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Problems of land tenure and food production in north-western Mexico

Roberta D. Baer



Much recent attention has been focused on the effects of the shift from subsistence to market production, with some research pointing to declines in food consumption and nutritional status, and other data suggesting the contrary. A region in north-western Mexico tried to dedicate itself to production for the market. The outcome of this project illustrates why people in this area do not either grow more food for their own consumption or produce more to sell so they can purchase more food. The data discussed point to the importance of unresolved problems over land tenure and resulting agricultural strategies as constraints on food production.

Editor's note

The Food and Nutrition Bulletin does not accept papers describing a purely local situation in a single country unless it has broader implications that could affect programmes or policies in other regions. The following paper describes a rather complex political situation blocking progress in one group of northern Mexican communities. The internal feuds and historical rivalries that it represents, however, are universal; anthropologists have described many similar situations in other countries.

Any intervention programme introduced without awareness of these complex factors is likely to be a waste of resources and a failure, without the programme planners at the national or regional level knowing the reason. Wherever intervention programmes that have achieved relative success in other communities are failing, there should be an investigation into the local factors responsible. The best way of doing this is to use informal interviews and direct and participant observation, as was done in this study.

Guidelines for applying these anthropological methodologies, first published in the Bulletin in 1984 (vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 27-45), are now available in expanded form in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.


Much recent research has focused on the effects of the change from subsistence to market production by small farmers in developing nations and illustrates the nutritional and food consumption problems that are often seen to result from this shift in agricultural strategy. A case study in north-western Mexico illustrates some of the reasons why market production is ultimately unsuccessful. These small ranchers and farmers find themselves unable to improve their diets due to their inability either to produce or purchase more food.

The larger context

Mexican agricultural and food policies in past decades have increasingly favoured large-scale commercial agriculture over subsistence-oriented farming [1; 2]. The state of Sonora, in the north-western part of the country, has followed the development patterns of Mexico in general during this period, and to an extent has been held up as an example of the success of this type of approach [3]. Government investment has been particularly strong in establishing irrigation agriculture, essential in this extremely arid environment. The first of these projects involved development of the Yaqui and Mayo valleys. The most recent efforts took place on la Costa de Hermosillo. As a result of this project, sophisticated irrigation agriculture produces wheat, alfalfa, cotton. grapes, citrus fruit, and nuts, large amounts of which are for export.

The prosperity and accumulation of wealth in some parts of the state have been achieved at the expense of other areas, in particular, the Sierra region.

It was necessary for the success of the irrigation and growth projects in the coastal valleys to minimize division of the headwaters of the Sonoran rivers- that is, to discourage the development of more marginal lands in eastern Sonora in favor of more productive development of the rich coastal bottom-lands. This, in part, explains the lack of credit to the Sierra ejidos, and the decision not to extend the small irrigation program to the Sonoran Sierra where it would result in less water for. . . more prestigious projects. [4, pp. 20-21]

The term "productive development" must be interpreted in terms of the national priorities of development, which favour market versus subsistence production. By 1979, decades of this policy had resulted in "the capitalization of agriculture in Sonora [producing] a remarkable dualism, characterized by a few highly technological, costly irrigation districts producing crops for export, and the rest of the state remaining relatively valueless, producing at best for self-consumption" [4, p. 152]. Given this pattern of investment, the economic miracle of Sonora may not be that the irrigated areas produce so much, but rather that, given the lack of aid that has been made available to those in the Sierra, they produce anything at all [4]. This pattern of "development", or lack thereof in the Sierra region, has led to large-scale migration from the region. Thus, two of the most important resources of the Sierra-labour and water-have been transferred to other areas of the state, creating a classic example of "the development of under-development".

In the context of this type of economic development, the finding of significant levels of mild to moderate malnutrition in both the economically marginal rural and urban areas of the state is not surprising. Anthropometric data from recent nutrition surveys indicate that the highest rates of malnutrition are found in school-age children (5 to 14 years), with the problem most serious in the urban areas [5: 6].

Field and archival research in the Sierra region was carried out between 1982 and 1984, focusing on the village of Arroyo Lindo (this is a pseudonym, as are the names of other villages), which has greater nutritional problems than other villages in the region [7]. Examination of the regional-level problems involving land tenure and agricultural strategies suggest an explanation for this.

The regional level

The paradox of a modern village with relatively high malnutrition

Arroyo Lindo is not the type of place where one would expect to find nutrition problems such as those reported in recent nutrition surveys (see TABLE 1. Anthropometric data for IIESNO sample in Arroyo Lindo). It is a relatively large village, but its population has not grown greatly in recent years due to extensive out-migration (table 2) [8-14]. Located on the highway (paved in 1974), Arroyo Lindo appears to have been the recipient of many government-sponsored improvements. These include morning and afternoon primary schools (1944), a secondary technical school (1976), evening adult literacy programmes, a kindergarten (1982), 95% electricity (1971), and running water (1963), whose quality, however, is deficient. The village also has street lights (1980), garbage collection (1981), and a modern health centre (1973) with a full-time doctor.

TABLE 1. Anthropometric data for IIESNO sample in Arroyo Lindo


% of reference standard

Less than 1 year

1-4 years

5-14 years

(N= 21)

(N= 46)

(N= 54)







Height for age
Good growth > 95 19 90 34 74 46 85
Poor growth <95 2 10 12 26 8 15
Weight for age              
Obese > 110 3 14 7 15 2 4
Normal 90- 110 12 57 22 48 18 33
1st degree 75-90 4 19 11 24 27 50
2nd degree 60-75 1 5 4 9 7 13
3rd degree < 60 I 5 2 4 0 0
Weight for height
Obese > 110 4 19 5 11 3 6
Normal 90- 110 12 57 34 74 38 70
mildly 85-90 3 14 4 9 5 9
moderately 75-85 2 10 2 4 7 13
  <75 0 0 1 2 1 2

These data were collected as part of a larger sample and are statistically valid only at the level of the total sample.
a. Reference values are the Ramos Galvan median values in the appropriate age, sex, and measurement categories, based on the Mexican population.

TABLE 2. Arroyo Lindo population, 1900-1980


Municipal population

















Source: Estado de Sonora [8-14].

Recent changes in subsistence patterns

Traditionally a village of subsistence farmers and ranchers (primarily raising dairy cattle for making cheese), Arroyo Lindo has become a market-oriented economy over the past 30 to 40 years. Increased integration into the national and regional market economy created desires for consumer items, which necessitated more cash income. A way to generate this income would have been to introduce more cattle onto the range. The nature of the range in much of Sonora, however, is such that it cannot support animals on natural pasture alone [15]. Thus, such a move is likely to have overgrazed the range, resulting in an increased need to grow or buy food for the animals. This need was addressed by those with access to scarce irrigated land, only 74 of the 1,318 ha that are devoted to agriculture [16]. The result was that land previously planted with corn, wheat, and some vegetables for home use is now planted with cattle fodder.

Cattle-owning households usually have a house in the village as well as a ranch outside of the village where the cows are kept. Several relatives may keep animals at the same ranch. One family lives at the ranch; usually this is a family without school-age children, as it is difficult to get to the school in the village. The others go out to the ranch daily to care for their animals. Milk is made into cheese at the ranches and is generally sold directly to traders who take it to Hermosillo. The daily sale of cheese represents the bulk of most ranching families' incomes. Thus, even families who have land and cattle do not commonly consume their own milk or cheese in their homes in the village.

Previously, cattle were commonly slaughtered in the village, and the owner of the animals gave the meat to friends and relatives. Now, as the selling price is higher in Hermosillo, those who can, try to sell the animals there. It is also likely that, over time, the type of cattle slaughtered locally has changed. Currently, cows that can no longer be milked are the only ones that are slaughtered; steers are sold at a young age to larger ranchers (the reasons for this are discussed below). At present, obtaining both meat, whose availability is random, and many other foods is often a matter of keeping one's ear to the ground and knowing who is slaughtering as well as who is selling what and where.

In the past, the village was physically smaller. and most households kept a milk cow, chickens, and pigs. This is rare today. Nor is much done in the way of vegetable gardening; most of what is grown is sold. Most houses do have fruit trees. however, which represents a positive change from the past. When running water was put in all of the houses in the village, with a fixed rate for usage, people planted more fruit trees. The fruit is not canned or dried, but is all eaten as it ripens.

Most of the food that is consumed is store bought, with the exception of flour tortillas, which are made at home daily (or several times a week) on outdoor wood stoves. Earlier, a great deal more foods were preserved. Another change is the decline in use of hunted and gathered foods, such as wild fruits, cactus (nopales), and wild greens. There is still some hunting of deer, quail. and jackrabbits (the last are often used to feed the dogs); in the past, wild pigs were also hunted.

Thus, for both the landless and those with land. Arroyo Lindo is a wage economy where meat and cheese can be difficult to obtain, milk is bought in cans, and vegetables and some fruits are purchased from Hermosillo.


Present economic strategies

Those who have neither cattle nor land work as labourers for others, have small businesses (tienda owners, shoemakers, tire repairers, saddle makers), buy cheese and cattle to sell in Hermosillo, or work at a small local mill. Recently, a large mine and mill opened close to Arroyo Lindo. Most of the labour force are engineers and other specialized workers who were brought in from farther south, and even some less skilled labour had to be recruited from central Mexico. This is surprising in view of the fact that lack of work is cited as a problem of the Sierra, and was given as a reason why many people from Arroyo Lindo have left the village. Reasons given for not wanting to work at the mine include low pay, dislike of the food served, dislike of one of the bosses, and reluctance by mothers for their sons to be in contact with people from the south, who are simultaneously looked down on and feared.

Those who can acquire cattle are also disinclined to work at this type of wage labour. First, in the local culture, ranching is viewed as the ideal lifestyle. Second, ranching can be extremely lucrative, especially for someone with few skills and little formal education. In the spring of 1982, the rancher received 80 pesos per kilogram of cheese. About 12 cows must be milked (on the average) to produce 4.5 kg of cheese. Thus, a rancher with a dozen cows could earn 360 pesos per day (the rural minimum wage at this time was slightly less than 300 pesos a day).

The actual wage earned by those who received the minimum is difficult to calculate precisely. After the March 1982 devaluation, the government recommended and widely publicized the idea of wage increases; the extent to which these increases were actually granted (they were not mandatory), however, was difficult to determine. This advantage for the rancher over the wage earner has maintained itself. In January 1983, the rural minimum wage was 365 pesos a day and the price of cheese was 140 pesos per kilogram, resulting in a daily earning for such a rancher of 630 pesos per day.


Land problems

A primary inescapable problem in all of this is that cows must eat, which ideally requires having access either to grazing land or to land that can be planted with cattle fodder. In this area, it is calculated that each cow needs 23.4 ha of grazing land. According to the 1981 cattle census (Gobernador de Sonora), each head in Arroyo Lindo has 7.1 ha. The percentage of over-grazing is therefore calculated to be 231% (COTECOCA [Comisión Técnico Consultiva pare la Determinación Regional de los Coeficientes de Agostadero]). Thus, a rancher with fewer than 23.4 hectares per head must obtain either water to make grass grow or cash with which to buy fodder, which is a less than economically sound approach to dairy farming.

It is this need for pasture land or for land on which fodder can be grown (and the water to make it grow) that generates many of the more serious problems in the village. The lack of land and difficulties over land tenure are the key issues in Arroyo Lindo, and they generate intra-village disputes, large scale out-migration, and, ultimately, nutritional problems. This situation is described below to make clear these linkages.

Land problems and lack of technical assistance

Types of land holdings

Mexican law recognizes three types of land holdings. First are small private owners, who can buy and sell their lands freely. In this region, the legal limit to the lands that one individual can own is about 5,000 ha. In many cases, however, families have been able to retain ownership of larger tracts by registering portions of the land in the names of different members. Many such families are among the urban elite of Sonora and thus have high-level government connections. Their ranches are largely used to produce beef cattle for the export market. Second are ejido lands, which are communally owned and must be more or less continually worked to retain one's rights. Finally, there are community lands, which are the property of members of the community on the basis of land grants made during the colonial period. These lands need not be worked in order to retain one's rights, and the rights are passed from one generation to the next.

Within the county of Arroyo Lindo are the following land holdings: private lands-owned in the greater part by absentee owners who live in Hermosillo- and the Ejido Arroyo Lindo, the Ejido S, and the community of Arroyo Lindo (see FIG. 1. Schematic map of the Arroyo Lindo region (not to scale)). The members of the last three groups are residents of the village of Arroyo Lindo and some of their relatives who have migrated to Hermosillo.

Shortly after the Mexican Revolution of 1911, this region of Sonora was characterized by scattered small villages largely surrounded by large land holdings used for cattle raising. Since that time two major changes have taken place. First, beef-cattle raising, much of which is for export to the United States, has become an extremely profitable business, making the land owners even more wealthy and powerful. Second, through the granting of ejidos and extensions of ejidos, many villages have been able to make some inroads into the lands of the large land owners. In Arroyo Lindo this has not been the case, however, as it is almost impossible to unite the whole village on any topic whatsoever. The population is divided into two factions, basically over the issue of land. The key point surrounds the issue of who does and who does not have rights to community land.


The community

The title to the community lands of Arroyo Lindo (19,411 ha) was requested in 1957 and was granted in 1970. During the intervening years many of the original members (210 in all) died. By the early 1980s, the names of only about 80 active members of the community appeared on the original list (although those who died unofficially passed their rights to their sons or widows). Given the degree of argument in the early 1980s over who had the right to fill those empty places, similar problems may have occurred in generating the original list in 1957. Those who feel, for justified reasons in many cases, that they have rights to these lands, see their main problem to be neighbours who will not let them enter into what they perceive to be vacant spaces in the community. In all, according to Agrarian Reform officials, over 200 people are petitioning for the 130 supposedly empty slots.

The members of the community, on the other hand. claim that the real problem is not within the village. They feel that the basic problem is that there is not enough land to go around and look particularly at the holding of the P family, absentee owners, who it is claimed own huge tracts-more than what is legal. In addition, some accuse the P family of having appropriated lands that belong to Arroyo Lindo. One informant, however, claims that these lands were bought by the Ps from a resident of the village who had no right to sell them.

The P family apparently acquired these lands in the late 18th or early 19th century. One estimate of their local land holdings (made by people in Arroyo Lindo) is 67,509 ha. This figure does not include holdings on la Costa de Hermosillo and in other parts of northern Mexico. The Ps assert, however, that the days of unified family holdings are over. The lands were passed intact from the grandfather of the present generation to his son. This was made possible by government concessions that exempted grazing land from limits placed on the amount of land an individual could possess (Decreto concesión de Inafectabilidad Ganadero, 14 August 1941). This concession expired in 1965. In 1966, according to documents in the Agrarian Reform archives, the lands were divided up among the grandchildren, each of whom is now a small land holder, owning below the legal limit of 5,000 ha. Each ranch is run separately.

One of the grandsons presented himself as a simple man who was being kept from working and producing. He was afraid to make improvements on his lands, as this would raise the land's cattle-carrying capacity. Thus, the legal number of hectares he could own would be reduced and he would be subject to expropriation by land-hungry villagers, whom he viewed with almost stereotypical contempt.

The community achieved its goal of receiving title to the lands it claimed. At this point, however, with fights over who constitute 50% of its members, it is hardly in a position to make active claims against the P family, who, it asserts, are still using some of the lands that rightfully belong to the community. This charge is extremely plausible, as the title to the community granted in 1970 restored some lands the P family had been using for years. Documents from 1934 indicate a dispute at that time over where the P family had placed its fences. Thus, as they were actually using some community lands until 1970, it is highly likely that they may still be doing so. Alternatively, these disputed lands may have been among those given to villages A and B.

The reasons why the community has for so long been unable to regularize its membership and use of its lands are varied. The list of new members submitted to Agrarian Reform has been protested against by those who claim to have rights to join the community, but whose names do not appear on the list. Furthermore, the eviction from community lands of those who are not on the list would cause great discord and dissension in the village, often within families. Even the threat of a meeting to discuss these issues in the autumn of 1982 was enough to set tempers flaring.

At best, the community can only seek to recover what it views to be its stolen lands. The laws governing its organization do not permit it to request expansions. At one point, the community did try to convert itself into an ejido, which can expand. For reasons I have not uncovered, however, this never came about. Thus, the community largely seeks to prevent encroachment on its lands by those inside and outside the village who it claims have no right to the use of these lands. Its answer to the question of these others, who ask where they should go, is to encourage them to form a group and petition for the granting of a new population centre.


The new population centre

A group of this type was formed in 1962 and at present has 48 members. These people are all landless and work at whatever they can find. The group petitioned for land within the now-divided properties of the P family, as it maintains that the divisions are illegal since the petition for a new population centre was filed before the lands were divided. The earlier petition has priority, and therefore Agrarian Reform cannot continue to consider the ranches of the P grandchildren as unavailable for expropriation. Although as late as 1977 the official position taken by Sonoran Agrarian Reform was to the contrary, two officials of that department agreed that the law was on the side of the villagers. To date, however, there has been no progress on this petition, and on several occasions the process has been held up because of requests for land in nearby areas by other groups in Arroyo Lindo. Unlike the case of the other land-seeking groups in Arroyo Lindo, there does not seem to be a great deal of disagreement among the members of the new population centre group, perhaps because they have nothing but patience. The president of this group told me that he knew of a similar case near Nogales which took 33 years for the campesinos finally to win.


The Ejido S

The third land group is that of the Ejido S (2,460 ha). It was formed in 1966 from territory that had been national land, and had 27 members, 20 of whom are still alive. The problem of this ejido is largely with the Z family, another large absentee land holder. The ejido maintains that its land stretches from the west border of the community, which is what the maps of the projected boundaries of the ejido indicate. The definitive map of the ejido begins farther to the west, however, land east of the ejido and west of the community being occupied by five local private land holders, one of whom (G) is dominant. He is a distant relative of yet another wealthy Hermosillo family, and the members of the Ejido S feel that it is through these connections that he knows the Z family (despite the fact that G is considered the black sheep of his own family).

Without the lands being occupied by the five private owners (590 ha), the ejiditarios claim that the ejido does not contain the number of hectares that the title says it should. An official of the ejido made two trips to Mexico City-over 1,000 miles away- financed by contributions from the members of the ejido, and found the maps there to be in agreement with the plan that they have. They feel, therefore, that the problem is at the state level, and that Agrarian Reform officials favour the group of individual G. As evidence, they cite a recent letter in which Agrarian Reform recognizes as ejido officials individuals who are not even members of the ejido but who are associated with G and his group. Individual G is seen as operating on behalf of the Z family. This is plausible, for it appears to be in the Zs' interest. Were the ejido not completely occupied with trying to obtain domain over the lands to which it believes it legally has title, it long ago would have sought an expansion into the family's lands. At present, things are relatively quiet, but a few years back there was violence on both sides, and ejido members were repeatedly jailed.


The Ejido Arroyo Lindo

The last land group is the Ejido Arroyo Lindo (1,236 ha), consisting of 30 members. This ejido, completely within the lands of the community, was formed in 1924 as a way of expropriating the lands of a relatively large land owner. Dominated for the past 30 years by the T family, the presidency is now in the hands of the other faction within the ejido, which is made up of members who have no cattle. Also lacking irrigated lands (as does almost everyone in Arroyo Lindo), they therefore plant the lands that they have, hope for sufficient rain, and otherwise work at whatever they can find in the village.

Recently this faction (19 of 30 members of the ejido) has been trying to organize the ejido to request government aid and credit to start some sort of job-producing business, such as a poultry- or pig-raising farm. The other faction of the ejido blocked them on this, one member explaining his opposition as due to the fact that the business would be communal, so that they would all just become workers: "And the bad workers, the lazy, would pull the good ones down." He and his companions just want to be left in peace to work and produce, but the others will not let them. (This is a common theme among the "haves", including the P family grandson. The "have nots" say that they also just want to be given a chance to work. ) The "poultry faction" claims that the real reason the others are opposed to their scheme is that they all have enough cattle to live well. Furthermore, they are said to be associated with the P family, and are accused of constantly acting to disorganize and paralyse the ejido.

In this dispute, as in all of the others, it is extremely difficult to know who to believe; the stories are all convincing, and largely contradict each other. However, the behaviour in the past of the opposing ejido faction has been somewhat strange. During the period in which T, Sr., was president of the ejido, a petition was filed for an expansion of the ejido. The group was offered 5,225 ha, 2,725 ha of which were within those claimed by the community. The other 2,500 were national lands. This offer was rejected on the grounds that the lands were occupied by others. This action was reasonable; to have accepted the land would have provoked open conflict with the community. The ejido again petitioned for an expansion, and during the presidency of T, Jr., was offered 1,499 ha. These were also rejected on the grounds of their location.

Since no other group had a prior claim to the land, this rejection is puzzling. Agrarian Reform gave some of this land provisionally to village A in 1972, but agreed that Arroyo Lindo had a much better claim to the lands, since they were located 9.5 km from village A and 6.8 km from the Arroyo Lindo population centre (7 km is the legal limit). Nevertheless, the lands were deemed unacceptable by T, Jr., the ejido president. They were then eagerly accepted by villages A and B, despite the fact that the piece village B received is not even contiguous to its other holdings.

This piece, 199 ha in size, is now referred to by them as La Isla ("The Island") as it is completely cut off from their other lands by those of the P family and the community of Arroyo Lindo.

The poultry faction of the ejido offers an explanation for these unusual events. They maintain that the T family has close ties with the P family; it was the Ps' grandfather who donated the materials to fence off the ejido. Many of the events regarding the formation and lack of expansion of the ejido are clearly in the interest of the P family. The location of the ejido within the community generates a source of potential intra-village conflict. The awarding of the two pieces of land rejected by the ejido to villages A and B creates a situation in which Arroyo Lindo is now almost completely surrounded by other ejidos, and cut off from the possibility of ever acquiring more land (unless, of course. the new population centre group is successful). Thus, the P family will now only be primarily confronted by two villages seeking its lands. Both of these villages, however, have received three of the four expansions to which they are legally entitled. They thus represent a far smaller threat than does the more populous Arroyo Lindo, whose ejidos have not received a single expansion.

The general belief that the P family was trying to close in Arroyo Lindo is shared by members of the community as well as by people in village B. In 1978, the ejido, now under the leadership of the poultry faction, once again asked for an expansion. This time they were told that no lands were available within the legal radius of 7 km. In this case, it would seem that Agrarian Reform could hardly be accused of not having tried in the past to comply with the requests of the ejido


The village feud

The factions involved in the disputes within the land groups line themselves up in the larger village dispute between those who are in and those who are out of the community. As discussed above, these groups have different perceptions as to the cause of their problems. Key informants on either side were friends and highly respected each other. Yet each could not at all understand how the other could possibly interpret the issues and problems from their perspective.

This village dispute should more properly be called a feud, as one's allegiance is largely, but not entirely, determined by kinship ties. One may have conflicting ties, however. and side with whichever group presents the best offer at a particular time. While factions often shift, to a large extent the community, the poultry faction of the ejido of Arroyo Lindo, and the five small private land holders involved in the Ejido S dispute seem to be on one side. The other side includes members of the new population centre, the Ejido S, the opposition faction of the Ejido Arroyo Lindo, and the local commercial interests (shopkeepers, traders, teachers), most of whom have no land but many of whom nevertheless do quite well by village standards. Despite their landless state, they may in some cases have cattle and graze them on community lands, which infuriates the community. The cattle owners claim, however, that they have rights to use land too, and point out that about half of the members of the community do not even have cattle.

Actually, at this time it is extremely difficult to tell whose cattle are on whose lands, as there are no longer any fences. In about 1980, the feuding parties tore down each other's fences. Each group claims that the other group started it, with the exception of one member of the anti-community faction, who proudly claimed that that group was responsible. The groups have also destroyed other properties of their opponents'. In the summer of 1982, a cornfield of a member of the anti-community group was cut down. A fire that burned the hay of another member of that group was also blamed on the community faction.

The opposing factions fight over political control of the village. Generally, neither side leaves the official party, PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), but on one occasion the support of PAN (Partido Acción Nacional) was sought. The political process consists of a period before the municipal elections in which the faction leaders develop positions that meet their personal interests and start secretly lining up people for their side. After the elections, the losing faction is largely excluded from political participation. Their only contribution is to try to hinder the group in power as much as possible. As each faction claims that it represents the majority, election fraud is often claimed by the losing faction. Ineligible voters are stated to have participated, and favouritism of PRI at the state level is asserted. The factions also accuse each other of tricking people into voting for the wrong candidate. This practice, rather than people switching factions, is claimed by some to account for changes in municipal control from one faction to the other. It is impossible to please both factions at the same time. One municipal president of the anti-community group, on beginning to make overtures to the community faction, found that support from his own group evaporated.

The community strongly asserts that the P family manipulates village politics through their support of the other faction. While collusion with the P family is not claimed on the part of all of the individuals in the non-community faction, it is felt that the leadership in particular is involved. This, like most of the other claims, is plausible, but impossible to prove one way or another. Several individuals associated with the anti-community group have had associations with the P family, but what this really means is unclear. On the other hand, it is true that, if the village were ever able to unite, it might be able to seriously threaten the lands and power of the Ps.

Even solutions that do not involve land seem unobtainable. The poultry enterprise has been blocked so far. Various groups have approached government agencies for other kinds of development assistance such as wells, irrigation, and credit, but they have been told that nothing can or will be done until the villagers stop fighting among themselves. Therefore, the view in Agrarian Reform is that if the people of Arroyo Lindo have problems, it is their own fault. This attitude is perceived by many as being an excuse to favour the interests of the Ps, in that if Arroyo Lindo prospers at all, it will grow and go after the lands of the family.

Most energy in the village continues to be channeled into the feud, partly due to tradition, but also partly due to the economic situation in which the people find themselves. Given the relationship of the price of cheese to the minimum wage, for those lacking other skills, the best bet is to try to find a way to make a living off the land. Thus, they must continue to struggle with their neighbours over land. Initiative in other directions is not highly rewarded. A man who bought a piece of land 4 ha in size and planted garlic and other crops was reportedly threatened by the community if he planted again.


Selective out-migration

Given all of the above, it would seem that the issue would not be to explain why anyone would leave Arroyo Lindo, but rather why anyone would stay. Life in Arroyo Lindo, at this point, is a zero-sum game-one neighbour's gain is another's loss. There are few, if any, opportunities to get ahead. Those who are better off are largely on the defensive against their landless or cowless neighbours. A positively selective pattern of out-migration thus grows out of the village land situation. Given that a potential migrant has few resources that can be disposed of to create capital to try out life in the city (neither community or ejido lands can be sold), the risk involved in leaving is high. Furthermore, the nature of the cheese market encourages the less skilled to stay at home.

The operation of these forces is seen by comparing a sample of those who have remained in Arroyo Lindo with their relatives who have left. The education levels and incomes of the village sample were lower than those of their urban siblings and cousins, both in general as well as on a per capita basis. It should be noted that the higher per capita income of the migrants more than makes up for a higher urban cost of living (based on the assumption that the 13.7% difference in the rural versus urban minimum wages represents the difference in costs of living): average migrant per capita income is 56% higher than that of non-migrants.

These income differences are reflected in dietary differences. Among those of lower-income levels who were more likely to be at nutritional risk, data indicate that the migrants consumed significantly greater amounts of dairy products, meat, and miscellaneous foods (high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as candy, soft drinks, chips, etc.) than did Arroyo Lindo residents [7].

This evidence strongly suggests a pattern of positive selectivity among the migrants that operates not only between families but within them. While land problems create circumstances in which attaining a better standard of living in Arroyo Lindo is difficult (migrants list "no work" as one reason they have left- a push factor), they also mean that children are likely to be affected as well. Thus, the pull factor most often mentioned by the migrants-more schooling opportunities for their children-must be viewed as not simply an independent characteristic of the city but as related to the conditions imposed by land problems and other push factors. (An Arroyo Lindo resident who is originally from a neighbouring village told me that all of her siblings still lived on ranches in that village. She felt that people there had much less interest in advanced education than did people in Arroyo Lindo. I would strongly suspect that less tension and problems over land allows them this attitude. )

Effects of land problems and out-migration

To an extent, out-migration may relieve pressure on the land by reducing the number of people involved. It may also exacerbate the problem, in that leaving does not automatically require one to relinquish one's right to lands. In fact, the migrant has everything to gain and nothing to lose by holding on to lands- nothing to lose, that is, except the good will of former neighbours, who deeply resent the city dwellers who have other means of earning a livelihood yet continue to use scarce range land.

Regardless of which village faction one chooses to believe, there is little question that, from an objective point of view, the population segment that benefits from the conditions that have been created in the countryside is that represented by the P family. Given the unexpandable land (and, therefore, pasture) base and lack of access to sources of assistance to produce more grass (that is, irrigation, wells, pumps), ranchers in Arroyo Lindo must spend large amounts of money on food for their animals. As their cash needs increase, they try to intensify further. This can be done by generating income in other ways, which may in part account for the large number of tiendas and other small businesses that are generally operated by the women (many of the families with large numbers of cattle seem to employ this strategy). If the manner of intensification is to increase the number of cattle on the range, however, people and cattle have to compete for the same food money. By selling steers, a typical rancher in Arroyo Lindo will earn annually only about one-half of what it costs to buy food for the animals. Thus, about one-fifth to one-sixth of the earnings from the sale of cheese must be used to buy fodder (note, however, that this still results in a daily income above the minimum wage: 80% of 630 = 530 pesos per day-January 19X3). Yet the cattle must eat or they will produce nothing. Fortunately, the increases in cheese prices have enabled people at least to hold their ground against inflation.

More and more, the villagers are forced into the least profitable end of the cattle business. If one is buying fodder, the animals that do not produce income must be sold. Thus. there is tremendous pressure to sell steers at a young age. Their sale also generates income to be used to buy food for the cows that can be milked. These steers are bought either by the larger private ranchers (such as the P family) or eventually by feedlots in Hermosillo. The villagers thus assume a great part of the cost and risk of raising the beef cattle (as this occurs in the first few months of the animals" lives), yet receive only a small percentage of the ultimate profit. This parallels the migration pattern in which human resources are raised, yet the village does not derive a large profit from this "business" either.

Migration to Hermosillo and other Sonoran cities continues the cycle as it increases the demand for cheese in those areas. But the selective nature of the out-migration creates conditions in which those who remain have the least chance of being able to solve the problems that encouraged their relatives to leave in the first place. Some of the very skills that the migrants possess, which enable them to do as well as they do in the city, are exactly the ones the village needs to solve its problems. These include initiative, advanced education, sophistication, and the ability to take on the urban elite. Those who remain are in the worst position to take risks, and have to hold on to the little they have. Their best chances lie in continuing to struggle for land, while trying to ensure that their children have access to as much training and education as possible, so that they can also 'afford'' to leave.


The ethnographic data suggest several social factors that may be related to the nutritional problems observed in Arroyo Lindo. The shift to a market economy over the past few decades has been important. In the present setting, there seem to be linkages among the type of development that has taken place in Sonora as a whole, the land problems, positively selective out-migration, and the presence of nutritional problems. Arroyo Lindo households are not disinterested in improving human nutrition, but they encounter conflicts between that goal and other types of production, such as well-nourished cattle. Thus, much of the causality of the malnutrition may be income-related. For those who remain, potential social sources of nutritional problems include the difficulty of making a living with or without cattle, land, irrigation, and extra income.

While Arroyo Lindo may represent more of an extreme case, both with respect to land problems and the resulting difficulty of providing for adequate nutrition of both cattle and humans, than do the neighbouring villages, this may soon change. Villages A and B will soon have exhausted their opportunities to acquire additional land. Then they, too, will become a new type of middle-American community where modern improvements hide the basic and unresolved problem of access to resources. They, too, may become caught in a web of purchased cattle fodder, cheese production, and selective out-migration. Communities like these are at nutritional risk due to their shift to market economies and their place in these economies. Positively selective out-migration deteriorates the situation, and the frustration and apathy created by the regional land tenure restrictions combine with people-cattle competition for money for food to rank as important social determinants of the problems of human nutrition. With this pattern, rural-to-urban migration in Mexico will continue.


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