Selling Maize in Mexico: The Persistence of Peasant Farming in an Era of Global Markets


  • Hallie Eakin,

  • Hugo Perales,

  • Kirsten Appendini,

  • Stuart Sweeney

  • The research presented in this manuscript was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant No. 0826871. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. We acknowledge the comments of anonymous reviewers, which substantially improved the manuscript. We greatly appreciate the support of our collaborators, Maria Guadalupe Quijada, Jose Luis Armenta and Julia Bausch in the data collection process.


The last decade of the twentieth century was heralded as the ‘end of agrarian reform’ in Mexico and the initiation of a new era of market-led agricultural policy and practice. The impact of neoliberalism and the North American Free Trade Agreement on smallholder maize production has been widely conceived as negative, associated with ecological degradation, rural emigration and cultural erosion. Yet, some twenty years later, all evidence suggests that smallholder maize production is continuing in Mexico, albeit in evolving structures and forms. This article uses a farm-level survey implemented in three Mexican states to assess the current condition of maize farming in Mexico. The authors revisit past categorizations of Mexican farmers and apply similar approaches to explore what maize-producing households are doing with their maize, and what current patterns of production imply for future Mexican maize policy. They find evidence of greater persistence and adaptability in Mexican maize farming than is often presented. On the basis of their analysis, they advocate for a reconsideration of the underlying assumptions of public policy, highlighting the heterogeneity of the maize landscape and the unrealized and generally unrecognized potential this heterogeneity represents.