CSPS Research Seminar: On farmers and natural resources in the (western) Mexico: going beyond a farmer-oriented perspective

On farmers and natural resources in the (western) Mexico: going beyond a farmer-oriented perspective

24 October, 14:00 – 16:00
Leeuwenborch C68

Peter R.W. Gerritsen, University of Guadalajara, Mexico, pedritus@startmail.com


Understanding how contemporary societies relate to the natural environment and how these relationships are modified by human beings in general and by farmers in particular is essential to understanding today’s environmental problems. In this sense, rural societies contain key elements for understanding social relationships with the environment because interactions with the environment are more direct in rural communities than in urban societies. Moreover, rural societies are also most often the first to be affected by environmental degradation or pollution.

Rural Mexico is subject to a profound social crisis, and rural populations have not yet overcome poverty and marginalization. Furthermore, many environmental problems pose challenges to the wider society, such as, for example, food security for urban populations. On the other hand, these rural societies often have an unequal relationship to urban societies.

Since the early 1980s, profound transformations can be observed in the Mexican countryside, which are directly related to the Mexican society as a whole. On the one hand, Mexico is increasingly urbanizing and nowadays approximately 78% of its people live in cities. On the other hand, after the failure of the Green Revolution model in the late 1960s, the development model has shifted towards a neoliberal one with now global dimensions.

Privatization of land and natural resources is a phenomenon that has been increasingly occurring in Mexico, particularly since 1992, when article 27 of the Mexican Constitution was reformed. This reform facilitates the mobilization of land and resources through market mechanisms, and it has contributed to the weakening of peasants’ local institutions. This has been accompanied by a macroeconomic policy of market liberalization and the promotion of foreign investment; consequently, an increasing percentage of land and natural resources is in the hands of foreigners, especially in the coastal areas

The foregoing has had a profound impact on the countryside. The neo-liberalization of the rural areas has not only deepened the “old” agrarian question (migration, poverty, resource degradation, land access, indigenous culture and identity), but also generated new ones, such as the increasing presence of transnational corporative enterprises (food companies, mining companies, tourist enterprises), or the increased privatization of natural resources. In other words, nowadays the socio-environmental problematic of the Mexican countryside is not only multidimensional (i.e. cultural, ecological, economical, political and social), but also characterised by the presence of new actors that operate at a multi-level scale (local, regional, national and international).

With the above-described context, current debates on understanding the Mexican countryside spin around four main, and partly interrelated, themes:

·       Sustainable development, which involves the discussions on solidary economy, fair trade, agrifood systems, amongst others.

·       New rurality (“Nueva ruralidad”), which is centred on the understanding the countryside and its interlinkages with cities in an increasingly urbanizing world?

·       Multifuncionality that is related to the identification and strengthening of the different functions family farming can play, others that food and employment generation?

·       Well/good living (“buen vivir”), which deals with the understanding of social and cultural aspects of natural resource management. 

“Our way of looking”: a farmer-oriented approach

For a long time, our research has focussed on the role of farmers in natural resource management, as well as how local and global processes affect them within the boundaries of the farm household. Our theoretical baggage originates from the community forestry approach and, above all, the farming style approach, as developed both at Wageningen University. The first approach looks at the ways how farmers use and manage natural resources, including existing institutional arrangements, while the second one looks at understanding farmer strategies from the own perspective of farmers.[1]  Over time, however, our approach has evolved in a wider one[2], being in grosso modo:

·       Farming dynamics (co-production, farming styles, biodiversity, contract farming vs ecological agriculture);

·       Farmer and professional perspectives on natural resources (degradation, large mammals, protected natural areas, law and politics);

·       Farmer use and management of forests and secondary vegetation; 

·       Globalization, regional development and local responses (farm economics, regional products, short commercialization circuits, environmental governance);

·       Territory and bio-cultural values (regional products, fair trade);

·       Farmer movements (multifuncionality, agroecology, farmer markets);

·       Climate change and regional learning platforms;

·       Mass tourist development and socio-ecological impacts in the coastal zone of western Mexico.

 Lessons learned, challenges ahead

As mentioned, the Mexican countryside, as in other parts of Latin America, is in deep crisis. As also stated before, privatization of natural resources, environmental conflicts, loss of food security has become an everyday practice, and is affecting a great many actors of civil society. As such, the current problematic has gone beyond the limits of the farm household and the countryside and is currently also present in urban areas. The observed problematic can be explained by several factors, such as, for example, the withdrawal of the State, the presence of transnational companies and the expansion of the mass tourist industry, as also mentioned before.

The foregoing poses new challenges to scientists and politicians, both in understanding this new rurality and in defining new intervention schemes. In our particular case, it has become clear that even though a farmer-oriented approach is (still) valid, especially for conservation related issues, it´s analysis regarding socio-political themes should shift from the farm boundary to the wider territory in which it is embedded.

 Some “food for thought”

Based upon the foregoing, it becomes clear that more diversified theoretical frameworks are required that are capable to grasp the great complexity of social and environmental problems in the Mexican countryside. In this sense, at least two questions are worthwhile to discuss. Based upon the own experiences of the participants, the first issue to discuss might be the following:

·       What theoretical frameworks have participants used for understanding similar social and environmental problematics as described for the Mexican countryside?

And, secondly, and based on our own research interest:

·       How can these frameworks be related (or not) to a farmer-oriented approach on natural resource management?


Dr. Peter R.W. Gerritsen is a senior lecturer-researcher at the Department for Ecology and Natural Resources at the South Coast University Centre of the University de Guadalajara in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco state, in western México. He started to work at the University of Guadalajara in 1994. Since 2005, he has been member of the National Research Council (level III) of the Mexican government, and since 2008 he has been a member of the Mexican Academy for Sciences. Dr. Gerritsen has been working for almost twenty-five years in action research and development projects in the western Mexico, which includes the Sierra de Manantlán biosphere reserve and the Ayuquila watershed, amongst others. More recently, he has been working in the coastal zone of Jalisco state. His research lines include the different aspects related to rural sociology and rural development. 



[1] The attached article, titled “Rural landscapes in dispute”, can be considered as a more or less “classic” example of our combined approach, in this case applied to understand farmer landscape management in the context of protected natural areas.

[2] This is schematically illustrated by the second attachment, titled “Figure 10.1”. 

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