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Mexico: Land Tenure
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Agriculture > Land Tenure


During the first decade of the twentieth century, peasants began to agitate for the return of communal and private lands seized by large-scale commercial producers since the 1870s. The desire to recover lost lands motivated many peasants to join the Revolution that began in 1910. On January 6, 1915, General Venustiano Carranza began the agrarian reform process by decreeing the immediate return to their original owners of all communal lands improperly seized since 1856. Carranza, who became president in 1917, also decreed that previously landless villages receive title to lands expropriated from private hacienda owners or to excess government land. These principles were later incorporated into Article 27 of the constitution of 1917.

The constitution established three different forms of land tenure in Mexico: private, public, and social. Social property was further subdivided into communal (in southern Mexico) and ejido.

Article 27 and subsequent legislation established the ejido, or communal landholding, as the primary form of land tenure in Mexico.

Agrarian reform sharply increased the proportion of Mexico's arable land held by minifundistas (smallholders). The share of total crop land held by large estates fell from 70 percent in 1923 to 29 percent by 1960, while that held by small farms of fewer than five hectares rose from 7 percent in 1930 to more than 33 percent by the 1980s. Between 1924 and 1984, the government expropriated and redistributed more than 77 million hectares of large-estate land, amounting to more than one-third of the national territory.

Declining agricultural production and mounting food imports moved President Salinas finally to address the root cause of the problem, the land tenure system. In 1991 Salinas announced a constitutional reform of the ejido and land distribution systems intended to overcome the low productivity resulting from the fragmentation of ejido farming units, of which 58 percent contained five hectares or fewer. A reform of land tenure rules in February 1992 gave Mexico's 3 million ejidatarios formal title to their land, enabling them to lease or sell their plots if a majority of members of their ejido agreed. No further land would be distributed, and joint ventures with private capital were legalized and encouraged. The reforms sought to reverse the trend toward smaller and less productive farming units and stimulate rural investment by allowing ejidatarios to use their holdings as collateral for raising capital. Implementation was hampered, however, by delays in conducting the necessary land surveys of ejidos prior to transfer of title, as well as by other factors.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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