Volume 44, Number 175,
October-December 2013
The Emerging Phenomenon
of Unemployed Agricultural Day Laborers
Antonieta Barrón
VEGETABLE PRODUCTION ( ...continuation )

Sinaloa and Baja California are crop-producing states where the labor markets are complementary. Sinaloa produces in the fall-winter cycle, while Baja California is focused on spring-summer.6 In 2011, Sinaloa produced 18.4% of the production volume of tomatoes,7 with an average yield per hectare of 45 tons and harvesting from September to May. It currently has 893 hectares, each producing around 100 tons. Baja California contributes 9% of the production volume of tomatoes with an average yield of 60 tons and harvesting from July to September, although it can harvest nearly all year long because of its nurseries.

Precarious labor conditions, falling incomes among rural populations and a relative contraction in the demand for labor in the agricultural and livestock sector in combination with reductions in social spending and the economic crisis have led to an increase in rural-rural migration towards agricultural export regions as a survival strategy.8


Precarious employment and income among the rural population has led to two phenomena: an increase in migration and greater unemployment. In rural areas, people must create survival strategies, and one of these is migration. It may occur on a rural-rural, rural-urban or rural-international level. All of these movements are important and various studies have addressed them. However, this study focuses on rural populations that migrate principally to other rural zones, believing that this sort of migration is extremely important. This occurs mainly towards the northern and north-eastern regions of the country where there are labor markets.


The migration of agricultural day laborers to regions with agricultural-intensive sectors10 has existed since the cotton boom in Sonora in the 1950s. Between 1955 and 1956, 1,042,200 hectares were planted throughout the nation, the majority in Sonora and Chihuahua, as well as in La Comarca Lagunera in Coahuila and Durango, Baja California and Tamaulipas.

In harvest times, although the local population also picked cotton, significant quantities of people came to La Comarca Lagunera or to Sonora from Oaxaca, Guerrero or Hidalgo, states which send some of most people. A hectare of cotton required between 37 and 48 working days (Barrón, 1997 and cmdrs, 2011), and as such, the local population was not enough to harvest all of the cotton. Although people tended to migrate as a family, only adult men worked and their sons helped. Women served the role of reproduction, taking care of food and other domestic chores. Migration occurred in a cycle, where people went from their place of origin to the agricultural fields of Sonora, La Laguna, etc. and then back to their own villages.

The cotton boom lasted until the end of the 1960s, when crop production began to increase in Sinaloa for exportation. In 1965, this state had nearly 250,000 day laborers for crop cutting, especially for the tomato (Posadas, 2006).

In the 1960s, Sinaloa competed with Florida in tomato production. In those years, some agricultural day laborers extended their migratory routes, from Sonora to Sinaloa and from there to their villages to continue the following year.11

Agricultural regions soon emerged in Sinaloa, Baja California and Baja California Sur, and to a lesser extent in other places that are no longer as significant today, such as Villa de Artista, San Luis Potosí, Tlayacapan, Morelos and some regions of Nayarit and Guanajuato.

The labor market for agricultural exploitation in these regions was made up predominantly of migrant laborers from Oaxaca and Guerrero.

Unlike the migration for cotton-picking, the crop harvesting labor force, especially for tomatoes, included men, women and children up through the beginning of the 2000s. However, by the end of the decade, particularly in Sinaloa, children younger than 14 years of age were no longer accepted.12

6 The presence of nurseries in both states has reduced dependency on seasons for harvesting, meaning they can harvest practically the entire year.

7 Taken from: http://www.siap.gob.mx/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view&Itemid=350

8 This work only focuses on domestic rural-rural migration.

9 This section will use the Agricultural Day Laborer Survey, conducted by the National Agricultural Day Laborer Program in 2009 as a personal survey, as well as case studies in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Armería and Colima in 2009 and in the Valle de San Quintín, Baja California in 2010.

10 This work only considers migrant day laborers that work in vegetable production. Other migrant day laborers, such as those working cutting sugar-cane or picking oranges, are only included as a mere reference, as they face problems different from those addressed here.

11 In 1976, Lucinda Díaz Ronner conducted a survey financed by the Department of Labor and Social Planning among 535 male and 83 female day laborers. The survey was never published, but the author of this article received it in 1995. Lucinda Díaz recorded migratory patterns with questions focused on the time period ten years prior to the survey.

12 Antonieta Barrón (coord.), Child Labor and Poverty: The Oportunidades Program and Agricultural Day Laborers, unam, March 2013, pp. 137.

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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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