Livestock Research for Rural Development 9 (3) 1997

Citation of this paper

The rapid appraisal of the geographical influence of the market of Xochimilco in the south-east of Mexico City


H Losada, R Pealing*, R Soriano, J Rivera, J Cortés, J Vieyra and H Martínez

Animal Production Systems Area, Departament of Biology of Reproduction, Division of Biological and Health Sciences, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa. Av. Michoacán y la Purisíma. Col. Vicentina. Iztapalpa. C.P. 09340. México DF (E-mail:
(*Researcher from UK sponsored by the interchange CONACYT-British Council).


A survey was carried out to evaluate the use of a local market as a method to assess its geographical region of influence. Interviews were made with the casual tradesmen linked to local processes of production. In total 332 commodities were identified, which were grouped into 11 families. There was a clear predominance of agricultural products. The spatial distribution of the commodities allowed the definition of three regions of influence. The method is discussed in terms of the commercial fluxes, and precedence of the area.

Key words: Mexico, local market, geographical region, casual tradesman


Within the concept of sustainable agricultural production systems, one of the problems that confronts the researcher is a description and interpretation of the landscape, and in particular those forms of production that retain a regional link reflecting the physical, technical, social, economic and cultural features of the area (Arriaga et al 1992). Although some researchers have proposed the use of physical, biotic and economic criteria (Morgan and Munton 1975; Guyon 1981; Parra et al 1982), to date a reliable and rapid method that can address this problem has not been found. As well as the development of ethnobotanical studies, some researchers have proposed the study of local markets as indicators of the ecological environment (Eder 1975; Pare 1975; Torres et al 1982). This has proved to be an adequate methodology. Within this context, the markets of Mexico form part of a very important cultural tradition, particularly within the indigenous zones of the country. This tradition dates back to the pre-hispanic era, where the market structure was utilised as a meeting place to exchange goods and knowledge amongst the producers of the area (Acosta et al 1975). This was reinforced during the colonial period, through the introduction of a wider range of primary materials, tools, weights and measures, and forms of use, originating from the hispano-arabic tradition, and which still maintains its influence (Romero 1990). The market of Xochimilco, located in the south-east of Mexico City, represents an obvious example of an agronomic culture. It brings together a wide range of goods originating from the production models of the area (Losada et al 1993).

The objective of this current work was to study the market of Xochimilco as a regional indicator, within its zone of influence.


The procedure that was used to carry out the research was that of capturing information through the development of a system of interviews with the market tradesmen of Xochimilco, aimed at ascertaining the range of commodities on sale and their origin (ie: from the region or from neighbouring areas). The type of tradesman chosen was the casual tradesman, since previous observations of the research group had defined them as small scale producers and/or intermediaries linked to local processes or production. This allowed a significant reduction in the physical area of the market. The classification of the commodities was carried out in accordance with the type of product (eg: vegetables, grains etc.), following an anthropocentric model (Torres et al 1982) extended to other classifications, which allowed an improved definition of the product and sector of origin. The data obtained was grouped, and the regions of influence were defined through a process of arbitrary spatial graphics, using the identified delegations, municipalities and states as the geographic boundaries of the possible regions. The work was carried out over a period of approximately eight months, during which the procedure described was repeated a minimum of three times.



In total, 332 commodities were identified, which were grouped, by common characteristics, into 11 families (see table 1).

As might be expected, there was a clear predominance of agricultural products, their total exceeding that of all the other products put together (see table 2). In a similar way, the majority of the products were retailed fresh to be processed later, although a significant percentage supplied processed goods such as meals. The regional system of production that was found fell broadly into 5 agricultural models: chinampa, terraced, kitchen garden or orchard, backyard and industrialised production (Rojas 1990).

The spatial distribution of the commodities allowed the definition of 3 regions of influence, using the number of considered products as criteria for establishing their potential boundaries (see table 3). The first of these corresponds to the region of Xochimilco, which includes the political delegations of Xochimilco, Tlahuac, Milpa Alta and Tlalpan; the second encompasses municipalities in the state of Mexico (Chalco, Ozumba, Zumpango, Tlalmanalco, Amecameca, Ecatsingo, Tepetlixpa, Villa Guerrero, Metepec, Huixquilucan and Toluca) and in the states of Puebla, Queretaro, Hidalgo and Tlaxcala; and the final region includes parts of the states of Morelos and Guerrero.


The data obtained from this current work helped to identify some interesting features for discussion, relating to both the method applied for capturing information, as well as to the definition of the geographical spaces of influence.

According to the data reported in the available literature (Acosta et al 1975), the market in Xochimilco, like other commercial centres of Mexico, has maintained a pre-hispanic commercial structure based on two types of tradesmen, the first is dedicated exclusively to commerce, the second type is represented by the casual or minority tradesman linked to the processes of production. This current work made a positive decision to focus on the casual tradesmen, with the purpose of reducing the size of the sample and permitting the definition of geographic spaces. Nevertheless, in practice this proved sufficiently complex, with high numbers of casual tradesmen (64% of the total), their improved mobility, as well as by the fact that a significant percentage retail similar products - all of which made the collection of data difficult. These problems were compounded by a reluctance of the tradesmen to give accurate information, with researchers frequently being confused for tax inspectors.

According to the available literature (Torres et al 1982), duplication of products has been found to be one of the major problems in collecting information, but, to date there is no clear concept which allows a quantification of this phenomenon regarding the definition of the region of influence. In the particular case of this work, the tradesmen interviewed were selected by chance, based on the criteria of availability and type of product, with all other tradesmen with similar products being eliminated. It is possible to argue that this adaptation of the established method might introduce a margin of error, with the consideration of one single origin for a defined product changing the spatial design. However, it is reasonable to believe that this is likely to have a greater effect on the production model than on the spatial classification.

Market activities associated with livestock, in contrast, were limited to the availability of animals. The main source of animals was considered to be from backyard production (principally poultry and pigs) and sheep production, while there was a notable absence of large species (such as specialised cattle for dairy or meat production) and working animals despite their presence in the region (as systems linked to agricultural models). A possible explanation for their absence from the market could be related to spatial restrictions within the market and the non-existence of adequate 'installations' to facilitate the direct sale of large animals. This has led to a market place dominated by small species. It is interesting to note that these 'installations' did at one time exist, but were lost with extensive modifications to meet the demand to sell 'fixed' products such as fruit and vegetables. Similarly, the supply of products originating from the forestry sector has diminished, and is now restricted to materials of regional use (poles for brooms and maguey leaves for the preparation of barbecues), fuels (firewood, ocote [resinous wood] and charcoal) and products for ornamental uses (potting compost).

One of the reasons for this could be the legal restrictions imposed to reduce exploitation of the forests within the region (Sanchez 1985), which is reflected in the low availability of forestry products in the Xochimilco market in comparison to other markets in Mexico (Pare 1975).

The presence of goods from home industries, such as prepared foods, revealed the marked influence of the environment and the cultural components of the region; for example, the lacustrine products originating from the region of Xochimilco, or from the valley-lake complex (Zampango) and/or from neighbouring hydrological basins (Michoacan, Anon 1985).

The definition of the regions of influence of the products from the market of Xochimilco showed an interaction with the environment, and with the historical evolution in the forms of social relations of the region. Although the method used to define the geographic framework was arbitrary - not allowing the identification of a producer's base within a delimited space (delegation, municipality and/or state) - its potential delimitation of the producers identified in the market demonstrated a strong link with environmental and socio-economic conditions of the region of influence (see table 3).

The majority of the identified products originated from temperate and cold climates (Garcia 1973), which directly relates them to the primary region of influence (the delegations of Xochimilco, Tlahuac, Milpa Alta and Tlalpan), or to neighbouring zones of similar climate (in the states of Mexico, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Hidalgo and Queretero), which through a complex system of commercial flows makes possible the working of the market, as has been reported in the literature about other zones (Steward 1973; Torres et al 1982). An inconsistency with this surmise is suggested by the presence in the market of products originating from tropical zones, particularly from the states of Veracruz, Tabasco, Morelos and Guerrero, such as was identified in this study. This phenomenon, however, rather than introducing a confusing element, could be used to confirm the hypothesis of commercial flows (Eder 1975) since it is known that during the pre-hispanic era, the region of influence of Xochimilcan culture included part of the state of Morelos (Tlayacapan, Totolapan, Nepopualco and Atlatlaucan, Palerm and Wolf 1972; Rojas 1990) that permitted an entrance (and exit) route to the tropical regions of Morelos and Guerrero, and consequently to the products originating from these zones.

It is clear, therefore, that the heterogeneity reported in the range of products which flow to the market of Xochimilco, maintains a common cultural/environmental axis which has allowed the identification of the region of influence.


The authors wish to thank the students of the Animal Production option: González R, Lima A, Santos C and Villar A who helped with the field work; the authorities of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Autonomous Metropolitan University) for facilities given to the research and tradesmen of Xochimilco`s market for the information.


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Received 12 June 1997

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