In 1991, Mexico's gross national product totaled almost 5.5 trillion pesos, of which nearly 26% was generated in commerce (of this, hotel and restaurant income from tourists was a major contributor), almost 25% was produced in manufacturing, nearly 18% stemmed from communal and personal services, and about 11% came from financial services and insurance. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing contributed just over 7.5%, transport and communications about 6.7%, and construction some 5%. Mining, which once was the country's principal source of income, today accounts for less than 3.5% of the total gross national product, whereas the provision of electricity, gas, and water adds the final 1.5%. Thus, it will be seen that tourism is the greatest single contributor to the modern Mexican economy, closely followed by manufacturing.
When the origins of the gross national product are examined geographically, they are found to be concentrated in the country's three major urban areas. The Federal District accounts for 24.1% by itself, with the adjacent state of Mexico contributing a further 10.5%. Jalisco -- the Guadalajara node -- generates 6.6% of the country's total and Nuevo Leon -- centered on Monterrey -- generates another 6.5%. Then follow the states of Veracruz with 4.9%, Guanajuato with 3.5%, and Puebla with 3.2%.
Within the industrial sector, the largest branch is that dedicated to the manufacture of chemicals, rubber, and plastic goods, accounting for more than one-third of Mexico's total industrial output. In second place is the food, beverage, and tobacco industry which produces just over one-quarter of the country's manufactures by value, followed by machinery and equipment in third place, with just under one-quarter of Mexico's industrial output. A more distant fourth place is held by textiles and clothing which produces some 10 percent of the country's manufactured goods.
In the discussion which follows, we will examine the economy of modern Mexico from an evolutionary perspective, looking first at the basic livelihoods of agriculture and grazing, fishing, and forestry; then, at mining and manufacturing; and finally, at the service occupations of trade, transportation, and tourism.
With the exception of maize, all of the other cultigens native to the Mesoamerican agricultural hearth were crops harvested from trees, vines, or tubers. As a consequence, their cultivation did little to impact the natural environment, for planting and tending them with the aid of digging sticks and hoes involved only a limited disturbance of the original vegetative cover and the soil. It was quite otherwise when the Spanish introduced open field crops which required animal-drawn plows and harrows to cultivate, because then Mexico's rugged topography and monsoon climate combined to take a heavy toll on its plant life and soils through erosion.
The impact of topography on agriculture may be gauged from the fact that scarcely more than one-third of the area of Mexico is relatively flat to gently rolling, i.e., having slopes with gradients less than 10 per cent. Because most of the country receives the overwhelming bulk of its moisture during the summer monsoon, from June to October, and is otherwise dry through the remainder of the year, sheet erosion on the upper slopes is especially severe. In the country as a whole, it is estimated that as many as 12 million hectares (30 million acres) have been damaged by erosion, and in some of the areas which have been heavily cultivated since colonial times, such as Tlaxcala, as much as 80% of the topsoil has been lost. On the other hand, at lower elevations, widespread seasonal flooding is commonplace. Many of the large rivers which empty into the Gulf of Mexico vary in the height of their water level by as much as 10 meters (35 ft.) from summer to winter. Attempts at impounding the vast run-off, both for purposes of irrigation and flood control, have been only partially successful and probably little more than one-third of it can be said to be usable in terms of agriculture.
Unfortunately, Mexico's precipitation is distributed as unevenly spatially as it is temporally. Although most parts of the country receive about four-fifths of their annual moisture supply during the summer monsoon, the total amounts which they record varies markedly from south to north. On the higher mountain slopes of Chiapas, both on the northern edges of the Meseta Central and the crests of Soconusco in the far south, annual totals of 4500 mm (180 inches) of rain are typical. These diminish rapidly toward the north and in the interior, rain-shadow valleys. Thus, already in central Oaxaca the more-normal totals are about 700 mm (28 inches) -- which is also estimated to represent the average value for Mexico as a whole -- whereas in Zacatecas they have fallen to 400 mm (16 inches), and on the northern border near Mexicali, the average annual precipitation is less than 100 mm (4 inches). Because of the instability and turbulence arising from the moisture-laden airmasses moving in over the rugged terrain, the rain usually falls in heavy downpours and hailstorms are both frequent and damaging. Insect pests and rodents likewise pose problems to farmers in all parts of the country while at higher elevations and farther north, frosts also threaten crops on occasion.
Once upon a time there was a lake in central Mexico near the town of San Miguel de Allende. Along came a Dutchman who said, "It's such a pretty lake, located so near such a pretty town , that I shall make a campground there". So he bought some land along the lake, he planted trees, and he built a little social hall with a Delft-tile bathroom. He even brought his sailboat and gave sailing lessons in the lake. I know all of this is true because I met the Dutchman, I saw his sailboat, I used his Delft-tile bathroom, and I camped under his trees.
Four years later I came to stay in the Dutchman's campground again, only this time as I drove up, I knew something terrible had happened. The little social hall with its Delft-tile bathrooms was closed and abandoned, most of the trees that he had planted were either dead or dying, and the Dutchman and his sailboat were nowhere to be seen. In fact, the lake was gone too.
In the morning, when I could find someone to ask what had happened, I was told simply, "It hasn't rained for four years!"
Beyond the physical challenges to agriculture in Mexico, many economic and social constraints face the livelihood as well. Even though agriculture and grazing employ more persons than any other occupation -- as is characteristic of developing countries throughout the world -- most Mexicans living from the land eke out only a marginal existence at best. Because the purchasing power of most small farmers and their families is so low, rural poverty remains a reality over much of Mexico. A lack of government credit has retarded improvements in land management such as irrigation, mechanization, and the upgrading of animal stock. Low prices for agricultural products and poor transport to market have likewise acted as obstacles to economic development. Speculation by large landowners has resulted in alienating properties held by the government-sponsored ejidos to private ownership, in direct violation of the agrarian reform program. Of course, it has been the better lands with richer soils and more dependable water supply that have been the principal targets of these neolatifundismo infringements. Once acquired, the private owners have shifted production from low-cost staple foodstuffs for domestic consumption to the production of lucrative cash crops for export. Although this has resulted in increased profits for a small minority, it has also seriously compromised Mexico's ability to feed itself and has obliged the working classes to substitute more-costly imported food from abroad. In several parts of the country the monopolization of local markets by wealthy merchants has likewise discouraged competition and free trade.
The competition for space and water has increasingly placed the indigenous farming population of Mexico at a disadvantage to the larger commercial interests. Not only have they been "squeezed off" of the better lands and forced to cultivate their staple foodstuffs on the rocky, less-fertile, steeper, mountain sides, but even where they have managed to retain some of the more productive areas of the valley bottoms, as in central Oaxaca, their access to ground water has become increasingly perilous. There, large private landowners have installed deep-wells to insure irrigation for their cash crops, in the process lowering the over-all water table and obliging the adjacent small farmers to push their hand-dug wells to ever-greater depths in an uneven struggle for survival.
Unfortunately, for Mexico's burgeoning population, change and progress have come too slowly to the countryside to satisfy the young, so the aforementioned ills, coupled with low wages and seasonal unemployment have caused a steady exodus to take place from the countryside to the cities in search of jobs and a better life. Not surprisingly, when these dreams have not been realized in such places as Mexico City, Guadalajara, or Monterrey, the rural migrant has inevitably turned north across the border instead. (To be sure, this phenomenon is not unique to Mexico. Eastern Europeans seek employment in the more affluent West, North Africans surge into southern Europe, Arabs flock into Israel, Vietnamese "boat people" head for Hong Kong and Singapore, and Indonesians and other south Asians swarm into Australia for many of the same reasons. The traffic in smuggling human beings from poor countries to rich ones has become a major form of illicit commerce in the modern world.)
In a typical year in the late 1990's, Mexican farmers sowed a total of more than 21.3 m hectares of cropland, a little over three-quarters of which was devoted to "cyclical", or annual crops, and the remainder consisted of "perennial" crops. Of this total, something over 5.1 m hectares were irrigated and 16.2 m hectares were watered by seasonal rainfall, or what the Mexicans call temporal. In a year of "normal" rainfall, ninety-eight percent of irrigated areas can usually be counted on to produce a harvestable crop, whereas in non-irrigated lands about 8 to 10 percent of the land sown often is not worth harvesting (as in 1996), but in drier-than-normal years, crops may well fail on more than 20 percent of the area sown (as in 1997). Thus, despite the fact that just under a quarter of Mexico's crops are grown in irrigated areas, these regions account for about 55% of the total farm income derived from the production of crops.
Even in years of relatively favorable moisture supply, such as 1996, marked regional differences in harvested versus sown areas can be discerned. For example, in that year less than 90 percent of the sown cropland was harvested in the northeastern part of the country, in Baja California, and over much of the Yucatán peninsula, and less than 81 percent of sown, non-irrigated areas in the same regions yielded a crop. On the other hand, in the west-central part of the country, as well as in Chiapas, Nayarit, and Sonora, more than 98 percent of the sown area produced a harvest. Naturally, irrigated areas were more dependable than non-irrigated, with most of them recording over 96 percent of their sown areas being harvested.
Of the 120.6 billion pesos worth of agricultural produce harvested in 1996, just under 64 percent were derived from cyclical crops and 36 percent came from perennial crops. In terms of domestic food consumption, the most important crop remains maize, which alone occupies more than half of the nation's cultivated area. Although major improvements in seed stock have resulted from the work of the United Nations experimental station near Texcoco (CIMMYT), because so much maize is cultivated on poorer soils and with traditional methods, yields in many parts of the country remain relatively low. In years of especially poor production, imports are often necessary to make up the deficit. Wheat, the grain of "choice" introduced by the Spanish, occupies far smaller acreages, most of it in the Bajio and in the irrigated river valleys of the north. Acreages of rice are more modest yet and are primarily confined to the humid tropics of the southeast and to irrigated areas in the state of Sinaloa. In recent years, sorghum, which is used chiefly as cattle feed, has been of rapidly growing importance. Well adapted to semi-arid areas, its production has been especially concentrated in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Most of Mexico's barley crop is used for malt in making beer, of which the country has a sizable export.
Rounding out the traditional Mexican diet are such crops as beans, chickpeas, lentils, peppers, onions, squashes, tomatoes, and potatoes. Of commercial importance on the international market are such commodities as coffee, cacao, vanilla, sugar, copra, henequen, cotton, peanuts, and tobacco and a whole host of tropical and temperate fruits including oranges, bananas, mangoes, limes, papayas, watermelon, cantaloupes, pineapple, apples, peaches, grapes, and strawberries. Crops used in the production of cooking oils include soya, sesame, canola, and olives.
Among cereal crops, maize is by far the most important in terms of the Mexican diet. Every state in the nation produces some, although the three largest producers, depending on the weather in a specific year, are Sinaloa (9-15%), where it is grown chiefly with irrigation, and Jalisco and Mexico where it is grown primarily with natural rainfall (each producing ca. 12-13% of the total). The production of wheat, in contrast, totals about one-fifth that of maize, and again, depending on weather, the largest producer is either Sonora (16-29%) or Guanajuato (23-25%), followed by Baja California Norte (8-15%) or Jalisco (9%). Sorghum, grown with natural rainfall, is chiefly produced in Tamaulipas (ca. 35%), Guanajuato (20%), and Michoacán (10%). Barley, also chiefly non-irrigated, is the specialty of the southernmost plateau states, with Hidalgo the leader (ca. 30%), followed by Tlaxcala (13-18%), Guanajuato (11-14%), and Mexico (10-12%). Rice, the most warmth- and water-craving of the grains, is the specialty of Veracruz (34%), Sinaloa (15%), Campeche (11%), Michoacán (9%), and Morelos (7%).
Beans (frijoles) are a major part of the traditional Mexican diet and are grown in every state of the Republic. The largest producers are Zacatecas (24-29%), Sinaloa (10-18%), and Chihuahua (9-11%). Again, depending on local weather conditions, Durango and Nayarit both can have a sizable production as well. Peppers (chile verde) are also virtually ubiquitous, but the bulk of the production comes from the northern plateau states: Chihuahua (40%), Sinaloa (17%), Tamaulipas (9%), and Sonora (4%), although Guanajuato usually contributes about 5% to the total output. Potatoes, native to the Andean region of South America, naturally do best in the higher, cooler areas of Mexico too, although Sinaloa is the largest single producer with about 19% of the total. Next come the states of Mexico (10%), Chihuahua (9%), Nuevo Leon (8%), and Michoacán (8%). Tomatoes, although technically a fruit, are most often thought of a vegetable. Native to South America, most likely in a sub-tropical setting, the crop today is grown in all but two of Mexico's states. The largest producer by far is Sinaloa with 40% of the output, followed by Baja California Norte with between 15-27% of Mexico's production. Michoacán and San Luis Potosí both come in with about 6-7% of the country's harvest.
Oranges are the most widely grown of the tropical fruits produced in Mexico. Native to Southeast Asia, they are grown today in 28 out of Mexico's 32 states, although Veracruz itself produces about 50% of the total. Tamaulipas is usually second with about 10%, Nuevo Leon third with 9%, and San Luis Potosí fourth with 8%. Yucatán grows about 5% and Tabasco slightly less. As can be seen, the country's orange groves are chiefly concentrated in the moister areas along the Gulf of Mexico coast.
Limes, or bitter lemons (limon agrio), are another citrus import from Southeast Asia but prefer a distinctly drier version of the monsoon climate. As a result, their production is concentrated in the tropical lowlands of the Pacific coast, with Colima producing ca. 38% of the total, Michoacán some 24%, Oaxaca 18%, and Guerrero 8%.
Mangoes, another crop native to monsoon South Asia, has experienced a widespread adoption throughout tropical Mexico in the last couple of decades. Veracruz now leads with about 19% of the production, though Nayarit is close behind with 17% and Chiapas is in third place with 14%, Thereafter come Oaxaca (13%), Sinaloa (12%), Michoacán (9%), and Colima (6%).
A further transfer from Southern Asia is the banana, which is grown in half of the states of Mexico. Normally anywhere from 40-53% of the country's production comes from Chiapas, though Tabasco accounts for from 11-18%, Veracruz ca. 14%, and Michoacán from 6-8%.
The introduction of both sugar and coffee go back to colonial times, the first deriving once again from Southeast Asia and the second from the highlands of Ethiopia. The largest producers of sugarcane are Veracruz (38%) and Jalisco (13%), followed by Oaxaca with 7% and San Luis Potosí with 6%, although it is grown in 19 of the country's 32 states. Areas suitable for coffee production are more limited, though a total of 14 Mexican states have some output of this commodity. The four largest producers are Chiapas (31-35%), Veracruz (25-27%), Puebla (15-17%), and Oaxaca with 13-14%.
Apart from the avocado, which is native to western Mexico, all of the temperate fruits grown in the country today were introduced by the Spanish. Peaches are the most widely grown, but four states dominate the production. Chihuahua leads with 20%, Michoacán follows with 18%, Zacatecas produces 15%, and Mexico 13%. Apples are nearly as widely grown, although Chihuahua alone produces some 66% of the total. Durango ranks a poor second with 16%, and Coahuila harvests about 5%. Grapes, although discouraged by the Spanish, nevertheless were introduced into the western plateau and far northwest where the country's only true Mediterranean climate is found. Sonora today accounts for 71-74% of the country's grape production, Baja California Norte for 7-14%, Zacatecas for 6-9%, and Coahuila for 4-5%. Strawberries, also an introduced fruit, now find their chief center of production in Michoacán with from 53-68% of the country's total output. However, in many years Guanajuato has been the leading producer but after three years with no production (no doubt due to a prolonged drought) it came strongly back into production in 1997 with 35% of the total crop. Baja California Norte usually will be found in second or third position with anywhere from 8-29% of the output. Avocado, the native Mexican fruit, is still largely concentrated in its home area of Michoacán, which accounts for about 84% of the country's total harvest.
At the end of World War II, cotton ranked second only to maize among the leading agricultural crops of Mexico, with the long-staple varieties grown in the irrigated valleys of the North enjoying the greatest demand. However, following the war, world overproduction of cotton combined with the introduction of synthetic fibers soon led to such depressed prices that lands devoted to cotton production were converted to more remunerative food crops instead. Within a couple of decades, the acreage devoted to cotton within Mexico had declined to scarcely a quarter of what it had been at war's end, and Mexico's rank among the cotton producing nations of Latin America had fallen from second place to fourth, after Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. To be sure, problems of water supply, not the least of them being the exhaustion of ground water in the Laguna district -- in what had been expected to become one of Mexico's premium irrigation areas! -- likewise helped to hasten the demise of cotton cultivation. Even though Mexico enjoyed an advantage in labor costs, American-grown cotton was so competitive in price that in the mid-1980's imports from the United States began to assume growing importance and following the tariff reductions that resulted from the signing of the NAFTA agreement in 1994, the scale of cotton imports from the U.S. has increased sharply. Today Mexico is the largest single buyer of the cotton exports of the United States, in some years purchasing from its northern neighbor from two to three times the amount of cotton it produces at home. (See Table xxx.)
Apart from bee keeping, which was well established amongst the Maya in pre-Columbian times, animal husbandry in Mexico owes its origins to the introduction of livestock by the Spanish in the 16th century. Because more of the country's area can provide nurture for grazing animals than can support crops or forests, the insertion of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and donkeys into the Mexican landscape greatly expanded its oikumene, or economically viable area. Especially in the drier portions of the country did a mechanism become possible for supporting a larger human population.
Even so, it must be recognized that the quality of the forage provided differs markedly from region to region. Whereas about 40% of the land utilized for grazing supports some measure of a grass cover, nearly 60% of it is clothed in scrub forest or desert shrub on which the animals resort to "browsing" instead. As a result, the carrying capacity of the grazing lands varies markedly from one part of the country to another. For example, in the lush savannas of the southeast, one hectare of pasture can easily support from one to three head of cattle, whereas in the temperate grasslands of the plateau, it often takes as many as 15 hectares to feed one cow. In the more arid regions of the north, a cow may require up to 30 hectares to find sufficient forage. These differences should be kept in mind when the geographic distributions of the various livestock are discussed below.
In 1991 Mexico boasted almost 25 million head of cattle, over 10 million pigs, more than 4 million sheep, and almost 7 million goats. In addition there were nearly 125 million chickens and close to 7 million turkeys on Mexican farms. More than 8 million horses, over 3 million mules, and a like number of donkeys served as beasts of burden.
In the late 1960's-early 1970's, Mexico suffered from a severe outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease amongst its cattle herds. As a result, not only was it necessary to slaughter large numbers of cattle but the opportunity was also taken to replace the animals with more disease- and insect-resistant breeds developed in India and in Brazil. Today many of the cattle in the more humid, tropical parts of the country represent crossbreeds of brahma, zebu, and Indo-Brazilian types, whereas in the temperate plateau regions more typical European varieties such as Hereford and Aberdeen Angus are in favor. One should likewise keep in mind, however, that the improved herds are chiefly those owned by the larger, wealthier ranchers,
Although the largest herds of cattle in Mexico are found in the states of Veracruz (10%), Chihuahua (8%), Jalisco (8%), Chiapas (7%), and Sonora (7%), the largest production of beef emanates from those areas closest to the main consuming markets, namely Jalisco (15%) and Veracruz (14%). However, in terms of milk production, little of it is sold fresh except in the vicinity of the larger cities. The greater part of it is either processed for long-term shelf life, or made into milk powder, or less perishable commodities such as yogurt, cheese, and butter. As a result, Jalisco leads in the production of milk products with 16% of the country's output, followed by Durango with 10%, Coahuila 9%, and Chihuahua 8%.
In terms of pork products, Jalisco again demonstrates its dominance with 20% of Mexico's production. Sonora ranks in second place with 18%, followed by Guanajuato with 11%, and Puebla with 8%. Lamb and mutton production is concentrated near the Mexico City metropolitan area with the state of Mexico contributing 13%, Hidalgo 11%, Puebla 9%, and Veracruz 8%. Wool, on the other hand, finds Hidalgo the largest producer (20%), followed by San Luis Potosí (19%), Zacatecas (14%), and Mexico (12%). Goat meat gets into commerce primarily in San Luis Potosí (12%), Oaxaca (11%), Puebla (9%), and Guerrero (8%). On the other hand, goat milk has quite a different geographic focus with Coahuila producing 32%, Guanajuato 18%, Durango 17% and San Luis Potosí 9%.
Mexico's largest producers of chickens are located in a belt across the middle of the country from Jalisco and Guerrero in the west to Veracruz in the east. Jalisco leads with 11%, while Guerrero, Veracruz, and Quéretaro each produce about 10%. In egg production Jalisco expands its lead to 24%, followed by Puebla with a similar output. Sonora, with 9% of the country's production, looks chiefly to exporting its product to the United States. Yucatán with 6% of the output and Nuevo Leon with 5% are once again oriented to regional markets in Mérida and Monterrery, respectively.
Mexico has long been known for its domestic honey production and today this product is exported to both the United States and Europe. An unfortunate and costly ecological accident in Brazil finally spilled over into Mexico during the 1980's as killer bees swarmed into the country from Central America, not only posing something of a safety hazard but also creating problems in honey production. Yucatán continues to dominate the country's output with nearly 20% of the total, followed by Jalisco with 11%, Veracruz with 9%, and Quintana Roo and Guerrero, both about 7%.
Mexico, in common with developing countries throughout the world, demonstrates a wide spectrum of agricultural forms and practices side by side within its national territory. In its humid tropics and on many of its more rugged mountainsides, a semi-nomadic subsistence form of cultivation -- variously known as coamil, or milpa, agriculture -- continues to be practiced by indigenous peoples in traditional ways. In many of the tropical lowlands, specialized commercial plantations produce bananas, coffee, cacao, and a host of other commodities both for domestic use and for export. In large parts of the more temperate areas of the country, small-scale mixed farming goes on, combining the cultivation of staples such as corn, beans, and peppers with animal husbandry. In the drier areas of the center and north, large-scale commercial operations concentrate on the production of wheat, cotton, tomatoes, and beans, and on beef cattle. And, in the northwestern part of the country, a more specialized Mediterranean-type of agriculture is practiced, with an emphasis on citrus, olives, vines, and irrigated fruits and vegetables.
Economically and socially, there can be little question but that such governmental measures as building irrigation projects, creating banks to extend credit to farmers, and guaranteeing them fixed prices for their crops has helped to improve their quality of life, but much still remains to be done. Unfortunately, the continued rapid growth of Mexico's population makes the process more one of attempting to catch up than one of achieving any real gains, much less even maintaining the status quo.
Mexico's isthmian location between the Atlantic and the Pacific gives it more than 10,000 km (6200 mi.) of seacoast, providing it with access to a wide variety of marine resources. However, Mexico's native population showed little more than a superficial interest in the seas around them, despite their early maritime contacts, especially with South America but perhaps farther afield as well. Salt from coastal lagoons, stingray spines and conch shells for ritual use, and mother-of-pearl for ornamentation constituted the principal products of marine origin that moved in long-distance trade before the arrival of the Spanish. On the other hand, the consumption of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans for food was largely limited to the local populations who resided on the seaside itself. With the country's invasion by water-borne Europeans, a new chapter in Mexico's maritime history was opened, giving rise to far-flung voyages of exploration as well as to extensive trans-oceanic commerce in both the Atlantic and Pacific spheres. However, with independence these contacts all but ceased and only belatedly has Mexico seriously begun to look to its adjacent waters for foodstuffs and other marine resources.
The development of Mexico's offshore endowment was hampered not only by its lack of a maritime tradition but also by a shortage of investment funds. Too many other demands for capital took priority, especially amongst foreign investors, so that fisheries were essentially ignored. Because boats remained small and relatively antiquated, most fishing was done in near-shore waters. A shortage of processing plants, both of canneries and refrigerating plants, also stymied development, as did the lack of adequate means of rapid transportation to markets beyond the seaside. Moreover, in any case most Mexicans had such a low living standard they could not afford to consume fish if they resided at any appreciable distance from the sea. And, adding to the problems of developing a national fishing industry was the fact that foreign fishermen, among them Americans, and, more recently, Japanese and Chinese, already were actively conducting large-scale operations in off-shore Mexican waters, annually harvesting thousands of tons of fish which the Mexicans could neither reach nor control.
The establishment of fishermen's cooperatives was a step forward, but low prices, a lack of credit, and the legacy of earlier over-fishing have made progress slow. To be sure, the country's richest maritime endowment is to be found in the colder, less saline waters of the California Current that bathes the coasts of northwestern states of Baja California Norte and Sur, Sonora, and Sinaloa. Here the chief commercial species are tuna, mackerel, sardines, shad, abalone, and anchovies. In terms of value, the state of Sonora ranks first, with Guaymas as its principal port. Baja California Norte is second, where the port of Ensenada is the primary center for canning and freezing. In the state of Sinaloa, Mazatlán is the major processing center, and in Baja California Sur the largest fishing port is La Paz. Although Manzanillo in Colima state also serves as a fish-processing center of some importance, few other Pacific ports to the south have an appreciable processing industry, due to their increasing distance from the plankton-rich waters of the California Current.
Along the Gulf coast, however, the presence of warm waters along a shallower, sandy shore favor the production of shrimp. Thanks to the high price that it commands in the American market, ports such as Veracruz, Ciudad del Carmén, and Campeche serve as major shrimp-processing centers, with Progreso in the Yucatán being of secondary importance. Although fish, mollusks, and crustaceans for human food make up the overwhelming bulk of Mexican fisheries production, among the industrial uses made of marine resources are fishmeal, oil, and fertilizer.
As we have seen, Mexico possesses a wide-ranging spectrum of ecological niches, thanks both to its latitudinal location and its topographic diversity. Among these are tropical rainforests in the southeast that produce such products as chicle, tannin, mahogany, and rosewood, and temperate forests of conifers and oak, located chiefly in the uplands of the Mexican plateau, the Volcanic Axis, and the higher ridges of the Sierra Madre del Sur. The latter served as sources of construction timber and fuel-wood for the mines in earlier times and continue to supply raw materials for paper, pulp, furniture, and synthetic fibers today. It is from these same areas that many of the rural inhabitants continue to harvest their firewood for cooking and heating as well.
The principal species of commercial importance are pine, red cedar, oak, and fir, all of which are found at higher elevations and in more rugged terrain. As a result, large-scale exploitation of these resources has come relatively late, beginning in Porfirian times and expanding dramatically following the signing of the NAFTA agreement. Unfortunately, the logging of many of the upper mountain slopes by foreign-owned commercial interests has led to serious soil erosion on the lower valley-sides, threatening the continued survival of indigenous farmers who have been eking out a precarious existence in these areas since time-immemorial. In Guerrero and elsewhere peasant protests against such activities have resulted in violent confrontations with the army, which has been sent in to protect the foreign investors. Equally as serious as the economic, social, and political dislocations which have resulted are the ecological threats posed not only to the preservation of the forests but also to the conservation of both soil and water resources. The latter are particularly matters of concern along the eastern front of the Sierra Madre Occidental where the heaviest cutting is taking place, for the aquifers which underlie much of the Mexican plateau find their sources of re-charge along these very slopes. Already in the 1940's, rosy predictions for the future of long-staple cotton irrigation in the basin of Mapimí in the northern meseta had to be abandoned as the water in the artesian wells dribbled to a halt. And, as the population increases and the demand for water grows, over-cutting of the forests in this delicate water-shed area makes the specter of potential disaster for the region all the more ominous.
Today the states that account for the bulk of Mexico's forestry production are Durango and Chihuahua in the north and Michoacán, Jalisco, and Oaxaca in the south. Whereas forest exploitation in the less-densely settled north threatens chiefly the water supply, in the south it likewise threatens the age-old livelihood of the native peoples. In Mexico's rush toward economic development, it is questionable whether the concerns of either the environment or its indigenous population will be given the attention they deserve.