Adjustment and Poverty in Mexican Agriculture: How Farmers' Wealth Affects Supply Response
August 1995 By and large, it appears that the goals of agricultural reform are being met in Mexico. But measures such as decoupling income supports and price supports or reorienting research and extension could help farmers who cannot afford access to machinery and purchased inputs and services. López, Nash, and Stanton report the results of a study of Mexican farm households using 1991 survey data and a smaller resurvey of some of the same households in 1993. One study goal was to empirically examine the relationship between assets and the output supply function. Using a production model focusing on capital as a productive input, they found that both the supply level and the responsiveness (elasticities) to changing input and output prices tend to depend on the farmer's net assets and on how productive assets are used. Regression analysis using data from the surveys shows that farmers who use productive assets such as machinery tend to be positively responsive to price changes, while those with no access to such assets are not. Another study goal was to monitor the condition of Mexican farmers in a rapidly changing policy environment. The 1991 survey data suggest that farmers with more limited use of capital inputs (the low-CI group) were more likely to grow principally corn and to grow fewer crops, on average, than the others. They also had more problems getting credit and were less likely to use purchased inputs, such as seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides, or to use a tractor to prepare the soil. They tended to be less well-educated, and their land tended to be of lower quality. Results from the panel data showed conditions generally improving for the average farmer in the sample area between 1991 and 1993, during a period when agricultural reforms were implemented. Cropping patterns were more diversified, the average size of landholdings increased, the average farmer received more credit (in real terms), more farm households earned income from off-farm work, and more farmers used purchased inputs. Asset ownership and educational attainment also improved modestly. The very small low-CI group in this sample fared as well as, or better than, the other groups. True, their level of educational achievement fell, and fewer of them had off-farm income than in 1991. But their use of credit, irrigation, machinery, and purchased inputs increased more than for other groups. The limited data are not proof of a causal link, but the fact that the goals are being met should at least ensure that adverse conditions are not undermining reform. Farmers that lacked access to productive assets did not respond as well to incentives or take advantage of the opportunities presented by reform and may need assistance, particularly to get access to credit markets. There may be a good argument for decoupling income supports from price supports for farmers, since income payments that are independent of the vagaries of production could provide a more stable signal of creditworthiness than price supports do. Possibly reorienting research and extension services more to the needs of low-CI producers could also improve the efficiency with which the sector adjusts to new incentives. Hypotheses and tentative conclusions from this study will be explored further when more data are collected in 1995. This paper---a product of the International Trade Division, International Economics Department---is part of a larger effort in the department to investigate the effects of international trade policy on individual producers. The study was funded by the Bank's Research Support Budget under the research project Rural Poverty and Agriculture in Mexico: An Analysis of Farm Decisions and Supply Responsiveness (RPO 678-23).