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Mexico’s water crisis involves agriculture

drought soil

The water crisis in northern Mexico has won a great deal of attention lately.

Although the nation’s constitution guarantees its citizens water as a fundamental right, a fifth of them aren’t getting it. The government’s 2020 census showed that the number of households without access to drinking water had increased to 22.4 percent, nearly double the 11.8 percent reported in the 2010 census.

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The chief causes include long-standing drought, groundwater overdraft, and pollution. But the nation’s failure to implement an efficient and equitable long-term water policy is also a major factor.

“The Mexican agricultural sector is growing steadily but is affected by water-related issues such as deficits, pollution, salinity and soil degradation,” concludes a 2021 study conducted by the Netherlands embassy.

“Currently, many agri-food producers rely on obsolete irrigation systems, lack proper wastewater treatment, water reuse, and water catchment technologies, and have limited access to technical assistance and a high dependency on chemical inputs. Many agri-food producers are aware of this and are open to adopting new technologies,” notes Hortidaily, a website for the international horticulture industry.

Sinaloa, a state in the northwestern corner of the nation, is Mexico’s third most important agricultural state and the largest producer of tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, green tomatoes, and eggplant. Like much of the nation, it is suffering from increasing droughts and pollution.

Enrique Riveros, president of the Growers Association of Culiacán, observes, “We are dependent on irrigation, and our greatest challenge is the efficiency of irrigation in order to better conserve and not waste the water we have in the reservoirs. The vast majority of irrigation is by gravity through furrows or flooding, so the expense and waste of water are significant. In addition, a lot of water is lost during the distribution of the water from the reservoirs to the planting plots.”

Guanajuato is the largest producing state for broccoli, barley, cauliflower, and lettuce. It is the second largest producer of agave, onion, asparagus, sorghum, and wheat, and the third largest producer of strawberries. Despite persistent scarcities here, few agricultural companies have invested in technology to improve irrigation efficiency.

The study conducted by the Netherlands embassy identified five “hotspots”: Baja California Norte, Laguna-Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Bajio-Occidente. In September, the Dutch are sponsoring a trade delegation to Sinaloa and Guanajuato to explore opportunities in these areas.

If I were a company specializing in drip and other forms of advanced irrigation, I would definitely send one or two sales reps south of the border.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.