee producer (after Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, India and Ethiopia) and one of the leading suppliers of organic, shade-grown coffee. The nation’s 480,000 coffee growers, most working small parcels of land less than 5 hectares (12 acres) in size, are concentrated in the states of Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca.

Mexico’s domestic consumption of coffee

Despite being one of the world’s leading coffee producers,Mexico’s domestic consumption averages only 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs) per person each year. While this figure has doubled since 2000, is is still only about half the equivalent figure for the coffee-growing Central American nations, and way below consumption in wealthier countries such as world-leader Finland (12 kg per person) or the USA (5.5 kg per person). Domestic consumption is rising but remains low.

Yields need to rise

According to Amecafe (Asociación Mexicana de la Cadena Productiva del Café), a major growers’ organization, global climate change is expected to have an adverse long-term effect on prices and on the sustainability of coffee-farming in Mexico. In an effort to raise yields of coffee to at least 12 quintals/hectare (19 bushels/acre) within 3 years and to 20 quintals/ha (32 bushels/acre) eventually, Mexico’s Agriculture Secretariat has announced financing of 16 million dollars for a program to gradually replace aging coffee groves in 12 states.

Fair trade coffee faces uncertain future

Soaring coffee prices might signal the beginning of the end for Fair Trade coffee. Much of the world’s specialty coffee comes from small-scale growers in Latin America, including Mexico, and much of it is marketed as “organic” or “fair trade”. After a decade of depressed prices, wholesale and retail prices for coffee have risen sharply in the past year. US retail prices have risen more than 20%; the price of coffee on international commodity markets has risen almost 60%.

The higher prices should be good news for growers, but as Kevin Hall points out in “Coffee prices being pushed by speculators” this is not necessarily the case. Many co-operative marketing organizations, including those considered socially-responsible or “Fair Trade”, do not have the resources to pay the new higher prices and acquire sufficient coffee to meet their existing contracts. This means they can no longer compete against the well-financed middlemen who specialize in purchasing coffee for regular distribution via commodities markets and major buyers. Farmers want the maximum return they can get on their crop, and they want it on delivery, which makes life difficult for any fair trade co-operative that lacks strong financial resources.

Further statistics:

  • USDA (US Department of Agriculture) June 2011 update on coffee (pdf file).

Related post:

The cultivation of chiles in Mexico

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Apr 182011

In a previous post, we saw how chiles (Capsicum spp.) have been cultivated in Mexico for centuries (the oldest record of domestication dates back to 4100BC) and they made an important contribution to Mexico’s traditional cuisine being recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”In this post we take a closer look at where they are grown, how many are produced and how valuable the annual crop is for the domestic market and for export.

For an overview of different kinds of chiles, see these two articles by Karen Hursh Graber on MexConnect:

Area cultivated

The area cultivated for chiles has declined slightly over the last decade from 145,000 hectares to 141,000; about 85% of this area is irrigated. However, the volume of total production has risen by an average of 1.5%/yr, due to the application of improved techniques, knowledge and equipment, especially the increased use of greenhouses. Each year, a small percentage of the cultivated area is not harvested due to the adverse impacts of diseases, pests and climatic events.

Cultivation location, production volumes and value

Mexico’s total annual chile production is around 2 million tons [cf China’s 14.3 million tons]. By variety, about 30% of production is jalapeño chiles, followed by serrano (10.9%), poblano (9.7%) and morrón (8.1%). These four account for 60% of production:

  • jalapeño (619,000 tons in 2009): Chihuahua (42%), Sinaloa (12.9%), Jalisco (6.6%) and Michoacán (6.3%)
  • serrano (217,000 tons): Tamaulipas (38.7%) and Sinaloa (30.9%)
  • poblano (192,000 tons): spread between 16 states, led by Zacatecas (32.7%), Sinaloa (20.6%) and Guanajuato (13.2%)
  • morrón (162,000 tons): Sinaloa (96%)

Production of chiles in Mexico
Production of chiles in Mexico, 2009. Source: SAGARPA 2010

The map shows total production volume on a state-by-state basis.

In summary, 2 out of every 3 green chiles grown in Mexico come from Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí.

Domestic market for chiles

The average consumption in Mexico is about 15 kg/person. For the period 2000-2010, domestic consumption oscillated around 1.5 million tons/yr. As international demand rises, there is a slightly reduced supply of chiles to the domestic market.

Trade in chiles (exports and imports)

International trade in chiles began shortly after Columbus introduced them to Europe as “peppers of the Indies”.

Today, as noted earlier, Mexico is the world’s leading exporter of green chiles, and ranks 6th for dried chiles. About 25% of Mexico’s chile production is exported. Over the last decade (2000-2009), exports have grown at a rate of about 15%/yr in volume, and 13% in value. In 2009, chile exports were worth 720 million dollars. Exports go to 52 countries, though a whopping 98% go to the USA, followed by the UK, Canada, Germany and Japan.

Mexico also imports some chiles each year. From 2000-2009, imports (almost entirely dried chiles) averaged 30,000 tons, at a cost of around 100 million dollars. China is Mexico’s main provider, followed by Peru, the USA and Spain.

Chile tourism
La Feria del Chile (The Chile Fair) in Queréndaro, Michoacán

Recipes with Chiles:

Main source (pdf file): Un panorama del cultivo del chile, SAGARPA: Servicio de Información Agroalimentaria y Pesquera, June 2010.
[accessed January 28, 2011]

Agriculture in Mexico is analyzed in chapter 15 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

Are women better than men at gathering mushrooms on the slopes of a Mexican volcano?

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Apr 122011

This post summarizes the findings of an article entitled “Sex differences in mushroom gathering: men expend more energy to obtain equivalent benefits”, published in the July 2010 issue of Evolution & Human Behavior.

Men are often thought to have superior spatial abilities to women. However, recent research has suggested that such differences are task dependent. It is now commonly argued that differences in spatial abilities may date back to early human societies during the Pleistocene. At that time, men’s spatial skills became fine-tuned for successful hunting of animals that were constantly on the move, while women’s spatial skill-set developed to ensure success in gathering immobile plant resources.

In a nutshell, men are thought to find their way about using orientation, and women by memorizing landmarks. One study reported that men performed better than women in finding their way through unfamiliar woodland, whereas another study showed how women exploring a farmers market in Santa Barbara, California, could remember where individual food items were more accurately than men.

Despite these earlier studies, the male/female differences in spatial skills had never been tested in appropriate circumstances in the field prior to the research carried out by four enterprising Mexican researchers led by Luis Pacheco-Cabos of the National University (UNAM).

The setting

The team studied the foraging techniques and success rate of men and women from a small village in Tlaxcala as they searched for edible mushrooms on the slopes of La Malinche volcano (Malintzin).

The small rural community of San Isidro Buensuceso has about 8,000 Nᨵatl-speaking inhabitants. The villagers have a long history of collecting mushrooms. Most mushroom collecting takes place during the summer rainy season. The vegetation in collecting areas is relatively open pine-oak forest, though the precise mix of species varies with altitude.

La Malinche Volcano

La Malinche Volcano

Each small group of mushroom collectors was followed by a researcher who recorded their movements and the weight of mushrooms collected. The exercise was carried out at seven different sites, most more than 3000m above sea level, through relatively open forest in terrain that included steep gullies carved into the flanks of volcano. The researchers were continuously monitored to record data enabling the calculation of the energy they expended in kilo-calories (kcal). Collectors gathered up to 9.5 kg of mushrooms in a single trip.

What were the teams key findings?

Although men and women collected similar quantities of mushrooms, men did so at significantly higher cost. They traveled further, to greater altitudes, and had higher mean heart rates and energy expenditure (kcal). They also collected fewer species and visited fewer collection sites.

Women used their superior powers of memorizing object location to collect more species, and visit more collection sites than men, obtaining more mushrooms during the same period of time, with less energy expenditure.

What does this mean?

The results suggest that differences in spatial ability between men and women are task-dependent. In terms of search strategies developed for gathering wild mushrooms, and presumably other wild plants, women outperform men. The women proved to be more efficient foragers than men in energy efficiency terms since they collected significantly more mushrooms while expending significantly less energy in doing so.

The researchers did not publish any calculation for the energy efficiency of mushroom collectors for comparison with the figures quoted in: The energy efficiency of farming in Mexico and elsewhere. However, based on their data, and assuming that 3 grams of raw mushrooms are approximately equivalent to 1 calorie, the energy efficiency for mushroom pickers on the slopes of La Malinche volcano must be somewhere between 0.5 and 1.7, with men tending towards the lower value. An energy efficiency of 1.0 would mean that the energy expended in gathering mushrooms is roughly the same as the calorific energy they contain.

The researchers conclude that similar studies are now needed for other cultural groups, and for the gathering of different resources, such as firewood.


Luis Pacheco Cobos, Marcos Rosetti, Cecilia Cuatianquiz, Robyn Hudson: “Sex differences in mushroom gathering: men expend more energy to obtain equivalent benefits”, Evolution & Human Behavior, July 2010 (Vol. 31, Issue 4, Pages 289-297).

Chiles, one of Mexico’s heritage crops

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Apr 092011

Chiles (Capsicum spp.) have been cultivated in Mexico for centuries and are a vital ingredient in Mexico’s traditional cuisine, recently recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Spicy chiles also have numerous medicinal uses. Graphical representations of chiles have even been used as a national symbol.

Chiles are native to Mexico and central America. Evidence for chiles in the diet of indigenous groups in Puebla’s Tehuacán Valley dates back at least as far as 6500BC; by 4100BC, the plant was already domesticated.


Chiles. Photo: zoonabar (flickr); creative commons license

There are more than 100 varieties of chiles, grouped into 22 groups of green chiles and 12 of dried chiles. Green chiles by far the most important in volume and value of production and trade. Mexico remains the world’s leading exporter of green chiles and is the sixth largest exporter of dried chiles. The world’s leading producer of green chiles, almost entirely for domestic consumption, is China.

The ideal conditions for cultivating chiles are:

  • growing season temperatures of 18-27̊C daytime and 15-18̊C during the night.
  • rainfall of 600-1250 mm/yr, with no marked dry season.
  • light, humus-rich soils with adequate moisture retention and drainage
  • soils with a pH between 5.5 (slighty acidic) and 7.0 (neutral)
  • growing season of at least 120 days

Crop yields can be adversely affected by:

  • plagues,
  • plant diseases,
  • climatic hazards, such as hailstorms, rainstorms (fields need efficient drainage systems) and frost, the risk of which is countered by burning waste to create smoke to maintain temperatures above freezing

Time frame for cultivation

  • on commercial chile farms, seeds are usually sown in enclosed, heated, nursery beds, since temperatures of 20-24̊C are considered ideal for germination
  • seedlings are transplanted after 25-35 days when they are about 10-20cm in height – optimum yields require 20,000-25,000 plants per hectare
  • the first flowers appear 1-2 months later, by which time the plant is 30-80 cm tall
  • the first green chiles ripen about a month after that; chiles can then be picked every week or so for up to 3 months in rain-fed fields, or sometimes over an even longer period in irrigated fields.

In ideal circumstances, harvesting is possible all year. There are two major, overlapping harvest periods each year, with a fall-winter crop from December-August, and a spring-summer crop from June to March.

Yields vary greatly, reflecting different qualities of soil, water supply and technification employed. The average yield across Mexico is 14-15 metric tons/hectare. Yields in Zacatecas (which has a larger cultivated area of chiles than any other state in Mexico) are only 7 tons/ha, while yields in Sinaloa reach as high as 40 tons/ha.

Types of chile grown in Mexico

The most commonly grown chiles in Mexico are jalapeño, serrano, habanero, poblano and morrón (bell pepper). Seven varieties of green chiles represented 90% of Mexico’s total production of chiles in 2008, and 60% of its total revenue from chiles. Chiles vary in color, heat, size and texture:

Even for a single species, the “heat” of its chiles varies from one plant to the next, as well as from one soil or location to another. The heat of chiles is measured in Scoville units. The hottest chile is generally thought to be the habanero (100,000-445,000 Scoville units). By comparison, the jalapeño is 2,500-5,000 units and the morrón chile (bell pepper) registers 0 Scoville units.

Main source for statistics (pdf file): Un panorama del cultivo del chile, SAGARPA: Servicio de Información Agroalimentaria y Pesquera, June 2010. [accessed January 28, 2011]

Agriculture in Mexico is analyzed in chapter 15 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

Is this the beginning of the end for blue corn tortillas?

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Mar 212011

In two previous posts, we looked at the contentious debate surrounding the introduction of GM corn to Mexico.

Now, Mexico’s Agriculture Secretariat has approved a pilot program by Monsanto to sow up to 1 hectare (2.47 acres) in the northern state of Tamaulipas with GM corn. Only a few months ago, Monsanto, the giant, global biotech seed company, had been refused permission for this project.

Tamaulipas farmers had campaigned to be allowed to try the GM seed on the grounds that it was the only way they could be competitive with corn farmers north of the border. US farmers have found that GM corn lives up to its advertised higher yields and disease resistance, though many Mexican farmers, especially those in the south of the country, are vehemently opposed to GM corn on the basis that cross-contamination would deplete the plants’ gene pool, and possibly lead to the eventual extinction of traditional corn varieties.

The introduction of GM corn is likely to hasten the demise, or at least the ready availability, of many distinctive native varieties, including some with multi-colored kernels and, my particular favorite, blue corn, which makes (IMO) the most delectable tortillas imaginable.

The pros and cons of floriculture in Mexico

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Mar 052011

In a previous post – Mexico’s flower power – we looked at the Mexico’s floriculture sector. Mexico’s immense biodiversity, one of the greatest on the planet, and its variety of climates have encouraged the cultivation of ornamental flowers, principally for the domestic market, but also for export. In this post, we present a summary of the pros, cons and impacts of floriculture in Mexico.

Advantages that Mexico has for floriculture:

  • large internal market
  • long tradition of growing ornamental flowers
  • rich biodiversity – Mexico has more than 30,000 species of flowering plants, one of the world’s most diverse floras
  • competitive labor costs
  • variety of climates, from tropical to temperature
  • relative proximity to the USA compared to other major flower producers

Disadvantages of/for floriculture

  • the required transport by air is expensive, and companies relying on third-party carriers may lose access to their export markets if the airline changes its scheduled routes. For example, Finca Argovia, a grower of exotic flowers in Chiapas (150 species, 7 million stems a year, including orchids and anthuriums) would suffer if flights from Tapachula to Mexico City were stopped. These flights are the essential first leg of Argovia’s access to international markets.
  • demand for flowers is highly seasonal and having perfect blooms available for certain specific days (such as Valentine’s Day, 14 February) is critical to a grower’s success.
  • flowers grown in open fields (the majority of Mexico’s ornamental flowers) are more susceptible to insect pests and weather-related hazards and damage than those grown in greenhouses.
  • representatives of flower growers’ organizations claim that they have to compete with “contraband” flowers that originate in Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Netherlands, and are brought into Mexico from the USA.

Positive impacts of floriculture in Mexico

  • employment
  • export income
  • added aesthetic attraction (hotels, churches, restaurants, markets)

Negative impacts of floriculture in Mexico

  • runoff of agricultural chemicals into groundwater and local streams
  • many essential inputs (specialist pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, etc) have to be imported

For interest
Mexico’s national flower is the dahlia. To find out more, read this MexConnect article about Mexico’s national flower.

Mexico’s flower power…

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Mar 022011

Given its diversity of climates and immensely varied natural flora (see Mexico’s mega-biodiversity, Mexico is ideally suited for commercial floriculture (flower growing).

Helped by government support, floriculture expanded rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. About 14,000 hectares of agricultural land are devoted to ornamental flowers, with 10,000 growers concentrating on 50 different varieties, the most important of which are gladioli, roses, chrysanthemums, carnations, birds-of-paradise and the nard. Mexico’s flower growers produce 83,000 tons/yr of flowers, 80% of them destined for the domestic market. Most flower farms are smallholdings of 1-3 hectares in size, though there are also about 150 high-tech, greenhouse-based operations for the export market.

In addition to the area dedicated to ornamental flowers, a further 9,000 hectares are devoted to plants and flowers used in the cosmetics and food flavoring industries.

The state of Mexico has the largest area devoted to floriculture in the country, centered on Villa Guerrero. Other states important for ornamental flowers are Baja California, Coahuila, Colima, Chiapas, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Puebla, Querétaro, Tabasco, Veracruz, and, in the last five years, Yucatán.

The internal market for ornamentals is severely constricted by a lack of space in Mexico City’s wholesale market; the resulting congestion results in about 20% of all the fresh flowers arriving daily at the market having to be destroyed.

Mexico’s nationwide production of flowers is worth about 1 billion dollars a year. Only a small percentage of production is exported, mainly to the USA, with smaller amounts to Canada and Europe. While Mexican flower exports are currently worth some 50 million dollars, exports from Columbia are worth 550 million dollars and those from Ecuador and Costa Rica about 150 million.

Related posts:

Feb 242011

Mexico is the world’s seventh largest coffee producer and one of the leading suppliers of organic, shade-grown coffee. The nation’s 480,000 coffee growers, most working small parcels of land less than 5 hectares (12 acres) in size, are concentrated in Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca, and produce 268,000 metric tons a year. While Mexican coffee consumption per person is rising, 62% of the harvest is exported, bringing in $400 million annually.

This year’s crop escaped the deep freeze in late January and early February that decimated corn, tomatoes, bell peppers and other crops in northern Mexico, but unseasonal rains and cold weather in coffee-growing regions of southern and eastern Mexico have reduced coffee yields and mean that this season’s crop is also ripening unevenly. Some growers are worried that this could be the worst coffee harvest in almost 20 years.

Mexico's exports: coffee

Coffee, one of Mexico's most important agricultural exports

With fewer berries on each plant, the potential earnings for coffee-pickers are poor, since it takes longer to fill each basket with ripe berries. Some experienced coffee pickers are looking for alternative employment hoping for better pay. According to growers, the less experienced pickers remaining on the job are causing more damage to the bushes than normal, because they employ a hand picking method known as “ordeñando” (milking) in which they run their hands rapidly along a branch, stripping away the leaves as well as the beans. The problem for growers is that this technique reduces the following year’s crop.

The 2010-2011 harvest season began in October. Government officials are still estimating a harvest of 4.4 million 60-kg sacks, which would be a total of about 264,000 metric tons. However, Agroindustrias Unidas de México, Mexico’s largest coffee exporter, believes that 3.5 million sacks will be nearer the truth. If the exporter is correct, the current harvest would be only marginally better than Mexico’s 1992-1993 harvest which was the lowest in the past twenty years.

The only silver lining in this cloud is that coffee prices on international markets are high and rising, mainly due to problems in Colombia, so Mexican growers have a good incentive to pick every single ripe berry they can find.

Cold weather wreaks havoc on crops in Sinaloa, Mexico

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Feb 212011

Corn production has been the core of Mexican agriculture throughout its history, and continues to be very important. Production has increased by more than 40% since 2000. Currently corn is grown on about half of all agricultural land. However, corn is a rather low value crop and accounts for only about 14% of total crop value.

Corn, for both human and livestock consumption, is grown virtually everywhere in Mexico and is the leading crop in 17 of the 32 states. The leader in volume of corn produced is Sinaloa with 28% of the national total. Other major corn states are Jalisco (12%), State of Mexico (6%), Michoacán, Guanajuato and Guerrero (5% each).

The unusually cold weather in early February 2011 hit farming areas in northern Mexico particularly hard. Farmers in Sinaloa, the “Bread Basket of Mexico,” report that 300,000 hectares (750,000 acres) of corn were destroyed after unusually cold temperatures in the first few weeks of the year. A further 300,000 hectares suffered some damage. Sinaloa has 470,000 hectares of farmland devoted to the white corn used to make tortillas; 90% of this area has been damaged. Heriberto Felix Guerra, federal Secretary for Social Development (SEDESOL) called the weather-related losses the worst disaster in Sinaloa’s history. The economic loss could exceed three billion dollars.

The federal Agriculture Secretariat is rushing urgent aid to farmers, including tax breaks and low-interest loans for seed, in the hopes that many of them can replant their corn crop while there is still time. As of today, more than 130,000 hectares of corn in Sinaloa have already been replanted. The aim is to reseed between 200,000 and 300,000 ha (500,000-750,000 acres) of corn, for an eventual harvest (in Sinaloa) of 3 million metric tons of corn. The reseeding must be completed by 10 March as, after that date, there are too few “growing days” to guarantee a harvest. Average yields in Sinaloa for white corn are expected to fall from their usual 10 tons/ha to around 7 tons/ha this year.

Mexico has an annual shortfall in corn production and always has to import some corn (mainly from the USA and South Africa) to meet total domestic demand. This year, the government is considering raising its usual import quotas to ensure ample supplies of corn (and tortillas) for the coming year. Corn prices have already shot up; Mexico’s imports are going to cost a lot more than in recent years.

Citrus orchards, tomato crops and other vegetables were also decimated. Tomatoes are by far the most important horticultural crop in Sinaloa, but other crops affected include green beans, squash and chiles. It will be another 6 weeks to 2 months before another tomato harvest is possible. The price of tomatoes also rose immediately and could double, at least temporarily, within the next few weeks.

The Mexican tomato crop is mainly the larger Roma variety which is widely used in the fast food industry. Already at least one fast-food chain in the USA is adding tomato slices to hamburgers only on request; the smaller tomatoes used in salads are not affected by the recent cold snap.

Previous related posts:

Feb 192011

Tomatoes are one of the many native Mexican plants that have become essential ingredients in the cuisine of many countries. Mexico is the 10th largest tomato producer in the world, after China, USA, India, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Iran, Brazil and Spain (FAO 2008).

Mexico produces both red tomatoes (tomate or jitomate, depending on the region) which have high yields and account for about 75% of total tomato production, and green tomatoes (tomate verde) which have a lower yield and account for the remaining 25% of production.

The statistics in this post apply to the production and export of red tomatoes only.

The main varieties of red tomatoes in Mexico are:

  • vine-ripe large rounds
  • cherry tomatoes
  • Roma tomatoes, which now account for 54% of all tomato plantings in Mexico, as demand for them has increased at the expense of other kinds
  • greenhouse tomatoes (the collective name for several other varieties)


The single most significant trend in tomato growing in Mexico is the increasing volume of production coming from greenhouse (including shade house) cultivation. Greenhouse cultivation still represents only a small portion of total tomato production in Mexico, but results in greatly improved yields.

Mexico has around 3,200 hectares of horticultural greenhouses in total. An earlier post analyzed the essential characteristics and advantages of the production of horticultural products in greenhouses.

The major advantages for tomato production are:

  • helps to raise yields
  • enables producers to move away from seasonal production and grow tomatoes virtually the entire year
  • ensures a higher quality and consistency of product
  • facilitates better food safety
  • helps to ensure that production and packing plants meet or exceed international standards

Rising yields

Yields are rising. Open field yields have risen from 23 metric tons/ha in 1990 to 28 mt/ha in 2000 and to 39 mt/ha in 2010. The highest open field yields are about 45 mt/h in Baja California and Sinaloa, due in part to their efficient pest and disease control protocols.

Greenhouse cultivation of tomatoes gets much higher yields, but also requires more capital investment and more expensive inputs of labor, fertilizers and pesticides. Open field cultivation of tomatoes in Sinaloa and Baja California costs between $3,800 and $6,000/ha. Greenhouse and shade house production of tomatoes can cost up to $22,000/ha. (All figures in US dollars.) The costs associated with many imported inputs (agrochemicals, seeds and fertilizers) are high; they are also dependent on the peso/dollar exchange rate.

Greenhouse yields in Mexico are generally about 150-200 mt/ha. Tomato growers in the USA and Canada using greenhouses achieve yields of up to 450mt/ha, so Mexican producers still have plenty of room for continued improvement.

The largest area of greenhouse tomato cultivation is in Spain (20,000 hectares). By comparison, the USA has only around 350 ha of greenhouse tomatoes, Canada has 650 ha and Mexico 730 ha.

Area cultivated and volume of production

The total area (greenhouse and open field) devoted to tomato cultivation in Mexico has decreased in recent years, from 85,000 ha in 1990 to about 60,000 in 2010.

Tomato production in Mexico for the 2010/11 season is forecast to reach 2.2 million metric tons.


There are two major seasons:

1. In the winter season (October-May), growers in Sinaloa are the main producers and exporters of fresh tomatoes. Michoacán, Jalisco, and Baja California Sur also produce significant amounts in the winter season. Sinaloa growers have adopted very modern cultivation methods, selecting varieties with an improved and extended shelf life, employing highly efficient drip irrigation, and using plastic mulch to maintain their high yields. Sinaloa has 15,000 hectares devoted to tomatoes, of which 1,340 hectares are using greenhouses or shade houses.

2. During the summer season (May-October), growers in Baja California are the main producers and exporters of fresh tomatoes, along with growers in Michoacán, Jalisco, and Morelos.

Tomatoes on a stamp

Mexico Exports: Tomatoes

Domestic consumption and the export market

The final consumption figure for the domestic market depends largely on the volume of tomato exports (primarily to the USA), since domestic consumption is essentially restricted to those tomatoes that do not enter the export flow. Volumes of exports, and price/ton depend on numerous factors beyond the control of farmers in Mexico, including, for example, the seasonal weather in Florida which will help determine the volume of tomatoes produced in the USA.

The USA imports tomatoes from both Canada and Mexico. Mexico’s share of USA tomato imports has risen rapidly since 2000 on account of their lower costs. Mexican tomatoes are less expensive for USA buyers than their Dutch or Canadian counterparts, due to Mexico’s cheaper labor rates, lower transport costs, and their modern cultivation and packing systems.

Mexico’s 1.1 million tons a year of tomato exports are worth 1.1 billion dollars. Mexico does import some tomatoes, but the annual value of imports rarely exceeds 65 million dollars.

Potential risks faced by Mexico’s tomato growers

  • extreme heat may make tomatoes ripen earlier than usual, as happened in Sinaloa in December 2009
  • the switch from open field tomato production to protected production (in greenhouses or shade houses) requires an expensive investment in infrastructure and technology.
  • international prices each year are a major determinant of how many hectares of tomatoes are planted the following year

Note on the first GM tomato

The first GM tomato to be commercially cultivated was the Flavor Saver from the Calgene company, planted in 1995 in Mexico, California and Florida. It was marketed as the MacGregor tomato. It was primarily developed because it did not spoil as quickly as previous varieties of tomato. MacGregor tomatoes last at least 18 days without spoiling, from the time they are picked. Conveniently, consumers also preferred their taste to then-existing varieties. Developing the first GM tomato cost Calgene 25 million dollars and took 5 years.

Main source:

Flores, D and Ford, M. Tomato Annual: area planted down but production up. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN (Global Agricultural Information Network) Report, January 2010