COUNTRY PROFILE - MEXICO
General and Demography
Mexico forms part of the northern American Continent,
together with Canada and the United States of America. It is in the western
hemisphere, west of the Greenwich meridian. In terms of geographical coordinates,
the country's territory lies between meridians 118° 27' 24" W along the
coast of Baja California on the Pacific Coast, and 86° 42' 36" W on the
easternmost part, along Isla Mujeres in the Caribbean Sea; and between
parallels 32° 43' 06" N on the northern border with the United States
and 14° 32' 27" N to the south at the mouth of the Suchiate River on the
border with Guatemala.
The total area of the country is 1964381.7 sq.km, of
which 1959248.3 sq.km. are on the mainland and 5,133.4 sq. km. on islands.
It is the fourteenth largest country in the world. In terms of population,
Mexico is the eleventh most populated country with a population of 91.2
million at the end of 1995. The annual demographic growth rate of the
country in 1995 was approximately 1.8%, showing a decreasing trend of
the growth rate.
The population is concentrated in large urban centres
and also scattered in smaller towns. In the first case, there are metropolitan
cities such Mexico, Guadalajara and Monterrey which make up 2% of the
national territory, yet 25% of the total population of the country lives
in these cities. At the other extreme, a litter over on-fourth of the
population lives in rural communities having under 2,500 inhabitants,
which was the case of over 95% of all towns in 1990.
From the ethnic point of view, population is about 60%
mestizo (indian-spanish), 30% amerindian or predominantly amerindian,
9% caucasian or predominantly caucasian, and 1% others. Official language
of the country is spanish, though about 7.4% of the population, children
below 5 years of age or elders speak different native languages. Main
religion is Roman Catholic, which accounts for 89%, while Protestants
are 6% of total.
By age, the Mexican population is still young, despite
the downward trend of the relative weight of the youngest age groups.
Thus, in 1995, the proportion of people under 15 years of age was 35.0%,
whereas in 1970, it was 46.2%. Similarly, the median age in 1995 was 21
years compared to 16 years in 1970. On the other hand, the proportion
of individuals 65 years and older is still less, accounting for approximately
4.4% in 1995. Nevertheless, this figure is greater than that of 1970 when
it was 3.7%.
Flora and Fauna
Mexico holds a high place worldwide in terms of fauna:
it has the largest variety of reptiles in the world, with 717 of the 6,300
that have been classified, of which 574 are native to the country; it
holds second place in diversity of mammals, with 449 of the 4,170 existing
species, fourth place in amphibians, with 282 of the 4,184 known species,
and twelfth place in birds, with 1,150 of the 9,198 types.
The country has a very wide range of vegetation zones;
from places where there is almost no vegetation, as is the case in the
most arid deserts and in permanently snow covered areas, to regions such
as the Lacandon rain forest in the state of Chiapas, which is one of the
most important and representative ecosystems of the humid tropic; its
flora is rich in species, particularly fancy woods such as mahogany and
Mexico holds fourth place worldwide in diversity of plant
species, with 25,000 species registered out of the 250,000 that exist
throughout the world, and from an estimated total of 30,000 species which
are believed to exist in the national territory. That would bring the
country up to second place worldwide in terms of plant diversity.
Mexico's economy is a mixture of state-owned industrial
facilities (notably oil), private manufacturing and services, and both
large-scale and traditional agriculture. In the 1980s, Mexico experienced
severe economic difficulties: the nation accumulated large external debts
as world petroleum prices fell; rapid population growth outstripped the
domestic food supply; and inflation, unemployment, and pressures to emigrate
became more acute. Growth in gross domestic product, however, has recovered,
rising from 1.4% in 1988 to 4% per year in the early 90's and to about
6% yearly in 96-98.
Mexico's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) amounted to 402,541.1
million dollars in 1997, making it the eleventh largest worldwide. The
corresponding per capita GDP was about 4,410 dollars per year. The distribution
of national income is markedly uneven in Mexico, both among regions and
population, remaining one of the major problems to improve the economic
and social performance of the country.
During 1997 the main economic sectors' share of GDP was
as follows: 5.6% farming, livestock and fishing, 26% the industrial sector,
of which manufacturing accounts for about 75%, and 62.8% services, one
third of which consists of commerce, restaurants and hotels.
The country's territory is very irregular and is characterised
by mountains, plains, valleys and plateaus. The higher mountains in the
country are its main volcanoes, the highest being the Pico de Orizaba
with an altitude of 5,610 meters above sea level.
The great diversity of Mexico's relief makes it one of
the world's most heterogeneous countries in terms of contrasting topographical
characteristics and varieties; it also has a very wide range of natural
resources. The different topographical conformations play an important
role in the country's economic and social activities, since they influence
climatic conditions, types of soils and vegetation, which in turn affect
agricultural, livestock, forestry, industrial activities and human settlements.
Mexico's nearly 2 million sq. km area is almost equally
divided by the Tropic of Cancer, so the country is in a zone of climatic
transition with arid climates in the north, warm-humid and sub-humid in
the south and temperate or cold in regions of greater elevation. The country's
territory is one of the most complex in the world in terms of geological
characteristics and one of the richest in variety of landscapes.
The National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics
(INEGI), of Mexican federal government, has divided the national territory
into 15 physiographical areas.
There are three main watersheds in Mexico: the Western
or Pacific Watershed, the Eastern or Atlantic Watershed (Gulf of Mexico
and Caribbean Sea) and the Inland Watershed, where rivers do not empty
out into the sea.
There are approximately 100 rivers in the Western or
Pacific Watershed, the most important in terms of water flow being the
Balsas, Colorado, Culliacan, Fuerte, Lerma-Santiago, Verde, and Yaqui
The Eastern Watershed is made up of 46 main rivers, the
most important being the Bravo, Coatzacoalcos, Grijalva, Panuco, Papaloapan
and Usumacinta Rivers.
The Inland Watershed is made up of large closed basins.
The Nazas-Aguanaval river system is the largest.
||38. Casas Grandes
||39. Santa Maria
||40. Del Camen
||23. San Femando
||24. Soto La Marina
|8. San Lorenzo
|10. San Pedro
The country has a wide range of climates, which can be
classified, in very general terms, as warm and temperate with regard to
temperature; and humid, sub-humid, dry and very dry, depending on humidity
Dry climates predominate in most of the country's central
and northern areas, which cover 28.3% of the national territory. Such
climates are characterised by wind circulation, which causes scant clouds
and annual rainfall ranging between 300 and 600 mm; average temperatures
range between 22° and 26° C in some regions and 18° to 22° C in others.
In regions with very dry climate (20.8% of the country), the average annual
rainfall goes from less than 100 to 300 mm and mean temperatures range
between 18° and 22° C, and up to more than 26° C in some cases.
Warm climates are divided into warm humid and warm sub-humid.
The former covers 4.7% of the national territory and is characterised
by mean annual temperatures ranging between 22° and 26° C and annual rainfall
of between 2,000 and 4,000 mm. Warm sub-humid climates are found in 23%
of the country, with annual rainfall between 1,000 and 2,000 mm and temperatures
ranging between 22° and 26° C and rising above 26° C in certain areas.
Rainfall and Droughts
Nearly in all regions of Mexico, most rain falls in summer
(June-September) as short, heavy, afternoon showers. Towards the south,
the rainy season begins earlier and lasts longer. Only in northwest of
the peninsula of Baja California, most of the rain falls during the winter.
Derived of its geographical location, Mexico is strongly
influenced by meteorological phenomena, specially tropical and extra-tropical
cyclones, as well as convective events. These originate heavy rainstorms,
runoffs and floods. Mainly affected areas are the coastal zones and the
central portion of the country. However, the beneficial effects of these
phenomena - being very relevant for replenishment of dams and then allowing
irrigated agriculture and hydropower generation, among others -- usually
outersize the economic damages from floods.
Droughts in Mexico considerably affect water supply of
cities, agriculture, livestock and power generation. According to historical
records, these phenomena occur with a frequency of one every ten years;
its duration varies from one to three years. The more affected area is
the northern portion of the country. During the last half century, there
have been three major periods of drought in Mexico.
More than a quarter of Mexico's economically active population
works in agriculture, livestock and forestry sector, and a similar percentage
of total population lives in rural areas in small communities of less
than 2,500 inhabitants. As such, agriculture is one of Mexico's most important
economic sectors, though it accounts for only 6% of GDP.
Out of the nearly 196 million hectares of the country's
total area, some 21 million hectares are used in agriculture, around 27
million hectares are covered mainly by pastures, 88 million sustain low
bushes, 53 million hectares are covered by forests or tropical woods,
and 7 million correspond to deserts, urban areas and water bodies. About
108 million hectares (55% of country's area) are exploited either in agricultural,
livestock or forestry activities. Of this area, approximately 31 million
hectares are considered as agriculture devoted lands, either on a permanent
or occasional basis (in average, some 10 million hectares of this area
remain uncultivated and are temporarily --and changeably -- mainly used
for livestock); 68 million hectares are used mainly for cattle raising;
and almost 9 million hectares consist of woods and tropical woods used
for forestry purposes.
At present, nearly 21 million hectares --about 11% of
the country's total area -- are currently under cultivation, including
over six million hectares within irrigation systems.
Approximately 15 million hectares of the country's area
has a high agricultural potential, while other 26 million hectares has
medium quality. However, taking into account both water availability and
productive capacity of soils, only an area of about 32 million hectares
is suitable for agriculture.
Agricultural production in Mexico is extremely diverse,
including products from many different climatic regions, and depends heavily
on the intensity and regularity of rainfall. Main cropping season for
rainfed agriculture is May-November (called spring-summer season), while
in irrigated areas cropping seasons vary among regions and are less concentrated
during the year. However, the so-called autumn-winter season, extending
from October to April, is predominant in irrigated areas.
By far the six most important crops grown in Mexico are
corn, beans, wheat, sugarcane, coffee and sorghum. The first two are staples
of the traditional popular diet, with the result that approximately half
of the land in cultivation is dedicated to corn and beans. Wheat and sugarcane
are also widely consumed domestically, though not to the same degree.
Coffee is the main export product and sorghum is used for feed in the
rapidly growing poultry and pork industries.
Agricultural research is mainly developed in Mexico by
a federal government agency, the National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural
and Livestock Research (NIFALR), and by a number of universities and some
After decades of being provided mainly by government
agencies, agricultural extension services are at present in the hands
of the private sector; however, federal and state governments still finance
the services in a wide portion. Wealthy commercial farmers usually hire
the services on their own.
Dryland agriculture and rainfed farming have long been
practised in Mexico, mainly in north and northwest portions of the country
and in the central high plateaus, although not on a very large scale.
The main organisations concerned with agricultural development
in Mexico are the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development,
the Ministry of Agrarian Reform, the National Rural Bank, the National
Water Commission and some other institutions of the federal government,
and the states governments. The principal legal bodies that regulate their
activities are the Federal Public Administration's Law, the Agricultural
Development Law, the Agrarian Reform Law, the National Water Law, etc.
Development policies in agricultural sector have changed
substantially over the last few years in Mexico. They have shifted from
a wide governmental intervention in financing production, pricing and
trading of main inputs and produces, among other subjects, to a more private
sector managed and world market oriented activity. Since 1995, through
a new strategy, namely the Agricultural Alliance Programme, federal government
efforts and specially investments in agricultural development are increasingly
being tied to state governments and farmers investments; execution of
development works are also being managed by farmers themselves to a large
and increasing extent.
IRRIGATION, DRAINAGE AND FLOOD CONTROL
Total yearly average volume of rainfall in Mexico is
about 1520 cubic kilometres. Of this figure, some 410 cu km becomes surface
runoff; about 50 cu km infiltrates as renewable groundwater (including
an estimate of 15 cu km of induced replenishment in the irrigation areas),
and the remaining, some 1,060 cu km, evaporates.
Total abstraction for consumptive and non-consumptive
uses of water is about 190 cu km/year, around 165 cu km of surface waters
and some 25 cu km of groundwater.
Hydropower generation uses non-consumptively approximately
115 cu km of water, while consumptive uses amount to nearly 75 cu km.
The main of these are agriculture, which accounts for more than 60 cu
km (83% of total consumptive uses); domestic use with nearly 9 cu km;
industrial use with some 2.5 cu km, and intensive aquiculture, accounting
for a little more than 1 cu km.
According to prospective analysis conducted as part of
the planning activities carried out by the National Water Commission (the
National Waters Authority in Mexico), there is an irrigation potential
of some 10 million hectares in the country, approximately 60% more than
the area with irrigation facilities at present, which amounts to 6.2 million
hectares. However, new irrigation projects are frequently expensive, or
in many cases are located in regions where irrigation has only a supplementary
character for agricultural production. Therefore, as mentioned later,
investments in new irrigation systems are being slowly paced, and the
majority of the unexploited irrigation potential is then likely to remain
in that condition for a long time.
Of the 6.2 million hectares with irrigation facilities
in Mexico, about 3.3 million hectares correspond to 80 bigger systems,
namely irrigation districts. The remaining 2.9 million hectares are distributed
among more than 30 thousand small size irrigation units. Approximately
4.2 million hectares are irrigated with surface waters, and the remaining,
some 2 million hectares are served by groundwater pumping.
According to the Hydraulic Programme 1995-2000 of the
Mexican Federal Government, during that period an additional area of about
104,000 hectares would be incorporated to irrigation, out of some 0.5
million hectares to be irrigated by some 50 big and small ongoing new
The most important irrigation projects in Mexico are:
Culiacán-Humaya-San Lorenzo Project, Yaqui River Project, Fuerte River
Project, Colorado River Project, Lower Bravo River Project, Higher Lerma
River Project, Lagunera Region Project, Guasave Project, Mayo River Project,
Lazaro Cardenas Project, and Delicas Project. These projects range from
some 250,000 hectares to around 80,000 hectares of irrigated area each
Irrigated area represents about 30% of total cultivated
lands in Mexico, and accounts for nearly 50% of total value of production
and two thirds of agricultural exports.
Total harvested area in irrigation lands in Mexico is
about 5.5 million hectares in annual average, implying a mean cropping
intensity of approximately 90%. Due to drought among other factors, during
last years the amount of cultivated lands under irrigation have fallen
to nearly 50 million hectares per year. In the mid 90's, average water
use efficiencies in irrigation systems were estimated to be around 65%
for the conveyance and distribution efficiency, and nearly 70% for on
farm efficiency, leading to an overall efficiency of about 45%.
Irrigation practices more commonly used are by large
gravity methods of applying water, either by furrows or by flooding the
fields. Only in nearly ten percent (about 0.6 million hectares) of the
irrigated area, advanced methods of irrigation are used, the most popular
being sprinklers, low pressure systems using multi-gated pipelines, and
drip irrigation. As noted, an aggressive programme is being implemented
to mechanise farm irrigation systems. This programme should allow to reach
nearly 20% of total irrigated area to be pressurised for year 2000.
Water policy has changed over the time in Mexico. A very
important event for the new policy implementation was the 1992 issue of
the renewed federal National Waters" Law, and the corresponding Regulations
issued in 1994. These legal instruments, together with Mexican Constitution,
are the main juridical basis for water and irrigation management in the
country, and entitle the nation with the original property of practically
A crucial achievement following the new water policy
has been the transfer of the biggest irrigation systems or irrigation
districts (53% of total irrigated area), from federal government to water
users associations (WUA's), which began in the early 90's. Smaller irrigation
units have usually always been in the hands of WUA's in the country. Irrigation
districts had been poorly maintained by decades, in spite of the great
and costly efforts of federal agencies to maintain and rehabilitate these
systems. After the transfer, there is a steady pace of better maintenance
in the majority of the irrigation districts. At present, most irrigation
systems are operated and maintained by WUA's or farmers themselves, with
only O&M of head works and some main canals of big systems remaining in
the hands of the federal agency in charge of irrigation projects, the
National Water Commission (NWC). A variable portion of water charges collected
by WUA's is allocated to NWC for operation and maintenance of the old
At present, there are approximately half a million hectares
of soils significantly affected by salinity in irrigated areas in Mexico.
Financing new irrigation, drainage and flood control
works, depends mainly on federal government in Mexico. However, there
is also an important private and state governments investment participation,
usually more frequent on groundwater irrigation systems.
MEXICO AND ICID
Mexico joined ICID in the year 1951. The Mexican National
Committee has been actively participating in the events of ICID. The National
Committee has successfully organised the third Pan American Regional Conference
in 1992; 7th International Congress and 20th IEC meeting in 1969, and
in each of the last three years an international symposium, with the participation
of more than a thousand of water users from irrigation projects all around
the country. Mr. Abelardo Amaya Brondo, Mr. Alberto Barnetche González,
Manuel Contijoch Escontria from the Mexican National Committee were Vice Presidents of ICID in the
Mexican National Committee is actively participated in ICID workbodies.
This has the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural
Development and the NWC, and counts on the active collaboration of the
Civil Engineers' College, the Mexican Hydraulics Association, the National
Association of Irrigation Users, the National Association of Irrigation
Specialists, and the Mexican Association of Irrigation.