Some rural areas are more rural then others

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Teaching ideas  Comments Off on Some rural areas are more rural then others
Jul 022011

We all recognize that some cities are more urban than others. For example, Mexico City is considered more urban that a town of 20,000. By the same token, some rural communities are more “rural” than others. For example, a small settlement located near a city or along a main road would be considered less rural than an equally sized settlement in a more isolated area.

CONAPO's categories of rural area applied to eastern Michoacán

CONAPO's categories of rural area applied to eastern Michoacán. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The National Population Council (CONAPO) classifies rural localities into four groups based on accessibility to cities, towns and roads. The map shows how these four groups relate to a region in the eastern part of Michoacán state.

Suggested classroom exercise:

Appendix B of Geo-Mexico gives the percentages for each of these four rural groups in each state. What would be the best way to map the figures for the percentages of rural groups in each state?

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Are Mexico’s rural areas more diverse than its cities?

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Jun 302011

Which are more diverse: Mexico’s rural areas, or its cities?

At first glance, Mexico’s rural areas are all quite similar in that they lack the characteristics of Mexico’s large cities such as tall buildings, traffic congestion, modern shopping malls, bustling streets, heavy industry and the like. While rural areas are all similar in that they lack urban characteristics, Mexico’s rural areas are actually quite diverse. But is there really more diversity among Mexico’s rural communities than its cities?

The physical form and architecture of cities are essentially independent from their surrounding natural environments. On the other hand, rural settlements tend to be integrated more closely with the natural environment. For example, villages in the arid central plateau tend to be constructed of locally available adobe, which keeps residents relatively cool during the hot afternoons and warm during the colder nights. In the tropical parts of Mexico, rural settlements tend to be built with locally available tropical materials which keep the rain out, but let air breezes through to mediate the hot tropical climate.

Rural settlements all tend to rely heavily on farming as the basic economic activity. The surrounding natural environment essentially dictates the type of farming that is practiced. Obviously, farmers in the central plateau cannot successfully grow bananas, sugarcane and other tropical products requiring lots of water. However, varieties of corn are grown virtually everywhere in Mexico.

The social characteristics of Mexico’s rural areas are also very diverse compared to the cities. In general Mexican cities are quite similar from a social perspective. Social customs and mores, as well as social classes, are relatively constant from one city to the next. Spanish is the overwhelmingly dominant language in the cities. Rural communities in various parts of the country often have different social mores and customs. Communication in some rural areas is largely, if not almost exclusively, in local indigenous languages:

The diversity of Mexico’s almost 200,000 rural localities should not be confused with the relative homogeneity within any given rural community.

In conclusion, while diversity between rural areas may be greater than that between cities, there is usually far more diversity within a Mexican city than within any given rural community.

Access to services is worst in the smallest rural localities of Mexico

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Access to services is worst in the smallest rural localities of Mexico
May 102011

Access to services such as schools, public transport or the internet are better in cities than in rural areas (localities in Mexico with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants). However some rural areas have far better access than others. Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of inhabitants of a rural locality is directly related to its access to services.

The 2010 census indicates that 26.0 million Mexicans (about 23.2% of the population) live in rural areas. A total of 9.0 million live in Mexico’s 5,921 large rural communities (those with 1000–2499 inhabitants) compared to 11.3 million living in the 22,852 mid-sized rural localities (250–999 people) and 5.7 million in the 159,820 small rural settlements (fewer than 250 residents). The average population in the last group is only 36 inhabitants indicating that many Mexicans live in very tiny communities.

The percentage of communities with access to a health center or clinic is 74.9% for the large rural areas, 50.7% for the mid-sized, and only 37.9% for the small rural areas. The percentages for access to either a secondary school or telesecundaria (Mexico’s satellite-fed secondary schools, see Geo-Mexico, page 126) also differ with the size of the community: 79.6%, 51.5% and 27.0%, respectively. Though these percentages are far lower than those for larger, urban communities, they have improved very significantly. The census indicates that rural areas are catching up with the rest of Mexico, especially with respect to education, life expectancy and fertility, three very important, inter-related variables.

In turn, this suggests that government programs such as Oportunidades are achieving something positive in some areas beyond poverty reduction.

The network of roads providing access to rural villages has improved significantly. 81.2% of the smallest localities now are connected by road, compared to 96.7% for the mid-sized and 98.3% for the large rural areas. However, these data indicate that almost 31,000 rural Mexican communities are still not accessible by road. Only 63.5% of the small rural villages are served by public transport, compared to 74.6% of the mid-sixed and 89.3% of the large rural localities. A total of almost 107,000 rural communities do not have any public transport and are consequently quite isolated. This isolation is a very serious constraint to their economic opportunities and quality of life. The people who live in communities without access to a paved road are among Mexico’s poorest; fully 88% are classified as “very marginalized” (see Geo-Mexico, page 184).

Internet access is only beginning to penetrate into rural areas. Only 3% of the smallest rural villages have public access to the internet (via school, cybercafé, etc.). About four times as many (11%) of mid-sized rural localities have public internet access. Almost half (45.6%) of the large rural communities have public internet access compared to 74.3% of larger communities between 2500 and 4999 inhabitants. Current trends suggest that by 2020, virtually all Mexicans will have some type of internet access, perhaps by cell phone.

Fertility decline not as fast as expected, but faster in some areas of Mexico than others

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Fertility decline not as fast as expected, but faster in some areas of Mexico than others
May 092011

Data from the 2010 census indicate that the fertility rate did not decline as fast in the last decade as previously expected. On the other hand, the actual reduction was significant and consistent with Mexico’s demographic transition which will lead it to zero natural population growth by mid-century. See our 15 May 2010 post: Mexico’s demographic transition and flirtation with overpopulation.

At mid-decade Mexico’s National Population Council (CONAPO) projected that the total fertility rate would decline to an average of 2.1 children per women for the 2010 census. The new census data indicate that the fertility rate for 2009 was actually 2.4 compared to 2.9 in 1999. This decline is still significant but not quite as rapid as previously expected.

Fertility rates vary greatly for different areas of the country. Like many other socio-economic variables, fertility is closely related to community size. It declines systematically with increasing community size. Rural areas (localities of less than 2,500 population) had the highest rate of 2.9 in 2009, equal to the national level in 1999. If this ten year lag relationship continues, we might expect the fertility rate in rural areas in 2019 to be equal to the 2009 national rate of 2.4. The fertility rate in rural areas declined the fastest in the past decade, a full 24% from their 3.8 rate in 1999.

Towns between 2,500 and 15,000 dropped 16% from 3.1 to 2.6. Small cities between 15,000 and 100,000 declined by 14% from 2.8 to 2.4, the national average. For cities of over 100,000 the 2009 rate was 2.1 (the theoretical replacement level), compared to 2.4 in 1999.

The Federal District has the lowest fertility rate by far, for example women between age 35 and 40 have had an average of 1.8 children compared to the national average of 2.5. Using this measure, other states with low fertility levels include Nuevo León with 2.3, followed by Baja California Sur, Colima, State of Mexico, Morelos, Quintana Roo and Yucatán with 2.4. The highest fertility rates are in Chiapas and Guerrero where women between age 35 and 40 have had 3.2 children on average, followed by Oaxaca with 2.9.

The demographic transition model and its application to Mexico is described in depth in chapter nine of “Geo-Mexico; the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico”.

Apr 302011

The quality of housing in Mexico has improved significantly in the past two decades. By the 2010 census, 97.8% of Mexican households had access to electricity, compared to 95.0% in 2000 and 87.5% in 1990. That this figure is approaching 100% is a real accomplishment given that many Mexicans live in very isolated mountainous communities. As of mid-2010, 93.5% of rural households had electricity, compared 98.2% for towns between 2,500 and 15,000 and over 99% for larger towns and cities. Anyone who has lived without electricity knows what an incredible improvement it can make to one’s comfort and quality of life.

With smaller family sizes, household crowding has also declined. It went from 5.0 persons per household in 1990 to 4.4 in 2000 and 3.9 in 2010. The percentage of households with dirt floors is now down to 6.2%, compared to 13.2% in 2000 and 19.5% in 1990. In rural areas, 15.1% of houses have dirt floors compared to 7.7% in towns between 2,500 and 15,000.

The vast majority of rural houses now have piped water. In the 125 least developed municipalities in rural Mexico, over 63% of households have piped water, which is one of the most important factors for improved family health. Almost 39% of the households in these poor municipalities have sewers, a convenience that most rural residents now have. However, about half of all rural households still cook with firewood or charcoal.

Rural households are gaining increasing access to modern electrical conveniences. Almost 80% now have a television set, 62% have a refrigerator, 42% have a washing machine, and 36% have a cell phone (only 17 % have a wired telephone line). While these percentages are significantly higher in urban areas (TVs – 97.5%, refrigerators – 91.7%, washing machines – 78.4%, and cell phones – 78.4%.), life in rural Mexico is improving dramatically. However, rural areas are lagging significantly in access to the cyber-age. Only 6.8% have a computer in the house and 2.5% have internet access. Urban access is much higher: 42.7% for home computers and 33.1% for internet access. On the other hand, many rural households gain access to computers and the internet by using cyber-cafes, which have spread rapidly into small Mexican communities.

Local "bus" to the train station, Tehuantepec, 1985

Local "taxi" to the train station, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, 1985. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Access to public transportation has also improved in rural areas (see photo, taken in 1985). In mid-2010, 73% of rural residents had access to public transportation (usually bus or taxi). Access varies with community size. Of those in communities of 1,000 to 2,500, almost 90% have access, while only 37% of those localities of under 250 population had access to public transportation.

Mexico’s cities and towns are analyzed in chapters 21, 22 and 23 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Rural Mexico is the subject of chapter 24. Living standards, including housing, are discussed in chapter 28. Buy your copy today!!

Highway improvement revolutionized the economy of Chilapa, Guerrero

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Highway improvement revolutionized the economy of Chilapa, Guerrero
Aug 112010

Transportation improvements can have profound impacts on the areas they serve.  A major highway improvement in the 1970s revolutionized the rural economy of Chilapa, a small town about 40 km east of Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero.  Prior to 1970, the area was essentially self-sufficient, as it had been for hundreds of years.  All the corn and most of food consumed in Chilapa came via pack animals from farms within 12 km of the town.  It did produce some cotton shawls (rebozos) and later woven palm goods which were sold to obtain money for salt, iron, cotton, matches and other essentials not produced locally.

In the 1970s, the old narrow windy road to Chilpancingo was upgraded to a national highway (No. 92), straightened and paved, dramatically reducing transport time and costs.  This had a dramatic impact on Chilapa.  Corn and other goods from the rest of Mexico and abroad poured into the area, leading to significantly lower prices. The local farmers could not compete; many stopped farming altogether.  Some started commuting by bus to low paying jobs in Chilpancingo.  When subsidies became available for chemical fertilizers and hybrid corn, farmers began producing high quality corn that was sold outside the area. Chilapa continued importing cheap, low quality corn for local consumption. The new road completely changed the economy of the area around Chilapa, brought it farther into the national economy and improved its standard of living. There are thousands of communities in Mexico that are not yet served by paved roads and are essentially as self-sufficient and poor as Chilapa was before the 1970s.  In addition, there are hundreds of other communities not reached even by dirt roads; they are even poorer and more self-sufficient.

Note: the main source for material about Chilapa is Kyle, C. 1997 “Transport and Communication” 1910-96, in Werner, M.S. (ed) Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture. Chicago, Fitzroy Dearborn.

The development of transportation systems in Mexico is the focus of chapter 17 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

A small village in Mexico won a 2004 UN Development Prize

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on A small village in Mexico won a 2004 UN Development Prize
Jun 142010

Every two years, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) awards the Equator prize (worth 30,000 dollars) to communities that have shown “outstanding achievement in the reduction of poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.”

One of the winners of the 2004 Equator prize was the indigenous community of Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro, in the state of Michoacán. More than 340 communities, from 65 countries, were nominated for consideration by the Equator Prize jury. The seven winning communities were honored at a prize-giving ceremony held in conjunction with an international Biological Diversity Conference in Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia.

The success of Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro (hereafter referred to simply as Nuevo SJP) is all the more remarkable since their community did not even exist prior to 1944.

That is the year when all the founding residents of Nuevo (New) SJP fled their homes in “viejo” (Old) SJP as the sizeable town was overwhelmed by the lava erupting from Paricutín volcano. Paricutín first erupted, completely unexpectedly, in the middle of a farmer’s field, on February 20, 1943. It is a sobering thought that only 61 years to the day before the prize-giving, the volcano literally did not exist.

A remarkable account of those early days is given by Simón Lázaro Jiménez, who recounts in his book, Paricutín: 50 Years After Its Birth, his adventures as a young boy as he fled with his parents for safety as their small village of Angahuan was bombarded with red-hot rocks and ash. Don Simón’s is the only first-hand account of any substance written by a native P’urépecha speaker.

The volcano finally stopped erupting in 1952, but only after completely destroying the village of Parícutin (note that the position of the accent has changed over the years) and the town of viejo SJP. All that is left of the latter today are a few broken-down walls and parts of the huge, old church that did a brave job of withstanding the compelling force of the lava as it overran the rest of the town.

The people who fled the volcano (many initially refused to leave, but were escorted to safety by armed soldiers) stayed with friends and relatives and in makeshift camps before finding permanent accommodation, but later in 1944, founded Nuevo SJP after a presidential decree gave them land formerly belonging to the hacienda of Los Conejos.

The new town had to be completely planned from scratch. A gigantic church was built to commemorate the miraculous survival of part of the Old San Juan church which formed a partial barrier to the lava flow. Little by little a new community evolved, fostered in part by the high degree of cooperation required for building a new town and working virgin land.

In 1977, motivated by the abuse of local forest lands by private concession holders, the campesinos of Nuevo SJP organized their own union for farming and forestry workers. In 1981, they began their own forestry industry, and now collectively own and manage more than 11,000 hectares of pine, oak and fir forest. Over the years, their business activities have diversified to include a saw mill, a furniture factory (which has won export orders from Belgium and Ireland), a plant making wooden moldings for export to the USA, avocado and peach orchards, a packing plant which makes its own cases, a Christmas tree plantation, eco-tourism cabins and a resin distillation plant, as well as a store for the bulk purchase and resale of fertilizers. A water bottling plant, to bottle spring water, is one of the community’s latest proposals.

The community’s website gives details of all these activities and includes a link to a furniture catalog for those interested in buying direct. All the wood used is certified as “Smart Wood” (coming from well-managed forests) by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Community decisions in Nuevo SJP are made on behalf of the 8,000 or so residents by a General Assembly of the 1,300 Comuneros (community representatives), which has met at least once a month since 1983.

The Equator Prize was awarded because the forest policies adopted by the community “have provided a boost to local incomes while ensuring that the resource base upon which the community depends is sustained for future generations.” In addition, “the community’s successes have spread well beyond their origins as these novel conservation and business practices have been widely adopted by other indigenous communities in Mexico.”

Nuevo SJP may not be very old, or very large, but it certainly has a really big heart!

For a more detailed account of the history of the volcano, and of the considerable architectural attractions of the village of Angahuan, including its superb church, read chapter 35 of Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury (Sombrero Books 2013).

Original article, as published on MexConnect

Mexico’s Volcanic Axis is discussed in chapter 2 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. The sustainable forestry project of San Juan Parangaricutiro is examined in chapter 15.