The variety and richness of natural resources are enormous, but there is still a long way to go that the country has to travel in order to fully exploit them.
According to findjobdescriptions, agriculture constitutes the main basis of Mexican life and the greatest number of workers find employment in it. According to the 1910 census, 3,570,000 workers were employed in agriculture, compared with 96,000 employed in the mines, 634,000 employed in small and large industries, 54,000 employed in transport and 275,000 in trade. Then in 1921, out of a total of 5,535,275 workers, 3,485,292 were employed in agriculture, that is 63% of the active population. And the importance of agriculture will appear even greater when the value of agricultural products is considered. That even now Mexico’s exports depend to a great extent on mining production, the export of mineral products does not at all correspond to the import of foodstuffs, which is usually small and is limited to making up for any deficiencies in annual products. The huge majority of the Mexican population therefore finds its basis of life in agriculture; hence also the importance of the agricultural problem in Mexico.
The extraordinary variety of climates and the equally varied composition of the land, but on the whole very favorable to the development of plant species, allow Mexico to produce an infinite variety of plants and to host all the species of domestic animals that serve man. Unfortunately these possibilities are hindered by the excessive slope of many lands, especially on the external slopes, and by the trend of rainfall, which, concentrated in almost the whole country, in a rather short rainy season, are often insufficient for agricultural needs and moreover, subject to excessive variations from year to year. Hence the need for artificial irrigation, which already in the period prior to the Spanish conquest, and during the colonial era, required the construction of wells and canals. Important progress in this field was made under the Díaz government, and even more in the last decade, thanks to the facilities granted to these companies and, in particular, thanks to the installations carried out directly by the federal government or by the governments of individual states; of these plants, which in general are used both for irrigation and for the production of hydroelectric energy and which are built by the National Irrigation Commission, we recall those of Santa Gertrudis in Tamaulipas, of Dom Martín on the Río Salado, the great Tepuxtepec basin (Michoacán) based on designs by the Italian Omodeo, capable of 5 million cubic meters, which provides for the irrigation of 50,000 hectares and the production of 60,000 HP; a branch channel of the Río Conchos near Ciudad Camargo, the great Calles dam on the Río Santiago,
At the same time the other serious problems connected with agriculture were addressed by the government. And first of all the problem of large estates and land ownership, which is economically and politically the most serious. President Benito Juárez had already tried to create the small agricultural property with the alienation of ecclesiastical assets and with the division of the possessions of the indigenous communities (ejidos). But the provisions of Juárez did not have the desired effect and the large estates continued to reign, so much so that in 1910 there were just 69,549 rural farms in all of Mexico, of which 56,825 (i.e. almost 82%) were large estates, partly owned by foreigners (Spaniards, French, British and North Americans). Nor could the land reform of President Madero have greater development, if still in 1923 the fourth part of the privately owned lands was owned by just 114 owners. In recent years, work has been carried out at a faster pace and with greater firmness, that is, reconstituting the assets of the indigenous communities even where they had been dismembered as a result of the Juárez reform and increasing the number of small owners with the application of the law of 1923, according to such as any Mexican citizen who has passed the
The Comisión Nacional Agraria, appointed on the basis of articles 27 and 123 of the 1917 constitution, proceeded from 1921 to 1927 to distribute over 3 million hectares of land assigned to approximately 295 thousand farmers (campesinos) heads of families, while on the basis of the law on reconstitution of the ejidos almost 4 million hectares had been expropriated and assigned to indigenous communities until 1927; at the same time every means is tried to spread the modern methods of cultivation among the citizens by raising the cultivation of peonswith the establishment of schools and model experimental fields, with the distribution of selected seeds, and encouraging the replacement of old wooden plows with iron plows, and the introduction of agricultural machinery in general by granting preferential loans. An indication of the progress made in this field can be considered the fact that in 1925 agricultural machinery and tools were bought in the United States for a value of 4,178,000 pesos compared to 843,742 pesos spent for the same purpose in 1909.
According to official data communicated to the International Agricultural Institute, the area of cultivated land, excluding fallows, was ha in 1929. 5,130,000, that is, it occupied just 2.6% of the total area. Although it is estimated that under current conditions as much as 70% of the Mexican territory cannot be cultivated (due to the constitution and morphology of the land and especially due to the lack of sufficient rainfall and the impossibility of irrigation), however the percentage of land placed in regular cultivation is well below the availability.
The largest part of the cultivated area belongs to cereals and in particular to maize which together with beans constitutes the basis of the diet of the most numerous classes of the population. The cultivation of maize extends over about three million hectares with annual fluctuations due to the variability of the seasons: it is cultivated both in the tropical low lands and in the higher areas.
The crops from the Valley of Mexico, the Toluca Basin and the state of Querétaro are very popular, but the bajío region provides the largest quantities and the finest qualities. The average production of corn was 33 million quintals in the four-year period 1909-13 with a production of 8.5 quintals per hectare; the average for the four-year period 1927-30 dropped to 18 million quintals with an income of just 7 quintals. per hectare. The decrease in unit yield is partly connected with the government’s action, aimed at freeing Indians from forced labor, to which they were practically subject before; and it is partly due to the particularly hostile climatic conditions of some of the last few years. The shortcomings of the crops had to be dealt with by importing (793,000 quintals in 1930).
The wheat and other cereals introduced by Europeans only grow in tierras templadas order in the territories included within the tropics are found in the highest regions, from 1500 to 3200 meters above sea level while further north you lower the lower limit. Wheat cultivation has its main center in the plateau, where it rotates with corn. The area cultivated with wheat, which averaged ha. 785.950 in the last five years before the war, it was reduced to an annual average of ha. 514,000 in the four-year period 1927-30, but the average annual production remained almost the same, being respectively of q. 3.005.670 and q. 3,109,000. Guanajuato contributed to the total production of 1923 (3,700,000 quintals) with q. 800,000 (more than 1/ 5of the total) and with q. 500,000 each the three states of Sonora, Michoacán, Chihuahua, followed at a distance by Mexico, Jalisco and Coahuila.
Rice (cultivated surface has. 42,100 on average in the four-year period 1927-1930; average annual production in the same period 767 thousand q, average income 18.3 q) grows in the low and warm-humid lands of the coastal areas; it is also cultivated in some districts of Coahuila, Mexico, Puebla and Morelos.
Much more extensive is the cultivation of legumes, especially beans, practiced in all soils and at any altitude: the production of chickpeas (garbanzo) of which a large quantity is exported to Spain, Cuba and the United States (338,000 q. in 1924).
Among the tropical products the first place goes to sugar cane, introduced by the Spaniards, and whose cultivation is practiced in the low and rainy areas of the coastal plains of the Gulf and the Pacific, but also in the medium height districts of Jalisco, Puebla, Michoacán and Morelos. Occupied on average annually has. 87,600 in the four-year period 1927-30 and gave an average annual product of almost 40 million quintals of cane (q. 451 per hectare); the cane is processed in numerous sugar factories, some rather backward, others with very modern plants, and the sugar produced in the period mentioned exceeded 2 million quintals on average, supplied especially by Veracruz, Sinaloa, Puebla, Jalisco, etc. The export was very scarce.
Finally, we remember cocoa, an indigenous plant cultivated by the Indians especially for their own use; coffee, which had considerable importance in the last colonial period and then decayed, is now in promising development, especially in the mountainous slopes towards the Gulf (Veracruz) and towards the Pacific (Colima and Chiapas); tobacco, already widespread in pre-Columbian times, whose best product is supplied by the states of Veracruz, Chiapas, Nayarit and Jalisco; rubber, extracted from the Castilloa elastica which grows in the hot-humid soils of Veracruz, Tabasco and Chiapas, and from the wild guayaule in the calcareous soils of the Sierra Occidental.