Mexico: the greenhouses of the Tierras Amarillas

How growing food brought a solution to the indigenous Wixáritari community’s many problems

At work in one of the indigenous community’s greenhouses. ©FAO/Luis Mérida


For as long as he could remember, Benito González from western Mexico had struggled to make ends meet and lived on the margin of society. As many indigenous peoples – anywhere – do.

His life started to change for the better in 2016, when the Government of Mexico and FAO made it possible for Benito and others in his community to grow their own food.

They started off with a 200-square-metre greenhouse, a drip irrigation system, and a 5 000-cubic-meter water tank.

Now, eight greenhouses are filled with bustling rows of tomatoes, serrano and jalapeño peppers, cucumbers, cabbages, zucchinis and green beans.

Members of the Wixáritari community pose for a photo next to their greenhouses. (left) ©FAO/Luis Mérida. The water tanks that make growing vegetables possible in Tierras Amarillas. ©FAO/Luis Mérida

Benito – a Wixáritari (which means “the people” in his native Wixárika language) - lives in Tierras Amarillas (Yellow Lands), a small, mountainous town where arable land and resources to make land productive are scarce.

Close to half of the population in his municipality - Mezquitic, in Jalisco state – lives in extreme poverty, and communities here are amongst the most marginalized in the country.

As jobs are hard to find and people lack access to basic services and amenities (including health, education, drinking water and decent housing), many were forced in the past to rely on social programmes and seek temporary work far from home.

Benito, for example, used to go to the city of Guzmán, over 400 kilometres away, to work as a day labourer in the large greenhouses whenever there was work there.

Benito and his wife tending to tomatoes in one of the community’s greenhouses. ©FAO/Luis Mérida

“I learnt how to grow tomatoes there. Now that we have our own greenhouses, a great need has been filled. We are far from big towns and there has been no else here selling vegetables before,” says Benito.

What he means is that no one in his area has been able before to grow enough food to feed their families, let alone sell it. Instead, they had to pay a lot of money for food brought in by external traders. If they couldn’t afford it, it was not unusual for families to go without enough food for days.

Now, they grow enough food for consumption but also to sell, so they can cover other needs. From growing four kilogrammes of vegetables per square metre before the start of the project to 16 kilogrammes per square metre in 2017, the production has continued to increase to this day.

Benito and other men in his community no longer need to migrate to bigger towns, men and women get along better as they work together and share responsibilities, and children are healthier as they eat more nutritious food.

Most farming in Mexico is done by family farmers, and over a quarter of family farmers are indigenous peoples like Benito González.

The FAO-supported project - Strategic Food Security Project (or PESA as it’s known in Mexico) – is just one example of initiatives benefitting both marginalized communities and family farmers as the United Nations agency and its partners call for greater support for family farmers, especially in developing countries, through the United Nations’ Decade of Family Farming launched earlier this year.

The project is also helping to reach several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG1 – ending poverty, SDG2 – Zero Hunger, SDG8 - economic growth, employment and decent work for all, and SDG10 – reducing inequality.

Benito y su familia ahora producen jitomates para su comunidad

Learn more:

1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 10. Reduced inequalities