Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Chinampas Agricultural System in Mexico City

GIAHS since 2017


Detailed Information



Global Importance

Chinampa system is an historical system adapted to face hydrologic and climatic constraints and the pressure by the high city’s food demand. The chinampa farmers have been able to handle certain balance between the sustained yield and the environmental and technological management factors. This ecosystem performance has been based on the biological stability improvement, including sophisticated farming methods such as multiple cropping and shift of crops.

The chinampas keep their world, domestic and local contemporary significance because they represent not only a historical vestige or an

agroecological model in the management, conservation and resource use but also because the chinampas, as a kind of urban agriculture, include a geographical diversification of agricultural production based on continuous technological changes for every kind of farming, which encompass responses to the water needs, the farming nutritional status, phytosanitary needs, and to the weather conditions of these ones.

Food and livelihood security

The chinampa system has been an intensive farming method, expanding local food production through technological innovation has brought new land under cultivation and increased labor inputs. This efficient production form enabling intensive cultivation throughout the year has been one of the main activities that have supported the regional economy. However, instead of depending on state protection or the market, or the strict application of technological innovation and capital investment, human settlements on the chinampas zone with the more resilience have been those which have shown a fair distribution of property and a power balanced distribution among the groups of social regional interests.


It is possible to affirm that the management of the vegetation in the chinampas by the local producers, which comprises 51 domesticated species, is an example of a process of evolution of the agrodiversity, which also includes 96 non domesticated species, which are used as fodder crops (67%), medicinal (20%) and food (13%).

It has been estimated that over the centuries, the production profile of the chinampas was transformed from a milpa production, where the maize was the main crop (Varadero chalqueño) and Mesoamerican vegetables (chile, tomato, squash, chilacayote and tomato) to a diversification and incorporation of species of diverse botanical nature of different social and commercial value that have offered to the chinampa producer greater options, as well as a better adaptation of its means of production to the environmental conditions and the commercial demands of the urban market of the City of Mexico.

Indeed, Chinampa system not only gathers a high agrobiodiversity linked to the crops but also forms a habitat for the aquatic biodiversity. The surfaces of the channels and small ponds are often covered with aquatic communities giving hideouts for birds and little animals.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The chinampas are a kind of wetland raised-field agriculture composed by small islands in strips, built with the sediments from the lake bottom, branches and decaying vegetation, creating a web of channels. The channels form part of the irrigation system and have an average depth of 1.5 meters.

The construction of a Chinampa is based on several steps which include: Outlining the limits of the chinampa in order to outline the perimeter of the chinampa, large ahuejote branches and stalks are cut, Building the chinampa's structure by fixing a robust structure around the stakes and then Forming the chinampa soil by filling the chinampa with two layers of soil, one with organic matter and one made out of sludge.

The cultivation of the several crops is based on an agroforestry and intercropped systems. In addition, the soil fertility is secured by constant organic matter inputs through the incorporation of aquatic vegetation, which subtracts the rhythm of the eutrophication processes of water bodies (channels and lagoons) that have no impact on the trophic levels of the chinampas agricultural system.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

The cultural practices, as in civic and religious parties and the cultural products same ones associated with chinampas activities, manifest beliefs and worldviews that nourish popular piety and feed off of it at the same time. The rituals and the popular and regional parties on the site, over the centuries, have come to established forms and systems of identity and unity within neighborhoods, chinampas, towns, and extended families.

Both equitable distribution of social power as well as community respect for private ownership of the chinampas, have been the underlying conditions in developing chinampa livelihoods, which has allowed favorable conditions emerge with high participation rates, within the local social fabric and under the setting of hierarchical relationships between the rural and the urban. In this sense, the specific strategies of livelihood developed in the chinampa system have given people the freedom and space to choose their own fate and evolution - which has meant that chinampa farmers are not necessarily dependent on one of containment strategies to change processes, such as the urbanization regional process, but they have been able to consolidate strong capabilities of combining different agroecological strategies in search of food systems and achieving optimal conditions for their suburban resilient livelihoods.

Landscapes and seascapes features

The chinampa agricultural system of the lake area of Xochimilco represents a multifunctional activity complementary to the urban dynamics of Mexico City that fulfills integral objectives of socioenvironmental sustainability, which include the satisfaction of the needs of social and economic welfare the local and regional population

In addition to its extensive biological wealth, the chinampa agroecosystems of the five zones, which are located on permanent wetlands within a closed sub-basin, provide important ecosystem services to urban and peri-urban area.

Its agroforestry elements and the channels, which are between 4 and 6 m average width that are used as means of transport navigated by canoes and trajineras, loaded with goods, farmers and tourists compose the chinampas landscape.

They serve to control flooding when excess water in the rainy season is diverted from Mexico City, working as vessels of regulation. Also, the humidity generated by the water deposited in the canals and wetlands, and evapotranspiration of vegetation, promotes the climate to be more humid, the most compact soil and less aggressive wind erosion in the microclimate of the southern zone city.