Volume 44, Number 175,
October-December 2013
The Emerging Phenomenon
of Unemployed Agricultural Day Laborers
Antonieta Barrón

What these migrant day laborers have in common are their precarious working and living conditions. At the beginning of the 1990s, lodging accommodations in the agricultural valleys of Sinaloa and the Valle de San Quintín, in Baja California,13 were overcrowded and filthy. Up to 15 people or more might live in a single room lacking ventilation with a dirt floor. Sometimes there were septic tanks, but in other circumstances the workers had to go to the fields. They bathed in rivers and cooked over firewood. In Tlayacapan, Morelos, day laborers had to rent the places where they slept. More than ten people would share a single room, leaving people little space to move, and they were forced to buy buckets of water to bathe. Bathrooms were ripe with infection.

These conditions have begun to change thanks to the National Agricultural Day Laborer Program. Although improvements are not widespread, more shelters have been converted to housing and now only admit one family per room.

Labor conditions have largely remained the same over the past 20 years as well. At peak production, day laborers sometimes work 12 hours or more on a piece-rate basis. When production is low, they work with a daily or task-based wage, at least 8 or 9 hours a day, and sometimes less, but with a salary reduction.

Nor have the types of migration varied significantly. Crop day laborers tend to go from their villages (Oaxaca, Guerrero, etc.) to Sinaloa. From there, they either return to their hometowns or go to Baja California or Baja California Sur, while others remain in the region. The trends follow the specialization of workers; those who work cutting crops seek markets where this skill is needed. There are also niche markets, like the vegetables exported to Japan, which are harvested in Nayarit, or the vegetables in Morelos.

The time period 1960-1974, when the production of vegetables for exportation solidified while cotton cultivation fell, migration trends began to change. Workers began to abandon cotton picking and move more towards agriculture for exportation.14 Currently, over half a million migrant day laborers work the agricultural fields, a number that does not even include their families.15

Migration Today

A set of factors has favored rural-rural migration. The growth of nurseries to cultivate vegetables in places such as Sinaloa and Baja California, the increase in average yield per hectare and expansion of the harvest periods, as well as the lack of employment and social support in more backwards states, in combination with the rise of social networks among migrating agricultural day laborers, have led to an outflow of agricultural workers from less-developed states, such as Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz and Hidalgo,16 among other significant regions,17 to agricultural-intensive zones where vegetables are cultivated, mainly to Sinaloa, Sonora and Baja California.

According to estimates from the Service Program for Agricultural Day Laborers, in 2009, 110,000 day laborers worked in Sinaloa, of which 69% were migrant workers. The figure was 33% in Baja California, leading to a calculation of 64,000 people. On the national level, according to the agricultural day laborer survey conducted by Paja,18 in 2009, out of all day laborers surveyed, including 2,789 men and 635 women, 22% of males and 20% of females were migrant workers.

Although the majority of migrant workers have migrated for two years or more, 10% of male and 15% of female day laborers recently joined the labor market, a phenomenon that corroborates the increase of agricultural migration for exported goods.

13 Regions with which the author is familiar and that are widely documented.

14 This period is known as a time when vegetable exportation solidified because total production went from 1.6 to 3.1 million tons, while exports grew from 260,000 to 683,000 tons. Taken from Rita Schwentesius and Manuel Gómez C. (1996), Fresh Winter Vegetables from Mexico to the United States: Did the Experiment Work?, at the "Tri-National Symposium,” San Antonio, Texas, November.

15 Sugar cane, oranges and coffee have other migratory patterns, not included in this work.

16 Records from the National Agricultural Day Laborer Program, Paja 2009.

17 The expansion of roads in Chiapas at the end of the 1990s significantly increased migration from the state to the rest of the country and to the United States. In 2010, data indicated that 492,000 people from Chiapas lived in another state in the nation, which represents 10% of the total population.

18 In 1009, a national survey was conducted for 13 crops: sugar cane, tomatoes, coffee, oranges, mangos, apples, zucchini, green tomatoes, green chili peppers, melon, grapes and peaches.

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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