United States of Mexico
site index
main page

Contributor: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Contact: Jean Bonnal

United States of Mexico

The terms and data used in this publication are in no way an indication of the authors' position regarding the legal status of the countries, territories, cities or zones mentioned, or of their authorities or borders.

A. General Country Data

Surface Area1,908,690 sq. km.
Population (millions)95.7
Population Growth2.1%
Urban Population75.3 %
Density (1995)50 inh/sq. km
GDP (1994) Billions US $ 375.47
GDP per Capita US $ 3,923
Currency Nuevo Peso N$
National Budget15.5% of GDP
Human Development Indicator0.853
HDI Ranking (out of 174 countries)50

Borders, Topography and Climate

Mexico is bordered by the United States on the north, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea on the east, Belize and Guatamala on the south, and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Most of Mexico is an extensive and high plateau flanked by mountain chains. The country is cut in two by the tropic of Cancer and as a result the southern half is within the tropics.

In general, the climate varies according to latitude. The tierras calientes (hot lands) are the low coastal plains that rise to about 915 m in altitude. This region is very humid and the temperatures vary between 16 degrees to 49 degrees Celsius. The tierras templadas (temperate lands) vary in altitude from 914 m to about 1,830 m in altitude and the temperatures in this region vary from 17 to 21 degrees celcius. The terras frias (cold lands) rise from 1 830 m to 2 745 m in altitude with mean temperatures between 15 degrees to 17 degrees Celsius. The rainy season stretches from May to October. Though southern Mexico receives 990 m to 3, 000 mm of rainfall, most of Mexico suffers from drought. The average rainfall per year is 600 mm in the tierras templadas, 460 mm in the tierras frias and 254 mm in the quasi arid north.

Characteristics and Recent Developments of the Political System

Mexico is a federal republic governed by the 1917 constitution. It comprises 31 states and the federal district. It has a presidential system of government and three political parties vie for power: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in power since 1929, the National Action Party (PAN) representing the rightist opposition, and on the left of the political spectrum, the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). The president is the head of the federal government. He is elected by universal suffrage for one six-year term. Legislative power is vested in the Senate comprising 64 members, each state and the federal district being represented by two senators, and the House of Deputies of 500 members of which 300 are elected by universal suffrage and 200 are elected by proportional representation. Senators are elected for six years and deputies for three years. The governor is the chief executive in each state and is elected by universal suffrage for six years while legislative power is vested in the House of Deputies, elected for three years. The municipalities are the third level of government. They are headed by the mayor and the city council elected for three years.

Agriculture in Mexico

Mexican agriculture, which contributes about 8% of the GDP and employs about 27% of the working population is characterized by a large number of small farming units and a smaller number of modern farms geared toward agribusiness and export markets. 85% of Mexican farms contribute only 15% of agricultural products on the markets. On the other hand, 15% of the farms are highly modernized and contribute 85% of agricultural production. Almost 13% of the land is cultivable but less than 10% receives enough rainfall to be farmed without irrigation. At the beginning of the 1990s the principal Mexican agricultural products were corn, wheat, barley, rice beans, potatoes, coffee, cotton, sugar cane, other fruits and vegetables, an livestock.

83% of the country is covered by forests which contain valuable trees like

mahogany, ebony and walnut. Deforestation is high (700 000 hectares between 1980 and 1990) but is nonetheless only a tiny part of the country's forest resources.

Current Economic Situation

To overcome the 1982 debt crisis and in accordance with agreements reached with IMF, Mexico adopted a strict stabilization policy which was carried out between 1988 and 1994 through a major structural adjustment program whose priority was the modernization of its production and distribution system, the decentralization of production, and the design of financing methods compatible with stabilization requirements through three priority policies : privatization, trade liberalization and economic deregulation. An agricultural structural adjustment program (ASAP) was launched in 1993.

On-going Decentralization Process

B. On-going Decentralization Process

Background, Objectives, and Legal Framework

The on-going decentralization process started in a context of economic reform whose main goal was privatization and the liberalization of economic regulations. The cause ot the process at the end of the 1980s was on the one hand, the serious financial problems of that period, and on the other, the desire of the government to share the costs of structural adjustment with the other levels of government. In that situation the principal objective of decentralization was to solve the problem of diminishing budgetary resources by reducing various burdens on the national budget.

Functions, Resources, and Autonomy of Decentralized Entities

Decentralization was launched through constitutional reform which transferred more power to the states and to the municipalities. This reform gave both the states and municipalities new consultation, decision- making, control, policy implementation, and financing responsibilities. In spite of the high degree of autonomy relating to the use of resources, these entities do not have sufficient resources to carry out their new responsibilities.

C. Decentralization and Rural Development

Forms of Decentralization, Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Formulation

Decentralization of the agricultural sector is much more recent as it was instituted only in the mid 1990s (1995) and is on-going. It was followed in the same year by a restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture. The principal novelty is the assignment to this Ministry, of responsibilities relating to rural development. The major form of decentralization regarding rural development was the deconcentration of state services followed by a substantial delegation of powers to public entities and by devolution of powers especially to subnational entities. Apart from the devolution of irrigation districts to user associations, the level of devolution to civil society organizations has been rather low. The level of government targeted by the decentralization process is the level between the federal government and the municipalities, that is, the governments of the 31 states that make up the federation.

Rural development planning and the design of strategic programs basically remained the same after decentralization. Authority remains essentially with the federal government, with coordination at the regional level. Hence, for example, with regard to equipment and rural infrastructure, financing and control are carried out by the national level while monitoring and evaluation are done at the regional level. Authorities responsible for agricultural policy and rural development try to vary their policies to some extent to take into account regional and production characteristics. Producer participation is ensured by "price determination through dialogue".

Decentralization and Agricultural Support Services

With regard to the decentralization of the major agricultural support services (training, extension, research, fertilizers, credit, seeds, irrigation) and their financing methods, the model for cooperation and coordination between the national and intermediate levels, can be found in the example mentioned concerning rural infrasture. Thus training, research and inputs are financed by the national level but the intermediate level (the states) determine the policies relating to these services. Agricultural extension is the entire responsibility (financing and policy determination) of the intermediate level while credit and irrigation are the domain of the national level (both financing and policy determination).

In spite of privatization policies that Mexico introduced in recent years, the public sector remains the principal actor in training, extension, research, credit and irrigation. The private sector plays a major role only in the supply of inputs. Neither producer organizations nor NGOa seem to play an important role at this level.

Support Policies, Constraints and Evaluation of the Decentralization Process

Mexican decentralization was followed by an extensive effort in information, training and organizing of producers, even though training was limited to technical services and thus excluded subnational entities and ordinary citizens. Prior characteristics seem to explain the current positive impact of decentralization on agricultural support services, production infrastructure, citizen participation and environmental protection. Decentralization does not seem, however, to have had any impact on anti-poverty programs.


The decentralization process in Mexico is incomplete to the extent that the real responsibilities given to the municipal governments are generic functions given to all population centers but do not include functions specifically targeting rural development. From this point of view, it is rather an extensive deconcentration of services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development rather than a true decentralization process involving the devolution of functions and powers to civil society and local communities. Also, decentralization was not coupled with a transfer of financial resources nor did it change the legal framework dealing with citizen participation. The deepening of decentralization in the future must take into account the demands of the municipal governments and institute mechanisms that facilitate participation.