Livestock Research for Rural Development 27 (8) 2015 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Public policies affecting the development of urban agriculture in Mexico City

H Losada, J M Vargas, J Cortés, L Luna and V Alemán

Área de Sistemas de Producción Agropecuarios, Departamento de Biología de la Reproducción, División de Ciencias Biológicas y de la Salud. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa,
Av. San Rafael Atlixco No. 186, Col. Vicentina, Iztapalapa. C.P. 09340, México D.F.


This paper looks at policies that operate in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area and the practice of urban agriculture that has evolved from different pre-Hispanic agricultural ecosystems into its current forms, in which urban producers have shown themselves able to adapt their production systems to varying conditions such as the availability of inputs and spaces. Urbanization, the population explosion and the high rates of immigration into Mexico City caused an intensification of the use of available space, and both economic hegemony and international influences set in motion a process of expulsion of the city’s urban agriculture. However urban producers remain and this activity is recognized as a tool and “desirable practice” in the search for sustainable cities where key factors are policy and planning. The current legislation and the political environment in Mexico City are contradictory to urban agriculture, and particularly to the raising of animals, on public health grounds although this position is not supported by solid scientific evidence. Despite this, urban agriculture stands out as an activity with potential to contribute to the sustainable development of the city.

Keywords: animal breeding, legislation, production, sustainable


Because of mankind’s new priorities in relation to environmental management and our aspiration towards sustainable development, the interest in sustainable agriculture based on alternative practices has been reinforced. In this sense, Urban Agriculture (UA) is considered an activity with potential to contribute to sustainable cities due to the multiple functions and satisfactions that it provides including green belts, poverty alleviation and the reduction of the ecological footprint. UA also utilizes resources that in some cases would be considered as waste, such as industrial by-products, manure, solid waste from markets, space, family labor amongst others (Van-Veenhuizen and ‎Danso 2007).

A factor influencing the sustainability of agriculture is the policy and planning that the government institutions carry out in order to encourage this activity (Soriano 2000). In relation to the agricultural sector in rural areas, it might be more or less obvious what type of policies should be implemented. However, plans regarding urban agriculture might be more difficult to design. UA is a newcomer or at least a field that has only recently been accepted, studied, conceptualized and discussed. Therefore, it is becoming clear that the lack of knowledge on policies regarding UA and its performance in and around specific cities represents a gap to be filled by researchers, policymakers and local populations. In order to start the debate and to contribute to the understanding of polices affecting UA, this paper analyses the different government strategies affecting the urban producers of Mexico City and its metropolitan area. Thus, city planning, agricultural, environmental and educational policies along with research and extension initiatives are briefly discussed as a starting point to encourage further debate.

Characteristics and localization of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area

Mexico City is located within an endorheic valley at an altitude of 2300 meters above sea level, where precipitation ranges from 800 to 1200 mm/year and the temperature oscillates between 5°C to 30°C with an average of 18° (García 2004). What we call the Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA) is a conurbation comprising the territory of the federal capital known as the Federal District (Distrito Federal or D.F) and a number of municipalities belonging the states of Mexico and Hidalgo (Figure 1), the total area of this urban sprawl being 1400Km2. The descriptive part of this paper will refer to the UA practiced in what we call the Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA). However, the discussion of policie will refer only to these operating within the DF.

In the case of Mexico, national statistics show that more than 60% of the country’s population is now living in cities (INEGI 2013). This means that any concentration of people of more than 5000 inhabitants is considered a city whether or not these “cities” have elementary services such as an efficient transport, health, education or even paved roads, electricity and drinking water. In contrast, in Mexican megalopolis (Mexico City and its metropolitan area) has a population of 19 million.

Figure 1. The Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA) is composed of the whole of Federal District
(with 16 delegations or administrative districts), along with all or portions of 59 municipalities in the
State of Mexico and 1 in the State of Hidalgo. Source: Modified from the Academia Nacional de la
Investigación Científica, A.C and the Academia Nacional de Ingeniería, A.C.
Background to Urban Agriculture in Mexico City

In contrast with other places around the world, UA in Mexico City is not a recent phenomenon but rather the result of the evolution of a number of agro- ecosystems that were established during the pre-Hispanic era and later modified through a process of trial and error by the inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico until it reached its present forms (Soriano et al 2000).

The different groups that settled in the Valley, amongst them the Aztecs, were extremely creative in the way they developed a variety of agricultural systems in order to make use of the wide range of genetic varieties and landscapes found in their setting. Among the agro-ecosystems developed by the inhabitants of this basin we must mention the chinampa, terraces and family orchards and vegetable gardens are outstanding examples that still persist today (Terrones 2006).

On their arrival in the Americas the Spanish brought with them plants and animals that increased agricultural biodiversity in Mexico. Besides the genetic material they also introduced new cultivation techniques, new currency in the form of coins and a new religion as well as grouping the population of dispersed hamlets into villages and towns. Furthermore, they started drainage works in order to drain the shallow lakes in the Valley to make the land inhabitable and to extend the capital of New Spain across the lake bed.

Mexico’s capital grew during the colonial era but it was not until the 20th century that the metropolis and its population expanded exponentially. A presidential decree passed in the 1930’s established an area of land that would define the present day Federal District (DF) which would be the seat of the three powers of the union, the Presidency, the Congress and the Judiciary. As the country entered a phase of modernization and amid events like the Second World War and the Cold War, the country’s economy grew to such an extent that it was called “the Mexican miracle”. The centralization of most economic and administrative activity in the DF created the need for more land. This led the government to create new settlement areas using the concept of “satellite cities” in the State of Mexico with a green buffer zone between the new neighborhoods and the capital.

These spaces were to be united by roads and their functioning integrated. However, demand for land was greater than expected and often new settlements grew up illegally as occurred in the buffer zones which gradually disappeared. Other forms of settlement for the working class occurred due to the formation new municipalities on idle land bordering on the DF, examples of these being Cuidad Nezahualcoyotl and Valle de Chalco. These new housing developments would become part of what we know today as Mexico City or Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA).

Planning in Mexico City

After the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish decided to found their own city over the Aztec ruins in order to mark their supremacy over the Tenochcas and therefore over the people the Tenochcas themselves had previously conquered. Soon after the conquest, the Spaniards decided to deal with the lacustrine environment of the valley of Mexico by draining the lake bed. This was, without any doubt, the very first sign of mismanagement and planning of a city that used to owe its splendor to the lacustrine landscape. Furthermore, it is an approach which has prevailed along with the idea of political and economic centralism that still persist today.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century that modernity was adopted in Mexico as a new paradigm under the influence of scientific thought from Europe, and it was in the second half of the century when the city entered a phase of exponential expansion. Urban sprawl along with a demographic explosion and high immigration rates in Mexico City caused an intensification of the use of the available space for housing developments which also meant that new houses have become smaller and smaller. This has also increased pressure for urbanization and land prices have risen above the national average. This increase in the price of land has encouraged people to sell land and abandon agriculture. On the other hand, for people that do not want to give up agriculture in urbanized areas, pressure is exerted by neighbors and the authorities on the grounds of public health.

In the southeast of Mexico City and in some peripheral municipalities, there are small villages with population oscillating between 5000 and 15000 as is the case of Milpa Alta and other villages within the rural areas. This situation, which contrasts with the INEGI classification of a city in terms of the number of inhabitants, represents a contradiction between present and past regulation because according with current law, animals would not even not even be allowed in the so-called “rural delegations”. Furthermore, on the eastern limits of the Federal District and Mexico State (Iztapalapa and Nezahualcoyotl) the boundaries of these conurbated areas are only marked by an avenue. Whilst in the State of Mexico there are no regulations restricting animals from urbanized areas, just the other side of avenue in question, livestock is completely banned although animals are raised at both sides (Losada et al 2001).

Another aspect of city planning is that it was done to benefit the use of cars and the growth of massive shopping centers. This second aspect has been detrimental to maintaining green spaces open for the benefit of the population. The area of green space per capita in the DF is of about 0.4m2. Although this is not directly related with UA, however, greens spaces and gardens could be used to keep demonstrative orchards or plots in order to promote growing food in the cities. A case in point is the NGO, CICEANA (Arroyo 2000) that promotes UA in a public park in the south of the City.

The division of the Federal District into urban and rural areas dates back to about 1940. Today, despite the fact that urban agriculture is recognized by international organizations as a tool in poverty reduction, to halt urban sprawl, to increase the food security of families in poorer areas and to contribute to the reduction of cities’ the ecological footprints, (UN Habitat II 1996), the present legislation and political environment in Mexico City are contradictory to urban agriculture and in particular to the rearing of animals in the city.

Urban Agriculture practices in and around México City

Although the city grew exponentially, many localities that were formerly the “barrios” (neighborhoods) of old villages and towns retained their agricultural production activity as part of their livelihood. These two features of the city’s growth along with the survival of its agricultural traditions despite large scale immigration, determined that production systems were located in three different spaces each with its own characteristic form of production.

Table 1 shows the spaces where UA is practiced in the MCMA.

The places where urban agriculture is carried out within the MCMA are: urban, sub-urban and peri-urban. The distinctive feature of each space is the balance between green spaces and built up areas. Thus, in the urban space there are more buildings and concrete than in the other two but fewer green areas. Sub-urban and peri-urban settings are similar with respect to the number of streets and constructions but the latter has more open green areas (Losada et al 1998).

Table 1. Spaces and urban agriculture production systems in the MCMA


Model of

Crop production

Animal production



Family orchard/plot

Dairy and beef cattle, backyard poultry, pig and rabbits



Vegetables and flowers, family orchard/plot, greenhouses

Dairy and beef cattle, backyard poultry, pig and rabbits, draft animals



Nopal-vegetable production, family orchard, maize,

Dairy and beef cattle, backyard poultry, pig and rabbits, draft animals, honeybees and sheep

Source: Losada et al 1998

The zones where agricultural activity is practiced, besides the physical characteristics mentioned, have access to city services and infrastructure that have been used by the producers to adapt themselves to the changing urban environment in such a way that they have been able to modify their production systems to the new urban context.

There are approximately 312 (an average of 19.5 per delegation) permanent markets in the MCMA and 1051 mobile markets called tianguis, the precedent which is the pre-Hispanic market place of Tlatelolco. These food markets along with the main wholesale market (the Central de Abasto) constitute a source of waste products that are incorporated into the diets of the animals produced in this urban context. A series of restaurants, tortilla mills, factories producing bread, biscuits, vegetable oil or beer, complete the city’s framework of waste or byproducts utilized in urban animal production. The drinking water supply network extends over ten thousand kilometers and everyday 4 million liters approximately are consumed. The amount of waste collected is as much as twenty thousand tons.

The sectors of the population practicing UA in the MCMA range from those with low incomes generated from backyard production to the nopal-vegetable producers from Milpa Alta who earn up to $18.5 USD per day[1] per person. The strategies of agricultural producers in the MCMA show differing degrees of heterogeneity. Whilst those with fewer economic resources tend to involve themselves and their families in a variety of occupations to complete the family income, other producers’ main source of income comes from agriculture which is sometimes supplemented by secondary activities such as trade (Soriano et al 2000).

An outstanding characteristic of urban producers in Mexico City is that they have been able to adapt their production systems to different conditions with respect to the availability inputs and space in the city. Whilst producers from Atzcapotzalco (north) and Iztapalapa (east) raising pigs, poultry and rabbits, dairy and beef cattle in their backyards only have access to small spaces, they employ a diversity of feed resources employ including maize mash, wheat bran, dried tortilla, concentrates, alfalfa, waste from household kitchens and restaurants along with rejects and waste from the local retail markets and tianguis, the wholesale vegetable markets, biscuit factories, bakeries and brewery by-products.

Although producers from sub-urban spaces (Xochimilco and Tláhuac) and peri-urban areas (Milpa Alta and Tlalpan) have larger spaces to keep animals and to cultivate plants, they employ a more limited range of resources for animal nutrition. Regarding the variety of animals raised in the MAMC, figure 2 presents the diversity of the urban animal production in the MAMC.

The production systems mentioned in table 1 have long existed in the Valley of Mexico or have evolved from other agro ecosystems. Examples of the latter are the chinampas (raised fields constructed on the lake in shallow waters also know as "floating gardens") used to produce vegetables and flowers destined for Mexico City. The chinampa evolved from a crop production system to a complex system linking local kitchen gardens, while dairy cattle and backyard production appeared after the arrival of the Spanish. More recently, greenhouse technology has been adapted to abandoned chinampas in order to cultivate cash crops all the year round (Torres-Lima 1994). The terraces, where today nopal–vegetable is grown, evolved from pre-Hispanic terraces where people used to cultivate squash, beans and maize while dairy production in its urban form evolved from ranches that used to have greater extensions of land.

Urban agriculture in Mexico City is in some cases a process that integrates activities carried out in the urban, sub-urban or peri-urban spaces which has been achieved and articulated by producers with only marginal intervention from technicians. Such is the case of the systems linking nopal vegetable, dairy production and the use of solid waste from the city’s central wholesale market, the Central de Abasto. The mechanics of this integrated biosystem (Losada et al 2000a) starts with dairy producers collecting vegetable rejects from the Central de Abasto including wilting greens that are no longer acceptable for sale (broccoli stems, maize leaves, carrots, cauliflower leaves, radishes and others). These producers collect the waste and take them to their stables in the urban areas of Nezahualcoyotl City, Iztapalapa and the sub-urban Xochimilco to complete their cows’ diets. The second step involves nopal producers coming down from the hills of Milpa Alta to collect the manure produced in Iztapalapa, Nezahualcoyotl and Xochimilco and using it to fertilize their nopal plantations.

Figure 2. Diversity of animals raised in the MAMC

Dairy producers also use city waste coming from industries, restaurants, markets and households as do backyard producers in order to feed a variety of animals. Whilst production from milking parlors is distributed locally or processed and transformed into sweets and cheese, backyard products are used in neighborhood celebrations, sold locally etc.

On average twenty-seven dairy cows are kept per stable, the most common breed being the commercial European Holstein obtained from the more technologically sophisticated dairy producing areas of Texcoco and Chalco (Losada 2006). In the case of livestock kept for meat production, feedlots house an average of thirty bulls or castrated animals, mostly commercial Holstein, Symmental, Chanina and Charolais and occasionally commercial Zebu and their Brown Swiss crosses.

With respect to pigs, there are semi-commercial production systems of between fifty and one hundred animals, the main breeds being Yorkshire (30%), Hampshire (20%), Duroc Jersey (17%) and Landrace (6%) as well as “criollos” (27%) (Losada et al 2006). In some places, groups of one to five pigs are found, this system being considered as a means of “saving”.

The types of poultry kept in the MAMC are “criollos (61%), battery (35%) and fighting cocks. With respect to backyard rabbit production there are between one and sixty animals per unit which reflects a trend towards homogeneity in these systems of urban production (López et al 1999). The most common breeds are New Zeeland, California, Giant, Chinchilla, Rex and the demand for “criollos” is high as they are very prolific and resilient. The breeds selected for their fur come second in the preferences of the city’s rabbit producers.

The urbanization of animals is a response to the evolution of the city through time (Losada 2006). Additionally, the landscape remains the same in zones considered to be in transition and in the case of the south part of Mexico City the survival of agricultural activities keeps that zone free of concrete and thus provides a space that still permits the continuous recharging of aquifers that provide the city with water.

However, there are no policies designed specifically to promote UA. This is understandable since UA is a recently conceptualized and characterized activity. However, if we assume that it is a phenomenon that contributes to the reduction of a city’s ecological footprint, then it is necessary to understand the state of the art with respect to policies related to its practice and to start a discussion in order to find ways to promote this movement.

Urban Agriculture in the international context

Before the modern era, agriculture was an important component in most significant human settlements including Mexico City. In Europe, during special periods such as World War II, urban livestock raising and agriculture were practiced in several cities of the old continent. After World War WII, the new political geography that divided the planet into two and later three “worlds”, the priority of industrialized societies, both capitalist and socialist, of gaining economic hegemony created a process of the exclusion of nature, agriculture included, from the cities. However, this was not the case in the so called “third world” where conditions of chronic poverty led people to maintain economic and technological practices considered a necessary part of a “war economy” (Moran 2010) and later as a sign of backwardness.

Whilst in the developing countries and despite the process of excluding nature from cities, urban producers remained and continued to reproduce their practices, in the western democracies, with the appearance on the scene of the sustainable development paradigm, citizens began to promote forms of urban agriculture which were reinforced by The United Nations conference on human settlements (Habitat II, Istanbul), where the UN acknowledged urban agriculture to be one of the “desirable practices” in the search for sustainable cities (UN 1996).

At present, the practice of agricultural and livestock activities in peri-urban spaces is a reality in different parts of the world and forms an important part of local, regional and even national economic structures (Ávila 2009).

Despite the supposition that agriculture will automatically decline as a manifestation of growth and the pressure of development on the Rural-Urban Interface (RUI), official statistics show that agriculture persists even in the face of the urban invasion and in some cases actually grows in many districts on the Interface (Clark et al 2010; Inwood and Sharp 2012).

Undoubtedly we find ourselves looking at differentiated territorial dynamics in which processes and manifestations occur that are neither strictly urban nor rural but rather a symbiosis of both. In less economically developed countries, where agriculture is undergoing a profound crisis, there is a serious lack of knowledge of the extent and contributions of urban and peri-urban agriculture in the dynamics of local economies and those of the outskirts of the cities (Ávila 2009).

At present, as a result of institutional projects UA is proliferating in North American cities, remodeling urban landscapes, experimenting with alternatives to the capitalist organization of urban life and sometimes establishing embryonic ways of recreating communal well-being (Tornaghi 2014) As a result of growing interest in buying sustainable, locally produced foods, many local governments recognize the benefits that urban agriculture brings to residents and even economically depressed cities look on it as a way of revitalizing neighborhoods (Voigt 2011).

In the United States, the peri-urban zones represent an interface between two apparently well differentiated types of geography, the country and the city which, being fragile and susceptible to new forms of intervention are in fact in a situation of permanent transformation, heterogeneous land use and low intensity urban development (Clark et al 2010).

Urban and peri-urban agricultural practices are an alternative way of satisfying some of requirements of producers’ families and have an impact on local economies, but this does not stop them from becoming involved in conflicts with respect to the use and appropriation of land. Peri-urban farmers suffer the pressures resulting from urban development, including the direct influence of competition for land, the growth of the non-farming population and indirect ones, such as the increase in land prices, taxes and greater regulation (Brinkley 2012). In general, all North American farmers have to cope with the pressures of a capitalist model of food production and commercialization, which lead to a greater degree of complexity in the production chain (Whatmore 2002).

National agricultural policy

Agricultural policy in Mexico has reflected different ways of viewing reality that are expressed through the type of technology promoted and adopted by policymakers, researchers and extension workers. The picture we have of Mexico corresponds to the promotion of green revolution technologies and reductionist research. In contrast, UA practitioners and promoters acknowledge the advantages of studying the problem from a holistic perspective in order to develop better approaches.

Green revolution technology and its derivatives applied to animal production have constituted the guide to policy design based on technological packages characterized by a high use of external inputs that have caused the loss of local breeds of animals along with the weakening of community cohesion since is it no longer the community who exchange the genetic material. These technologies have also caused environmental damage due to the high concentrations of animals on huge farms and the presence of more and more resistant strains of animal diseases that also affect humans. These technologies have not been a factor in reducing poverty and in the case of Mexico they have been used for political ends.

These guidelines for policy design are mainly applied in what are considered to be the country’s rural areas, including the so-called rural areas of Mexico City. However, particular characteristics, such as social organization, availability of space, markets and competition with other regions of the country have not been taken into account. Although animal production is also carried out in the so-called urban delegations within Mexico City, no specific policy is applied to promoting the activity, the arguments being that it is a risk to public health or that it simply does not exist. While national statistics (INEGI 2009) acknowledge the presence of a population of small animals (poultry and pigs) and cattle in urban delegations of Mexico City, the ministry of agriculture denies that this is actually the case.

Local government policy with respect to Urban Agriculture

Regarding governance, the federal capital (DF) was for many years administered by a mayor (known as the “regent”) appointed by the country’s President. That was until 1997 when the inhabitants of the DF elected a Mayor for the first time. Prior to that, in 1992, the people of the city had elected a congress known as the “First Assembly of Representatives”. Today that name has changed to Legislative Assembly as its functions and attributions have been extended. The struggle of Mexico City’s inhabitants to elect their own authorities is finally yielding results after many years of authoritarianism. However, the DF also has a group of federal legislators made up of both senators and deputies. While the federal congressmen are usually involved in a wider range of legislative issues and given that for a long time there was no local congress, decisions were always taken by the mayor or “regent”, who was directly appointed by the President. Besides the fact that the regent was not a true representative of the city’s inhabitants, the Mexican political system also allowed the President in office to appoint and remove the city’s chief administrator at will.

Thus, the post of regent became an extension of the federal cabinet under the direct supervision of the President and not of the city’s inhabitants. The consequences of this would fill many pages. However, we will mention only a few of the most important ones here. Centralism as a feature of national life was one. As had happened under the Aztecs and then under Spanish rule, power in Mexico has always been concentrated in the capital. Modernization and centralism are factors which have contributed a great deal to the uncontrolled growth of the city. Many of the new districts were created in order to gain the votes and political support of the landless or immigrant population that has invaded the rural areas surrounding the city.

When there was no longer enough space, urban expansion continued towards the area west of the Mexico State. Thus, the president seemed to administer the territory surrounding the city as his property or feudal gift, granting pieces of land and giving his name to the new districts. Those less favored in this style of administrating the city were its inhabitants. Because the regent’s overriding responsibility was to the president and as long as he kept the capital under the political control of the ruling part and therefore of his immediate boss, the president, the regent could afford to make numerous policy errors. The people of the city were of no importance, those who were, belonged to the political class.

Today the new elected governments and local congress are expected to implement a more participatory style of democracy in order to legitimize decisions and to listen to people’s opinions; otherwise politicians will pay the price in the ballot box.

Federal agricultural and environmental policies do not operate in the DF because most of the officials working in government offices tend to think that the DF has no countryside. Until the election of our first mayor this was a serious problem because the city’s troubles were always left to the President or the regent to solve. Today citizens expect their officials and representatives in the city government to come up from the local level and to practice participatory governance. Despite these changes, agricultural policy education, research and extension services have followed the pattern of green revolution model at national level, including Mexico City.

The division of the City into two (urban and rural) is probably the central factor affecting the practice of urban agriculture in Mexico City because of the exclusion of the capital city from certain national policies. An example of this is the fact that vaccination campaigns to prevent a number of animal diseases exclude the urban areas of the city because there is no official recognition of animals being kept there. This exclusion from national policies affects both crop and animal production since the federal budget and extension services are non-existent except for a small department of the agriculture ministry which is expected to serve the whole agricultural sector of the DF. The situation became more difficult still for small producers in the DF when the State started deregulating the agricultural sector and began withdrawing from extension and financial services in the 1980s.

The problems facing that the urban producer in Mexico City are different from those affecting urban agriculturalists in developed countries where there are a series of policies in place to encourage production. However, the types of production most commonly promoted include vegetables, culinary and ornamental plants.

Other forms of UA practiced within the MAMC include micro-enterprises which transform primary products such as amaranth into value added goods for consumption in the city (Arellano 2000). There is also a project at the kindergarten for children of employees in the Agrarian Reform Ministry which includes a green rooftop and environmental education (Camacho 2000) while the projects of two NGOs, CICEANA and CEDICAR, include the production of vegetables and culinary plants in empty spaces, backyards and green rooftops (Arroyo 2000).

The many national policies that have affected urban agriculture include the importation of powdered milk from different production centers around the world such as the European Union, the USA, Australia and New Zeeland (Losada et al 2001). In order to supply the inhabitants of Mexico City with cheap milk, huge amounts of this product are imported and distributed through a network of milk stores at cheaper prices than that produced by national herdsmen including those in and around the city. While the policy of distributing accessible products to poor sectors of population certainly helps them to improve their nutritional status, these programs are affecting national and local producers who have to compete with imports on an international scale. Furthermore, the distribution of cheap milk was, in the past, a mechanism used to win the vote of poor sectors of the population.In summary, there is no policy to support the city’s small scale producers regarding technology transfer and the marketing of their produce.

Concerning the application of research and extension programs in the peri-urban areas of Mexico City, at least two large scale projects, the pig farming and the milk production basin of Xochimilco have been failures (Losada et al 1998). These projects were high technology and high external input based and designed to function in big spaces. The pig farms have disappeared and milk production is facing problems of foodstuff supply and markets. On the other hand, small holdings and small producers are still abandoned by the local government and confusion persists as to what kind of policies to put in place. This means deciding whether to continue with the green revolution package or to implement the participatory design of plans aimed at the prevailing kind of producer in Mexico City who is a small scale farmer.

At local government level, few institutions dedicate any efforts to promote agricultural activities within the DF with the exception of the so-called “urban delegations”. Most of the “agricultural” or environmental activities within the DF consist of the planting of millions of trees (which have a survival rate of 20%), the distribution of family packages of improved varieties of animals (poultry and rabbits) and the cultivation of cash crops (the latest case promoted all over the city’s rural areas being mushrooms).

Regarding crop production, the law poses no restriction on this but a policy aimed at promoting this activity has only been pursued by few NGO’s such as CEDICAR.

Recently, SEDEREC (Secretaría de Desarrollo Rural y Equidad para las Comunidades) was set up as an alternative aimed at redefining the Country/City relationship, in order to eliminate rural subordination and to satisfy the requirements needed for the sustainable development of the Federal District’s rural areas (GODF 2011).

The Programa Integral de Desarrollo Rural y Equidad para las Comunidades del 2008 al 2012 provided reglamentary support for rural development within the DF as stipulated in the Reglamento Interior de la Administración Pública del Distrito Federal. Thus, in 2007 the Gaceta Oficial del Distrito Federal (GODF) published the guidelines and support mechanisms for villages, ejidos, communities and organized groups in order to improve infrastructure, promote and draw up alternative tourism projects (rural tourism, ecotourism and adventure tourism) as well as urban agriculture projects.

In 2008, SEDERAC redesigned seven programs to be implemented through the city’s rural development department (Dirección General de Desarrollo Rural): 1) alternative tourism 2) improvement of backyards, 3) urban agriculture, 4) support for agricultural and agro-industrial activities, 5) native crops and herbs, 6) rural women and 7) support for organic production (GODF 2011). In addition, in 2010 it set up an agricultural and rural development program with the following components: support for agricultural production, agro-industry and rural employment along with native crops (maize, amaranth and nopal) as well as the small-scale sustainable agriculture program which included components such as improving backyards.

These actions, in accordance with the city government’s equality policy, have attempted to rebalance the unequal relationship between the rural and urban zones by recognizing and valuing the Distrito Federal’s rural areas.

National and local environmental policies

Like agricultural policies, environmental ones are applied on two levels, national and local. In Mexico environmental policy dates back 32 years when the SEDUE was created (Ecology and Urban Development Ministry) and later transformed into the SEMARNAP (Fisheries, Natural Resources, and Environment Ministry). There is no doubt that a ministry of the environment and natural resources is a sign of a specific policy. However, this office must coordinate its policies with those of other institutions since, as reported by Soriano (2000), policies regarding the environment and agriculture in the so-called rural areas of the City are disarticulated and each government office with functions related to the environment and agriculture designs its own plans without reference to what the others are doing.

Another facet of environmental policies in Mexico City consisted of the implementation of an Ecological Rescue Plan (ERP) in order to preserve the chinampa production area (Stephan-Otto and Slotnik 2001). The first version of the plan was made without consulting local people which caused social mobilizations. This discontent highlighted the existence of an organized civil society and producers who were aware of the environmental, landscape and productive importance of their resources. The second version of the ERP included citizen participation and it was the first time that an environmental plan included agricultural production, landscape and environmental objectives. However, the ERP was limited to a small area of the city and no other integrated plan has been set up since then.

The present government is attempting to implement participatory and integral agendas. However, the results are still to be seen. The lack of a strong environmental culture amongst the inhabitants of Mexico City is, without a doubt, a major obstacle to the practice of urban agriculture.

Urban agriculture based on both individual and collective production, commercial, distribution and self-sufficiency processes leads to an improvement in over all social well-being, fairer income distribution as well as encouraging full participation of society in decision making as it implies changes in the economic paradigm and ensures the conservation of the resources on which society depends. These issues are involved in the commonly used concept of natural resource management, which in the MAMC is of special importance in view of the grave environmental deterioration caused by the existing overpopulation and pollution which require the urgent consolidation of systems that include environmental conservation as a fundamental premise.

Public health

Researchers and policy makers prefer to take the easy way out and support public health arguments for excluding productive animals from the city without solid scientific evidence regarding the danger they present for the population. Besides, researchers, usually trained in green revolution paradigms, do not worry about finding answers to the problems of the urban producers, preferring to concentrate only on those in rural areas with big farms. As for the public health problem, if domestic animals kept for production were a serious problem, then household pets such as cats and dogs greatly outnumber the livestock animal population in Mexico City.

Of these pets, dogs and street cats clearly constitute a bigger health problem since their dejections are left in the streets, public parks, domestic rooftops and other places where the spread of diseases is more likely. A rough estimate of the number of pets living in the MAMC can be based on a population of 20 million people and an average family size of 5 people which yields 4 million of families. A conservative calculation of one pet per family in 50% of the city’s households would provide a rough estimate of 2 million dogs and cats, which clearly represent a bigger health and environmental problem for such a big city.

Although public health grounds might be a good reason to forbid urban agriculture, there is evidence provided by Losada et al (2000b) of signs of corruption in forcing people to abandon dairy production or chinampas in Iztapalapa in order to permit the expansion of the city’s infrastructure and to benefit the real estate, construction and urbanization businesses often owned by politicians or their friends.

In order to organize the city, today local government uses a division that classifies the city’s delegations, or local councils, in rural and urban. A law establishing this division apparently does not exist but the distinction was probably made in order to determine in which delegations urban sprawl would be allowed and thus to provide order in the future growth of the city. This would also help the authorities determine that agriculture worked against the welfare the city and thus, animals should be excluded from urban areas using the weak public health argument.

At delegation level, the presence of animals is considered a health problem, while backyard systems are promoted under certain conditions. The animals permitted are cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep amongst others, but only between two and four animals per family are allowed, assuming that there is sufficient space and that the installations are adequately clean, whitewashed and disinfected, that the dung is collected and disposed of in appropriate places (not including the sewers), and that feedstuffs are hygienic and do not generate fetid smells. One perspective is to consider animals as a source of contamination, a threat to public health and to be restricted to the conditions of urban production. However, many of these problems can be balanced against the advantages that animals pose and it is for this reason that animal production systems in urban areas continue to exist and new ones emerge.

In addition, keeping animals is not permitted in apartments, reduced or closed spaces, residential zones, touristic areas or commercial or crowded zones, that is, almost nowhere (Losada et al 2006). These controversial problems require discernment amongst those involved in the issue in order to consider new ways of looking at raising animals in urban zones, the role of animals and of urban contexts before deciding whether the possession of urban livestock is good, bad or whether it in fact combines both characteristics.

In order to oblige animal owners to respect the established regulations or, if not, to get rid of them, the delegations can call on an extensive legal framework. Health legislation includes a wide variety of regulations which, for internal reasons, the delegation authorities keep under restricted access; what are available for consultation are summarized versions included in the environmental legislation.

The initial phase of restrictive legislation was the decree published in the Diario Oficial de la Federation (DOF) on the 15 November, 1957, which states that it is forbidden to keep farm animals in the urban zone of Mexico City. In view of the fact that the keeping of animals is not correctly typified and that ambiguities were caused by this decree, restrictions are based on the violation of the laws and norms presented in tales 2 and 3.

Table 2. Official regulations violated by keeping animals in Iztapalapa




Standardized method for the evaluation of agents threatening
health, as a result of environmental agents



Cheese whey and relevant health controls



Health regulations and the pasteurization of milk



Sanitary processes for dairy products



Handling of fresh, matured and processed cheeses.



Table 3. Laws broken by the presence of animals in the delegation of Iztapalapa


Date of publication

General Health Law and later modifications.*

6 November, 1984

7 November,1984

23 July, 1986

27 May, 1987

23 December, 1987

21 October, 1988

Ref. DOF

18 November, 1988

14 June, 1991

12 July,1991

17 May, 1997

General Law on Public Health Law*

7 January,1974

31 December, 1974

3 January, 1975

31 December, 1979

Health Law for the DF*

15 January, 1987

General Law on Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection*

28 January,1988

13 December,1996

Decrees and Conventions

13 January, 1987

Convention signed on:*

Decree on Epizootics

Decree pertaining to Farm Animals*

Convention on Phyto-sanitary Protection*

7 November, 1950

15 November, 1954

16 July,1976

Federal Regulation on Safety, Hygiene, and the Environment, Explanation:*

20 January, 1997

21 January,1997

Federal Law on Animal Health Chap. 1, Articles. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15; Chap. IV, Articles. 18, 19, 20

Law on Livestock Organizations, Heading IV, Articules. 51, 52

Law on Agriculture

*Published in the Diario Oficial de la Federación.

In the MACM, as in other Latin American cities where UA is carried out, most producers find themselves in an irregular situation as animal raising and commercialization is an unregulated activity, thwart with legal imprecisions and restrictions with respect to its development in territorial and urban development ordinances as well as public actions aimed at disordered eradication despite the lack of clear norms with respect to its practice. As a result, these production systems are vulnerable (Castro et al 2007). The problem of zoonosis falls between two ministries, Health (SSA) and Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA). In the former, priority is given to the most urgent and visible problems while in the latter, in general services are related more to issues of markets, commerce and production in which problems other than zoonosis are more important.

International policy on Urban Agriculture

With respect to the development of a new coherence, although agriculture is present, the logic of urban operation is still dominant, with a permanent tendency to spill over into the rural space. Thus, all non-urbanized territory near the city is potentially the object of annexation if only for its real estate value (Ávila 2009).

Some UA projects in post-industrial cities challenge the appropriateness of present land management policies by reinventing the urban landscape and experimenting with radical alternatives to the neoliberal capitalist organization of urban life (Tornaghi 2014). Recent studies on UA show a very strong connection between urban farmers, ethical activists and food security movements (Tornaghi 2014) and those responsible for policy and the activists in the field of food systems consider UA as a means of improving food problems which implies a reconceptualization of production and consumption (Clark et al 2010).

Peri-urbanization is a worldwide reality and in Latin America each country has its own particular characteristics. In this context, important experiences in Central America, Africa and South America are being taken into account (Ávila 2009). Due to the pressures of local development and of the world agribusiness system, peri-urban farms are in a favorable position, as they can take advantage of the regional scale that is inaccessible to the world markets, that is take advantage of the development and interests of peri-urban residents.

The regionalization of food production systems presents a solution to the challenges faced by communities and farmers in a globalized food system. However, Clark et al (2010) show that farmers who have the will and the capacity to adapt to a regionalized food system are under-rated due to negative social connotations and social relations with respect to agriculture which is a historical reflection of regional basic production.

Despite recent achievements in a number of cities, according to the American Planning Association, few local governments have included urban agriculture on their planning agendas and only 9% of cities and counties have included these elements in their over-all plans. The Planning Council and the Sustainability Program of the State of Massachusetts carried out work with foundations, government agencies and community organizations focused on sustainability on all levels (Hodgson 2012).

In In cities of Oakland and California a new generation of urban residents in the urban homesteading movement regularly slaughter chickens and rabbits on a small scale in their backyards for food. This practice has awoken strong feelings and there is public discussion over the “the right place” for meat production (Pollock et al 2012; Blecha and Davis 2014).

Laws on backyard hen-raising in urban environments at present in force in North America vary from one jurisdiction to another. The worries about the negative impacts on public health and community well-being include infectious diseases acquired through these practices or egg consumption, inadequate waste management, interaction with pests and predators and nuisances (noise and odors), while the benefits proposed stem from the human-animal contact and feelings of food self-sufficiency (Pollock et al 2012).

“Green cities” with a humanistic sense should protect the freedoms and sensibilities of their residents, as well as understanding the underlying discourses and values involved in the disputes over backyard slaughtering (Blecha and Davis 2014).

In the field of policy, we can observe a disconnection between access to land, food production and patterns of food consumption. While in some urban zones, the cultivation of food is present as more that a political document in UK cities such as London, Bristol or Brighton, there are localities where this approach is very irregular. In Leeds, while the local council actively promotes urban agriculture, its climate change strategy does not mention food waste, food production or strategies with respect to urban food produce (Tornaghi 2014).

According to Allen (2010) Chicago’s Advisory Council on Food Policies is working on urban agriculture as a key in the recuperation of a system of values on the land and based on the ecology and in communities that produce and distribute their own food, the fundamental principle is the sovereignty of land and water.

British society separates gardening (a leisure activity) and agriculture which is fully delegated with the production of food and in the documents of the research and advisory agency of the Government of the United Kingdom, urban agriculture does not appear, not even as a remote possibility (Tornaghi 2014).

Unfortunately, zoning regulations often involuntarily forbid the most basic agricultural activities. Voigt (2011) examined the impact of local zoning regulations on urban agriculture and suggests that if a local government wants to encourage urban agriculture it can use zoning regulations as a responsible way of promoting this practice.

In general, the most important motors in the political process are the support of the community and local governments. There is also a need to accompany the adoption and implementation of political tools to fill the existing gaps, along with education and sensitizing the public, the creation of inventories of land available for urban agriculture, the incorporation of urban agriculture into the development process, focusing on its commercial potential. It is encouraging that, despite the many challenges that have to overcome, we find that there are many opportunities for local governments to consider when creating better local urban agriculture policies and tools in order to improve the urban food system (Huang and Drescher 2015).

Although current political discourses used to describe the benefits of urban agriculture as an opportunity for city dwellers to reconnect with food production, we need to take a closer look at the way in which these initiatives are becoming, directly or indirectly, new tools or justifications for a new wave of capital accumulation, of economic growth led by the privatization of the urban environment and disinvestment in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Tornaghi (2014) identifies potential dynamics of exclusion or hidden objectives which reveal how regressive or neoliberal agendas, new forms of enclosures, or the reproduction of an unequal society can become real through urban agricultural projects.

Final remarks

Urban agriculture is practiced in many countries around the world where there are policies and planning councils in relation to this activity. Despite being a place where urban agriculture has well structured and practiced for a long time, there is a lack of a coordinated policy and planning in relation to this activity in Mexico City that probably looks more complex due to its location within an urban area of influence. It is necessary for local governments to implement local policies based on the participation of producers which take into account the specific cultural, landscape and environmental conditions of the city. Although there are several institutions responsible for the different aspects commented on in this paper, there is no communication between them. It will be necessary for them to coordinate their interventions if they want to contribute to a more sustainable city.

On the basis of positive experiences around the world, it is possible to introduce considerations of sustainability in urban and peri-urban animal keeping in places where the population is socio-economically depressed. It will be necessary to quantify each one of the goods and services provided by urban agriculture in order to obtain political support, decide which areas of land to protect and to establish points of reference for rural and urban services. The theoretical approaches should analyze and identify a specific policy to question what urban agriculture projects propose to do, the current mechanisms used to assign land, the present configuration of land distribution as well as the competing demands for land or the external effects on the environment.


The authors would like to thank the authorities of the UAM Iztapalapa for the facilities provided for the writing of this paper and also project 144 12 153 (No. 913025) Fortalecimiento de Cuerpos Académicos, PROMEP Program.


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Received 5 February 2015; Accepted 10 April 2015; Published 1 August 2015

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