MEXICO

About the Potato Atlas Archives...
 
The first World Potato Atlas was developed at the International Potato Center (Centro Internacional de la Papa, or CIP) in the 1980s and maintained for several years -- primarily by Robert Rhoades, Robert Hijmans, and Luisa Huaccho -- to provide country-specific information about potato production, constraints, and uses. A newer version of the atlas, providing updated and more detailed information of a limited selection of countries, was initiated in 2006.
 
The "atlas archives" included here are based on chapters of the original effort which so far have not been substantially updated. Although some of this information is clearly obsolete, some remains relevant, at least for historical background.
 

HISTORY AND OVERVIEW

Although populations of wild potato plants indicate that Mexico lies within the area of the potato's area of origin (centered on the southern Andes of Peru and Bolivia), the cultivated potato nonetheless appears to be a relative newcomer to Mexico. The circumstances and date of the potato's introduction remain largely unknown.  No ethnobotanical remains or clay representations of a domesticated potato crop have been found in Mexico, and no illustrations of potatoes have been found in any of the surviving copies of the sixteenth century Aztec Codices.
 
The two earliest known authenticated records of potato cultivation in Mexico consist of Alexander von Humboldt's field observations on potato cultivation written in the year 1803 and an herbarium specimen of Solanum tuberosum collected by Carl Ehrenberg in the year 1832.  Humboldt suggested that the potato may have been brought from South America to Mexico by the Spaniards, who opened trade routes between their New World territories soon after their initial conquests. It was suggested by Bukasov (1930) and Hawkes (1941, 1944 and 1956) that only a very limited amount of potato cultivation occurred in Mexico during the sixteenth century, which could account for its presence being overlooked by many early traders (Ugent, 1968).
 
Until 1959, yields were fairly stagnant in Mexico (around four or five tons per hectare).  Production growth at that time was a consequence of increasing area of cultivation, as more land in the highland zones best suited to potato cultivation was being converted from forest to agricultural use.  However, since then, increasing production has been primarily a factor of increasing yields per area of cultivation (Ferroni, 1981).
 

GEOGRAPHY AND PRODUCTION ZONES

During the twentieth century, potato cultivation expanded from the volcanic zones of the Center (Puebla, Veracruz, the region of Pico de Orizaba and Cofre de Perote, the snows of Toluca, Sierra Tarasco in Michoacan,  the region of Malinche in Tlaxcala) to almost every state of the Republic.
 
Two production blocks can currently be distinguished:

  • The central region noted above, which produced 47 percent of national production in 1978. The majority of potatoes are produced in rainfed fields. Producers are mainly small farmers. In these regions "color potatoes" predominate, with relatively low yields of around ten tons per hectare.
  • A few states of the North (Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Baja California Norte, Sonora, Coahuila), and some states of the Bajio (particularly Guanajuato and Zamora in Michoacan) produced 42 percent of the 1978 level of production.  Cultivation in these states is done mainly under irrigation.  Average yields are twice that of the central region, as more producers are agricultural entrepreneurs using mechanized and other capital-intensive methods.  Most potatoes are white varieties (Ferroni, 1981).
     

PRODUCTION SYSTEMS AND CONSTRAINTS

In the central region, production coincides with the spring-summer cycle (the rainy season for rainfall-dependent agriculture).  In the northern part of the country and in the Bajio, production is divided equally between the spring-summer and fall-winter cycles. (Ferroni, 1981).
 
Ursula Oswald (1978) notes that in Mexico potatoes are available around the year and that relative availability coincides with the rainy season. During the rainfed temporal cycle (July-December), potatoes are produced in greater amounts (around two-thirds of the total) in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala and Veracruz. The other states produce the remaining third, under irrigation, in the dry season.
 
Marco Ferroni (1981) distinguishes between two types of producers:  peasant farmers located in the central region of Mexico, and commercial producers located in the north and in the Bajio.  Technologies, production scales and constraints to production vary widely between these two types of producers. (Ferroni, 1981).
  
Late Blight (Phytophtora infestans) has been one of the principal problems of potato cultivation in Mexico. To date 15 resistant cultivars have been developed, of which Atzimba, Greta, Rosita and Juanita are the most widely grown.  Late blight is very devastating.  Large farmers use an expensive fungicide spray system which provides control of the diseases, but most subsistence farmers cannot afford to spray and subsequently suffer high crop losses.
 
Other constraints include:

  • Early blight (Alternaria solani), a problem in some areas of North and North Central Mexico;
  • Viral diseases, especially potato leaf roll virus (PLRV), and potato virus Y (PVY) at higher elevations.
  • Golden nematode, a recent problem and the cause of some. Oscar Hidalgo (1976) says that it is localized, found only in some zones of Nuevo Leon and Guanajuato;
  • Bacterial wilt (P. solanacearum), reported as a localized constraint;
  • Rhizoctonia solani and black leg (Erwinia spp.) (Bryan, 1981).
     

VARIETIES AND SEED SYSTEMS

Varieties

Three groups of potato varieties can be distinguished (Ferroni, 1981):

  • Potatoes from Holland and the USA, accounting for slightly over half the total production, usually grown by more commercialized high-input farmers (Alpha from Holland is the predominant variety in this group);
  • Criolla and/or native Mexican potatoes, accounting for about 38 percent, and more commonly grown in the highland areas of the central zone (López is the most widely planted in this group);
  • The 16 improved varieties from the Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA) Potato Program, about 8 percent of the total.

The two principal centers of native or criolla potato diversity and production in Mexico are the Nevado de Toluca and the Pico de Orizaba, both high-altitude volcanic peaks with highly fertile slopes and extensive arable land masses between 2,900 and 3,400 meters of altitude. A combination of 17 different cultivars of S. tuberosum (Group Andigena) are known from both.  However, only six of these clonal types are known to be grown elsewhere in Mexico. Because of the high endemism of these cultivars, as well as their great morphological diversity, the Nevado de Toluca and the Pico de Orizaba  are likely the primary genetic centers of potato variability within Mexico (Ugent, 1968).
 
INIA has been producing seed of selected varieties with resistance to late blight for subsistence farmers. However, the more capital-intensive seed producers have shown little interest in producing seed of these varieties. Atzimba, Tollocan, Rosita are among the more popular varieties that have been released (Bryan, 1981). 

Seed Systems

Certified potato seed production started in 1957 in the Toluca Valley, based on research by the Special Studies Office of the Rockefeller Foundation and INIA.  Production the first year was of 1,200 tons of potato seed, and another 4,500 tons were imported. Only 5.5 percent of the total area (40,915 ha) was planted with this seed, suggesting that the other 94.5 percent of the area was planted with seed from native varieties.  In 1975, 24,500 tons of certified potato seed were produced, and 4,082 tons were imported. This amount of seed would meet roughly 20 percent of the total potato area of the country. The other 80 percent was planted with non-certified seed and with native varieties (Gómez, 1977).  Seed production areas are Toluca, Zamora, Chihuahua, Derramadero, Guarachanillo, Cheran. Toluca is producing 25 percent of seed requirements (Castillo, 1975).
 

CONSUMPTION AND MARKETING

Mexican annual per capita potato consumption is approximately 9.6 kilograms.  Potatoes play the role of a vegetable or a complementary dish in the Mexican diet (while tortillas or beans are considered staple foods), but potato consumption has been increasing, largely due to urbanization and a growing demand from people with higher personal incomes.  Potatoes are mainly consumed fresh; only ten percent of the crop is processed in the form of french fries, mashed potatoes, instant soups and cakes, but the use of potatoes as a snack food is growing continuously (Ferroni, 1981).  The processing industry uses only white potatoes.
 
Ursula Oswald notes that in the central part of Mexico, farmers who grow potatoes work with wholesalers of La Merced (traders in wholesale markets of Mexico), because they do not have enough resources to grow potatoes independently . Almost half of the farmers in the states of Mexico, Hidalgo and Michoacan work with a middleman, while in the states which traditionally grow potatoes, only one sixth of the farmers do so. The middleman provides the farmer with seed, fertilizer, insecticide, workers who specialize in harvests, as well as transport to La Merced. The farmer provides the land, irrigation water, other labor, and the necessary instruments. Of the total amount obtained from the sale of the production, the costs incurred by the wholesaler (especially fertilizers) are first deducted, and the remaining is divided in equal share between the farmer and the wholesaler. (Oswald, 1978).
 

REFERENCES

Bryan, Jim. Correspondence, 1981.
 
Castillo Santoyo, R. Report on potato production in Mexico. International Potato Course, IAC, Wageningen, 1975.
 
CIP. Programa Regional de México. Informe del curso sobre tecnología de producción de papa. Toluca, 1977, np. Toluca, Mayo 23 - Set. 24, 1977.

CIP. Informe del curso de entrenamiento sobre tecnología de la producción de papa. México. 1975.
 
CIP. Informe del curso sobre tecnología de producción de papa. Toluca, 1973. n.p.
 
Delgado, S.A. Mejoramiento del cultivo de papa en México. (Reprinted from Annals of National Phytogenetics - 1st symposium Mexico, February 1968. pp.: 461-476).
 
Fernández Barrera, Jesús. La producción y certificación de semilla de papa en México. México. Servicio nacional de inspección certificación de semillas.
 
Ferroni, Marco A. El potencial de la papa como recurso alimenticio y como fuente de ingreso rural. México, INIA, PRECODEPA, 1981.
 
Gomez A., H. Report on potato production in Mexico. International Potato Course, IAC, Wageningen.
 
Gómez, Martre R. El crédito agricola en México. Chapingo, México, Colegio de Post-graduados. 1976.
 
Hernández Pallares, J.J. Cultivo de la papa. Toluca, Mexico, CODAGEM, 1978.
 
Hidalgo, Oscar. Correspondence, 1976
 
Lewis, Oscar. Plow culture and hoe culture. A study of contrast. (Reprinted from Rural Sociology, U.S.A. 1949, Vol. 14, pp:116-127).
 
Ortiz Ramos, Carlos. La papa, Solanum Tuberosum L. Producción y comercialización.
 
Oswald, S.U. La monopolización del mercado interno en México, el caso de la papa. (Reprinted from Comercio Exterior, 28(11):1349-1358, 1978).
 
Secretaría de Agricultura y Recursos Hidráulicos. Subsecretaría de Agricultura y Operación. Dirección General de Economía Agrícola. 1983.
 
Ugent, Donald. The potato in Mexico: geography and primitive culture, (Reprinted from Economic Botany U.S.A. April-June, Vol 22, No.2, pp.108-123).
 
 
 

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