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Textual: análisis del medio rural latinoamericano

versión On-line ISSN 2395-9177versión impresa ISSN 0185-9439

Textual anál. medio rural latinoam.  no.71 Chapingo ene./jun. 2018 

Social movements and rural culture

Evaluation of the contribution of agricultural cooperatives to the construction of six national irrigation systems during the period 1926-1936

Juan José Rojas Herrera1  * 

Inés Rojas Herrera2 

1Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, Departamento de Sociología Rural,km 38.5 Carretera México-Texcoco, C.P. 56230, Chapingo, Texcoco Estado de México.

2Egresada del Doctorado en Educación Agrícola Superior de la UACh. México.


This article describes a good part of the scientific, technological and social processes that demanded the construction of the architectural and social infrastructure of the National Irrigatión Systems during the decade between 1926 and 1936. It is a huge effort of technological and social innovation that required the participation of both North American and national engineering. In the case of the latter, it represents a colosal challenge and, at the same time, a great opportunity for advancement in technical specialization.

Likewise, in this work it is revealed that next to the imposing hidraulic work of the National Irrigation Systems, the federal government promoted the agricultural cooperativism as an ideal form of social organization withing these systems with the purpose of carrying out the agrarian distribution and the modernization of agriculture at regional and national level.

The cooperative proposal that the State sought to apply in the National Irrigation Systems was supported by previous work on legislation in the matter, which granted legal status to the cooperative associations. Similary, it was encouraged by the recognition of the archievements of cooperative societies in various regions of the country and by access to information from other countries. Regrettably, the government stimulus did not have an opportunity over time and, despite the positive results obteined, itr was not possible to achieve the full consolidation of these self-managing experiences.

Keywords: Agricultural Cooperativism; irrigation; hidraulic works; social solidarity; agricultural engineering


En este artículo se describe una buena parte de los procesos científicos, tecnológicos y sociales que demandó la construcción de la infraestructura arquitectónica y social de los Sistemas Nacionales de Riego durante la década que transcurre entre 1926 y 1936. Se trata de un enorme esfuerzo de innovación tecnológica y social que requirió de la participación tanto de la ingeniería norteamericana como de la nacional. En el caso de ésta última representó un reto colosal y, al mismo tiempo, una gran oportunidad para el avance en la especialización técnica.

Así mismo, en este trabajo se pone de manifiesto como al lado de la imponente obra hidráulica de los Sistemas Nacionales de Riego, el gobierno federal promovió el cooperativismo agrícola como forma idónea de organización social al interior de estos sistemas con el propósito de llevar a cabo el reparto agrario y la modernización de la agricultura a nivel regional y nacional.

La propuesta cooperativista que el Estado buscó aplicar en los Sistemas Nacionales de Riego, fue sustentada por un trabajo previo de legislación en la materia, que otorgó personalidad jurídica a las asociaciones cooperativas. De igual modo, fue alentada por el reconocimiento de los logros de las sociedades cooperativas en diversas regiones del país y por el acceso a información proveniente de otros países. Lamentablemente el estímulo gubernamental no tuvo continuidad en el tiempo y, a pesar de los resultados positivos obtenidos, no fue posible alcanzar la plena consolidación de estas experiencias autogestivas.

Palabras clave: Cooperativismo agropecuario; Irrigación; obras hidráulicas; solidaridad social; ingeniería agrícola


At the end of the Mexican Revolution and during the 20’s and 40’s, a period of un precedented social, political and economic reorganization began for Mexico and the Mexicans. In the agricultural field, national policy focused on complying with the demands made by producers, such as: land distribution, better living and working conditions for rural inhabitants and agricultural development through an ambitious irrigation program. In this framework, among the most distinguished scholars and technicians of the time, a kind of consensus developed around the idea that irrigation works had to be the object of a far-reaching program and fulfill a social and transformative function of Mexican agriculture in terms that went beyond the orbit of private initiative that had prevailed during the Porfirio Díaz presidency (Echeverría, 1954:82-83 ).

This idea had been brewing since 1916 when irrigation works began on behalf of the State, since it was during the Government of Venustiano Carranza, First Chief of the Constitutional Executive, when the Water Directorate was created, appointing as its director the engineer Ignacio López Bancalar, under whose initiative the activities of his office were divided into two large departments, namely:

  1. The Department of Concessions. Responsible for dealing with public requests regarding the granting of concessions or confirmations and, in general, to process and inspect the exercise of federal water rights, and

  2. The Irrigation Department. In charge of conducting, for the first time in his tory, a study of the nation’s water resources in order to use the resulting data as a basis for forming the State’s irrigation policy, within the very limited economic possibilities of that time.

To comply with the aforementioned task, the position of Head of the Irrigation Department was awarded to engineer Jesús Oropesa, who joined the National Irrigation Commission service as a Technical Supervisor in the Río Salado project, which would later become Irrigation District No. 4: Río Salado (Echeverría, 1954: 82-83 ).

In 1921, the Irrigation Department was raised to the category of Irrigation Directorate, entrusting it, more broadly, with the study of the problems inherent to the coordinated and efficient use of federally-owned waters destined to the irrigation of lands that, either because of a lack of rain or the irregularity of precipitation, did not allow its application to agriculture in an efficient and secure way. The new Irrigation Directorate carried out in-depth studies of very important irrigation projects, but they never came to fruit at that time due to the prevailing budgetary restrictions, given the large amount of investments required in a State irrigation program (Echeverría, 1954: 82-83).

Therefore, it was not surprising that, in 1923, for organizational and economic reasons, the Irrigation Directorate was abolished and incorporated into the Water Directorate in the form of the Department of Regulation and Irrigation. As a result, irrigation project studies were practically halted, as only the hydrological service was kept.

However, the need to establish a public agency dealing exclusively with irrigation projects remained dormant, so, in January 1926, the Congress of the Union promul gated the Federal Water Irrigation Law, which gave rise to the establishment of the National Irrigation Commission, an institution that, from that year, was in charge of the construction of the National Irrigation Systems’ water infrastructure, whose settlers, under the auspices of the federal government, were distinguished by the peculiarity of living under the ideals of cooperatives and, consequently, adopted the figure of agricultural cooperatives for the organization of work.

Under this conceptual and historical framework, the general aim of this study was to contribute to our knowledge of the history of cooperatives in Mexico by studying the experiences of cooperative settlement that took place within the National Irrigation Systems during the decade between 1926 and 1936. The guiding questions of the research carried out were the following: What national economic, political, social, agricultural and population problems did the establishment and formation of the National Irrigation Systems respond to?; What were the theoretical and empirical reasons that led the federal government to promote cooperates in these irrigation centers?; What was the effective participation of the State and the settlers in the social solidarity actions taken?; What were the main challenges faced in their implementation?; and What was the actual importance of this historical experience? The paragraphs in which this paper is divided and ordered correspond to each of the questions set forth.

The methodology followed in this study was that of Social History and it was considered essential to describe the context that allows explaining how and under what conditions the construction of the National Irrigation Systems and the formation of agricultural cooperatives among their settlers were possible.

In this work, several issues of the Irrigación en México journal, which was the official dissemination organ of the National Irrigation Commission, were used as reference sources.1 In addition, a review was made of bibliographic material related to the establishment of irrigation systems in the period under study, as well as the situation experienced by the national cooperative movement.

This research was based on the first six National Irrigation Systems, which had already been built and were in operation by November 1930 and which were: No. 1: “Presidente Calles”, Ríos Santiago and Pabellón, Aguascalientes; No. 2: “Río Mante, Tamaulipas”; No. 3: “Río Tula, Hidalgo”; No. 4: “Río Salado, Coahuila and Nuevo León”; No. 5: “Río Conchos, Chihuahua” (under construction), and No. 6: “Río San Diego”, Coahuila, although it should be noted that during the postrevolutionary governments around 150 Irrigation Districts or National Irrigation Systems were created throughout the Mexican Republic (Anguiano, 2000: 22).

Construction process of the national irrigation systems

The National Irrigation Systems were large enterprises promoted and financed by the Mexican State, which caused, with their construction and use, changes of great impact and significance in the geographical space, in the natural environment, in the population and in the economy of the region in which they were erected.

They were also the result of the postrevolutionary government’s irrigation and settlement policy and constituted the most important hydraulic and social work for the development of national agriculture, carried out by the National Irrigation Commission (1926-1947), which was created as a body dependent on the Ministry of Agriculture and Development, in 1926, during the government of President Plutarco Elías Calles.

It is important to note that, for the proper functioning of this Commission, President Calles had already issued the Federal Water Irrigation Law on December 2, 1925; in 1926, he founded the National Bank of Agricultural Credit and, in March of the same year, issued the first Agricultural Credit Law (Fernández, 1991: 98).

The National Irrigation Commission was made necessary given the results of numerous studies and assessments of the reality of the Mexican countryside carried out until then, which uncovered the major constraints hindering the country’s agricultural progress, above all, the shortage of good working lands and adverse climatological factors, particularly drought, so artificial irrigation was an imperative for the development of national agriculture (Echeverría, 1954: 80 ).

The National Irrigation Commission be gan its work with ample funding in its budget and with a system for renewing these funds established in the law itself, undertaking, from then on, planned construction work, in which, in part, it was able to take advantage of the wealth of technical data collected by the offices that preceded it in the study of the problem.

As a general rule, each of the National Irrigation Systems was formed with the construction of hydraulic works, such as: dams, reservoirs, dikes, canals, bridges and other minor irrigation works. Each system also had an experimental farm for the study of the farm products and for the development of irrigation area plans on which ejidal allocation should be planned. On this basis, agricultural cities formed with settlers capable of farming the region were erected through associations for the use and distribution of irrigation water, agricultural cooperatives to facilitate agricultural production and its distribution in the market and Agricultural Defense cooperatives to protect the crops from pests and diseases.

For the integration of the constituent elements of the National Irrigation Systems, namely hydraulic works, experimental farms, agricultural cities and producer cooperatives, the National Irrigation Commission mainly used the professional services of agronomists and hydraulic engineers, graduates under the 1908 curriculum of the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine of San Jacinto and of the National School of Agriculture of Chapingo, as well as civil engineering graduates of the National School of Engineers.

It is important to note that for the first major hydraulic works the Federal Government contracted American companies and engineers as was the case with National Irrigation System No. 4: “Río Salado, Coahuila and Nuevo León” and its “Don Martín” dam, in which the U.S. company JG White Engineering Corp., with engineers specialized in the design and construction of irrigation works, provided its services. The head of said company was engineer F. Weymauth Maut (Anguiano, 2000: 55). Little by little, agronomists and hydraulic engineers, as well as Mexican civil engineers, were incorporated into this initial effort.

Finally, to complement the urbanization of the National Irrigation Systems it was necessary to build roads, highways, bridges, houses for the settlers, sanitary engineering works, a drinking water system for the settlers, schools, experimental fields, and other facilities.

Thus, under the construction push of the National Irrigation Commission, in its different social welfare works, the necessary conditions were created to allow for the advancement of Mexican engineering, since the construction needs promoted the development of the specialization of numerous Mexican engineers, in hydraulic works, buildings, roads, railroads, ports, agricultural farms, housing developments, sanitary engineering, etc. In the subsequent sections, the main vicissitudes that occurred in each of the components of the National Irrigation Systems will be outlined, with emphasis on the role played by cooperative organizations.

Experimental farms

In the farms, the agronomists basically dealt with the study of the agricultural possibilities of the regions in which the National Irrigation Systems were established. In addition, they were responsible for measuring and parceling out the land, thereby contributing to fulfilling one of the objectives of the creation of the National Irrigation Systems, which was the agricultural use and distribution of ejidos. Technical research on the agroecological and agricultural conditions of the lands to be irrigated, carried out by the Commission, resulted in the development of irrigation area maps, the first of their kind in the country, on which the parceling out of those areas was planned. Thus, the practical expression of the agronomic studies carried out on the Experimental Farms, such as those established in National Irrigation Systems No. 1: “President Calles” and No. 4: “Río Salado,” covered in a practical way their objective that consisted of the research and permanent management of the farming carried out by the settlers established in each System (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, pp.223-224).

Further to the above, we can specify that the farm that was established in 1928 in Rodríguez Nuevo León, belonging to National System No. 4, had the peculiarity of having been built in a semi-arid zone where there was no previous record of agricultural production. Between the years 1926 and 1930, the agronomist Alejandro Brambila,2 in his capacity as head of the Agronomic Department of the National Irrigation Commission, organized and managed this Experimental Farm and as a result of his research assured in 1930 that he was able to suggest to prospective buyers of land, which would be allocated for agriculture in Irrigation District No. 4, that among the most suitable products for cultivation were: cotton, Sudan grass, Milo sorghum and keffir. On the other hand, the products that had had poor results were: corn, oats, and alfalfa (Brambila, 1930: 44-48).

Lastly, it should be noted that studies similar to the one described above were carried out in the other irrigation centers, although they did not yet have experimental farms.

Agricultural cities and settlers

All the National Irrigation Systems included, among their projects, the creation of prototype agricultural cities, which became models of collective welfare. According to this intention, the general aim of the creation of agricultural cities was to serve as an example of agricultural and industrial population centers (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, p 222).

The projects for the creation of the agricultural cities had to consider whether they would be newly created, in the event that the geographic space in which it was intended to establish the Irrigation District did not have a solidly established population, or if they had to replace or enlarge already existing settlements.

Under this general orientation, in National Irrigation System No. 1: “Presidente Calles,” the construction and urbanization of a conveniently-located model agricultural city began in 1929. In fact, in November 1929, ten thousand hectares of irrigated land that constituted the First Unit of the System were open to settlement. By 1931 the whole of that area was already settled. The 10,000 hectares were divided into 600 plots of variable length, according to the economic ability of each settler, with 15 hectares being the average area. In the agricultural cycle corresponding to the indicated year, more than six thousand hectares were cultivated with corn, beans, peanuts and other products (Irrigación en México, enero de1932, p. 202).

In the case of the agricultural city of National Irrigation System No. 2: “Río Mante, Tamaulipas,” named “Juárez del Mante,” in early 1931 it was reported that: “it has been carefully planned as an extension of Villa Juárez; it is located to the east of the railroad track, where there is the ‘El Mante’ station. The city is bordered to the west by the main irrigation channel ‘Lateral Juárez’ and extends east and north to the original legal boundary of the old town. All the land occupied by the city belongs to the non-irrigable high zone and, therefore, is the most suitable for its establishment ... To date important works have been carried out, especially those that supply water drinking to the population. The city is settled by 7,000 inhabitants” (Irrigación en México, enero de1932, pp. 203-205).

For the establishment of the agricultural city of National Irrigation System No. 4: “Río Salado, Coahuila and Nuevo León,” called “Anahuac,” a project inspired by the conditions that a country town needed to satisfy in terms of hygiene, comforts and beauty was studied, with 35 hectares allocated for streets and squares and 125 hectares to be divided into lots for the settlers (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, pp. 23-214).

For National Irrigation System No. 5: “Rio Conchos, Chihuahua” that was under construction, the establishment of a new and thriving agricultural center, Ciudad Delicias, founded in 1933, was planned, displacing Camargo as the main industrial and commercial center of the area (Castañeda, 1995: 39).

In National Irrigation System No. 6: “Río San Diego, San Carlos, Coahuila,” the study of its creation included the possibility of establishing the agricultural city in the place where the town of San Carlos was located (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, p. 222).

As was logical, all the building projects of the proposed cities underwent readjustments and modifications according to the circumstances that were presented. In the case of Ciudad Anáhuac, for example, in 1933 the engineer Alfredo Becerril Colín had already proposed corrections to the original project through a new economic study of the city (Becerril, 1933: 126-127).

It is worth noting that several of these agricultural cities still survive today, such as Ciudad Anáhuac, Nuevo León; Ciudad Delicias, Chihuahua and Ciudad San Carlos, Coahuila, which demonstrates the validity of the human settlement strategy then implemented.

Regarding settler selection, it began once the hydraulic works were completed or when they were in their final stage, including the communication routes and determining the most appropriate crops in the irrigation zone, thus ensuring the physical possibility of supplying water to the farming area. The would-be settlers had to have, in addition to unquestionable moral qualities, agricultural experience, industriousness, the will to prosper and undeniable physical aptitudes, sufficient financial resources to pay for the acquisition of work equipment, to cover the expenses inherent to establishing themselves in their new lands, to pay for moving their family from their place of origin and to meet their basic needs until the first harvest (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, p. 224).

To select the settlers, a publicity campaign was conducted in the appropriate agricultural media, both in the country and in the United States of America;3 likewise, instructions and questionnaires were distributed to the applicants. An analysis of the questionnaires revealed that very few candidates wished to be repatriated and that the Mexicans who applied did not meet the requirements. The Commission, however, considered that the safest basis on which to undertake settlement was to create and encourage in the settlers a clear and precise notion of their responsibility and established that the acquisition of plots would always be done through individual agreements, leaving as a subsequent action the promotion of a spirit of solidarity, so natural and indispensable in any irrigators’ group (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, p. 224).

Despite the low demand for applications from nationals based in the United States of America, the agricultural city “Anáhuac” of National Irrigation System No. 4: “Río Salado, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León” and the city of San Carlos located in National Irrigation System No. 6: “Río San Diego, San Carlos, Coahuila, had the peculiarity of having, among their settlers, returnee families from the United States of America. In the city of “Anahuac, there were 105 such families and the agricultural city of San Carlos had 45 (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, p. 222).

The spirit of solidarity prevailing in the use and distribution of water

Human organization around the use, conservation and distribution of water in all communities, especially in desert or semi-desert regions, is an element that has prevailed throughout the history of mankind.

Men have felt the affective solidarity that water often imposes and have understood and accepted that the collective union of individual interests is necessary for its con servation. This feeling of solidarity is seen in all artificial irrigation centers that make those who use the waters from a common source join groups conscious of their mutual interests. The fact of associating to manage and regulate the common good - water, as valuable as the earth - frees the individuals who are grouped together from the psychological anxiety caused by the physical fact of the deficiency and insecurity of its supply (Irrigación en México, abril de 1931, p. 485).

This tendency to merge individual interests for collective benefit which, as we have noted, is universal to irrigation activities in desert or semi-arid regions where water is the source of prosperity, explains and confirms the principle that irrigation is, from its origin, an objective condition that fosters the practices of cooperation and mutual aid (Irrigación en México, abril de 1931, p. 486). During the study period, this circumstance was taken into account in the design of the water programs of the federal government and the National Irrigation Commission, so they constantly stressed the desirability of the collective organization of the settlers for the care and maintenance of the hydraulic works, for the distribution of the vital liquid and for the agricultural work.

This commitment to the spirit of solidarity was accompanied from the outset in the National Irrigation Systems by energetic measures of morality and order, in such a way that, internally, rigorous disciplinary sanctions were applied and when the case occurred that an official overstepped his authority, the matter was resolved with haste and rigor.

Irrigators’ associations

In the National Irrigation Systems, where there was a common supply source and where water was available for all to enjoy, the association was a natural consequence, although its implementation in the old irrigation areas was not as simple as expected. On the other hand, in the new irrigation projects, established between 1926 and 1936, the association was imposed from the outset with the purpose that the settlers learn to work and live collectively, thus creating the nucleus that would give rise to future, legally-constituted coopera tive organizations.

In response to this interest, in the regulations governing the National Irrigation Systems, it was established that all water users would form the “Irrigators’ Association,” represented before Management by a Board of Trustees, constituted by nine members elected by the same settlers. Likewise, it was stipulated that all settlers would be integrated into groups called irrigation sections and divisions, in order that, within these subdivisions, those that had common interests and similar conditions in terms of irrigating would be united (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, pp. 226-227).

In this way, the legislation issued, for that purpose, recognized the principle of associations and granted them legal personality for all legal purposes, since what was intended was that, at a future stage of consolidation of such associations, the exploitation of systems and the use of water would remain entirely in the hands of the users4 (Irrigación en México, abril de 1931, p. 487).

With all this, the National Irrigation Commission’s intention was for the irrigators’ associations to contribute to the effective conservation of hydraulic works and the equitable distribution of water, as well as to foster among them the cooperative spirit, that is, the notion of solidarity and of primacy of common interest that would allow them to recognize that collective work, methodically ordered, was the only scheme that could help them overcome the obstacles inherent in the harshness of life and work in agricultural fields (Irrigación en México, enero de 1932, p 227).

Thus, in the National Irrigation Systems, the association was determined from the outset by the natural need for defense, grouping the individual strengths of the settlers to help each other. In this way, the settler obeyed the imperious law of nature, to give organic form to that principle that is imposed on man, not by wisdom, but by necessity.

Along with the above, there was the shared conviction that within a truly solidary practice there should not be a monopoly of common goods and, even less, the means of man exploiting man. Instead of monopoly and exploitation, what should prevail was the fraternity related and sustained by reciprocal interests, as well as good faith and the fulfillment of one’s word, because, in the end, what was intended was to establish a system of social and productive relations, based on cooperation and mutual aid.

Agricultural cooperatives

Once the fervent construction activity that took place in each of the Irrigation Systems had been completed, the organization of the settlers for farming purposes began. It was then when it was observed that the settlers had before them a se ries of immediate problems to attend to, among which the following stood out: to pay for the property that had been granted to them, to assume the costs for the start of the first harvests, to identify the most suitable market for their products, and to learn how to deal with the voracity of middlemen and moneylenders always lying in wait. Given the complexity and magnitude of the problems identified and the material impossibility of facing them individually, the establishment of agricultural cooperatives, regardless of their number or form, was suggested and encouraged (Pazuengo, 1931:537).

The model of agricultural cooperatives to be implemented included the following features: a) They would work on their respective Farms, which would be established in each System; b) It would have the participation of specialists who would study the best farming conditions; c) A series of warehouses would be set up to store the harvested products; d) The means of communication and transportation necessary for the agricultural trade would be enabled, and e) All types of facilities would be granted that would make the agricultural enterprise successful under this organizational system (Pazuengo, 1931:538).

The previous proposal was justified on the basis of the historical background available about the benefits obtained by agricultural producers in different countries of the world by working cooperatively, so it was argued that nearly a half a century agoagricultural cooperatives had ceased to be simple ideological concepts or social experiments to fully enter economic life and achieve progress whose significance and magnitude no one dared to question (Irrigación en México, agosto de 1931, p. 310).

In the legislative sphere, since the Constitution of 1917, in articles 28 and 123 fraction XXX, the social value of the cooperative associations had been recognized, albeit in an incipient and vague way (Rojas, 1982: 374).

It fell to the President of the Republic, General Plutarco Elías Calles, to promulgate the first General Law of Cooperative Societies that was drafted by the then Secretariat of industry and Trade, approved by the Congress of the Union in December 1926 and published on February 10, 1927 (Rojas, 1982: 395-396).

This first Law had some vague and confusing features concerning the ideals of co operatives;5 however, its formulation was carefully analyzed by the executive and his team, as it had among its antecedents the experience lived by President Calles himself, who before assuming office had made a trip to Europe where he person ally learned about the organization and operation of multiple cooperatives. Once assuming his duties as President of the Republic, he embarked on an information campaign throughout the country, using leaflets on cooperatives written by Luis Gorozpe.6A short time later, a handbook was written for the founders and administrators of cooperatives in Mexico, of which 50,000 copies were printed and distributed free of charge (Rojas, 1982: 395). It should be noted that at that time several texts on the cooperative topic had already been circulated in the country, such as: Regional Banks: Agricultural Cooperative Societies by Manuel E. Cruz; Cooperative Societies (1918) by engineer Francisco Loria, and The Industrial Republic (1919) by Rafael Mallén. In addition, the newly-created Department of Labor’s Work Bulletin published in 1918 a book by the French author Charles Gide entitled Consumers’ Cooperative Societies, etc. (Rojas, 1982:416-418). These texts and other materials published in various states came to prepare the theoretical corpus indispensable for fomenting the cooperative movement in the country.

As for the social benefits of the cooperative movement, in the early 1920s, multiple projects had already been experienced, some of which had had some resonance and had shown the benefits that could be achieved through this form of association, as was the case with the “National Consumers’ Society” and its twenty branches distributed throughout Mexico City, promoted by President Venustiano Carranza; although it ultimately failed, it was a trial that had unprecedented success and gaverise to the formation of several consumer cooperatives in different States of the Republic (Rojas, 1982: 376-377).

Agricultural defense cooperatives

In 1932, agronomist Julio Riquelme Inda,7 based on studies on plant pests and diseases, carried out at the Rodríguez Experimental Farm, established in National Irrigation System No. 4: Río Salado, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, recommended especially to the settlers of this System that, from the beginning of the agricultural work in this region, they be organized into agricultural defense cooperatives.

His recommendation was based on the agrological characteristics of the area, since it had previously been an isolated semi-desert area, and in which crops were just about to be introduced. In these condi tions it was necessary to take into account that the crops could be invaded and affected by pests and diseases that could ruin them, although they could also be affected by all kinds of seeds, plants and parts of plants which were taken to the System from any part of the world.

He pointed out, in particular, that contagions could come from two sources:

  1. The wild vegetation, since it was a proven fact that when a new, previously uncultivated area is opened up to farming, plagues and diseases spread from the wild vegetation to the cultivated plants, adapting to a medium that offers them fresher, varied and succulent food.

  2. All kinds of seeds, plants and parts of plants, taken to the System from any part of the world and that could be affected. In this case, a certificate indicating their origin had to be required and they could not be affected by any pest or disease.

To cope with these threats, it was necessary for farmers to act together, because individually it was impossible to face the problem successfully.

If a pest or disease were to invade the crops in several plots at the same time, covering a large area, engineer Riquelme Inda recommended preventing the damage that may be suffered by such an event by using “cooperation as the best means that can be used for the purpose, adopting adequate regulation, since the settlers who need to fight the pests in a specific area covering several lots or plots can do it together, simultaneously and with great economy” (Riquelme, 1932: 709).

He added that to achieve greater efficiency in the fight against pests, in operational terms, “the Agricultural Defense Cooperatives will be formed in a timely manner by zones or regions in the whole System area for which they will be indicated in a map, comprising from 3 to 5,000 hectares, an area that a common epidemic pest can totally invade at any given moment, assuming a certain homogeneity of crops” (Riquelme, 1932: 709).

“Possibly the invasion will be greater or lesser, depending on the parasitic species, but in the case of the former the members of the nearby cooperatives surrounding the plagued area or region must go to the aid of their neighbors” (Riquelme, 1932: 709).

“If the invaded area is less than 5,000 hectares, then all of the corresponding region will help in the campaign in the affected lots, since there is a possibility that a pest that appears in 20 or 30 hectares could spread to the others if it is not fought against and what is required in these cases is speed and timeliness in the treatments” (Riquelme, 1932: 709).

“The fundamental issue is to create in the settlers the obligation, from the outset, that they are part of the Agricultural Defense Cooperatives, both for their own benefit and that of their neighbors when they require their services” (Riquelme, 1932: 709-710).

“As it is absolutely necessary from now on to establish quarantines that restrict to a certain degree the import of seeds, fruits, live plants, etc., into the System, in order to avoid from the outset the introduction of pests and diseases, only the cooperatives together will be able to respect them, which would be impossible for them to do only by individual effort, that is, each settler in isolation” (Riquelme, 1932: 710).


Cooperative associations, as forms of social organization for work in the National Irrigation Systems, represented a proposal for a quick and effective method for achieving the irrigation, settlement, farming and agrarian distribution projects promoted by the governments of postrevolutionary Mexico.

The cooperative associations in the National Irrigation Systems were made possible thanks to the affective solidarity that arose among its settlers, given the need to solve concrete problems of coexistence and survival, such as: water supply, housing, and preservation and care of the constructed works and cultivated products.

The fostering of agricultural cooperatives, promoted by the federal government, was based on the achievements of the previous cooperative associations, on the advancement of theoretical knowledge on the subject at national and international level, on formal legislation that gave them legal status and on the work of experts who promoted, organized, directed and consolidated such groupings.

The carrying out of the hydraulic works and the social experiences of mutual aid and cooperative development in the National Irrigation Systems were not without difficulties, as there were failures and errors at the start of and during the process. Firstly, the Mexican engineers lacked experience in the construction of large modern hydraulic works, and although he National Irrigation Commission originally hired the services of American construction engineers with established prestige, the Mexican engineers found themselves in need of learning under the hard experiences of direct work. Secondly, government support was not always coherent, it was not sustained over the long term and it was distinguished by constant interference in the internal life of the cooperatives, limiting the autonomous initiative of the settlers. And, thirdly, it was difficult to introduce mutual work and cooperative organizations among the settlers, especially in areas of deep-rooted agricultural tradition, which is why their structure, organization and initial purpose underwent several transformations. However, seen in perspective, the concept of cooperative organization proved to be an efficient means of establishing human settlements, made up of a heterogeneous population, in inhospitable, arid and semi-arid regions, from which, over the years, modern cities emerged, such as Ciudad Anáhuac, Nuevo León; Ciudad Delicias, Chihuahua, and Ciudad San Carlos, Coahuila.


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1The National Irrigation Commission, created in 1926, was in office for 21 years until 1947 when it was transformed into a Secretariat of Hydraulic Resources by agreement of President Miguel Alemán. During its 21 years of existence it published and diffused with different periodicity its Irrigación en México journal, of which 27 volumes were produced.

2 Alejandro Brambila (1930). He was an agronomist who graduated from the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Science of San Jacinto. He was a professor of chemistry at the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Science of San Jacinto and of agricultural microbiology in the National School of Agriculture of Chapingo. He worked in the Nazas River Commission and in the Communications Secretariat where he took charge of the Lake Texcoco works. Also, in the National Irrigation Commission, he was head of the Agronomic Department and had among his functions to plant, build, organize and manage the Rodríguez Nuevo León Experimental Farm, of Irrigation District No. 4 “Río Salado, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León” and the Experimental Farm of Irrigation District No. 1, “Presidente Calles”, Aguascalientes. He collaborated with several articles for the Irrigación en México journal. He died in a car accident, at the age of 36, on the Mexico-Texcoco highway. (Irrigación en México, mayo de 1930, p. 5).

3On this subject it is important to point out that the economic crisis of 1929, which arose in the United States, had serious repercussions for our country. The shortage of work and the resulting unemployment seriously hurt the hundreds of Mexicans who, because of the Mexican Revolution and the implications of the aforementioned crisis, had crossed the Rio Grande in search of better living conditions in a strange country. This went on to become a diplomatic problem between the United States and Mexico. The Mexican governments had to offer the means to the nationals for their repatriation and relocation in the country. The human settlements in the National Irrigation Systems were one of the answers to this situation (Anguiano, 2000:16-17).

4As is well known, the great irrigation, from the beginning, was a responsibility of the State, which finally ended with the transfer of irrigation districts to users, which occurred during the 1990s.

5In fact, given the inconsistencies presented by the first General Law of Cooperative Societies, it was necessary to draft a new Law in 1933.

6Don Luis Gorozpe was originally from Jalapa, Veracruz and was the author of the book La Cooperación; he was called by the President of the Republic, Plutarco Elías Calles, to collaborate in the writing of information material on cooperatives and disseminate it nationally (Rojas, 1982: 395).

7Engineer Julio Riquelme Inda was born in Mexico City in 1883. He entered the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine of San Jacinto in 1901. He graduated as an agricultural technician in 1905 and in 1929 made the necessary arrangements to be granted the title of agronomist. From 1900 to 1908 he worked in the Agricultural Parasitology Commission. In 1909 he became a professor at the National School of Agriculture of San Jacinto and continued teaching at the National School of Agriculture in Chapingo. In 1932 he worked in the National Irrigation Commission’s Department of Irrigation Systems, where he carried out a study, in May of 1932, entitled Pests and Disease in the plants in the Experimental Farm of National Irrigation System number 4, Rodríguez, Nuevo León, which was published in the Irrigación en México journal in August 1932. He also wrote an extensive scientific work on agricultural parasitology.

Received: October 12, 2017; Accepted: December 14, 2017

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