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Revista mexicana de ciencias agrícolas

versión impresa ISSN 2007-0934

Rev. Mex. Cienc. Agríc vol.8 no.3 Texcoco abr./may. 2017 


Flower production and use of natural resources in Zinacantán, Chiapas

Hugo Josue Molina Gómez1 

Mercedes A. Jiménez Velázquez1  §  

Ezequiel Arvizu Barrón2 

Dora Ma. Sangerman-Jarquín3 

1Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Montecillo. Carretera México-Texcoco, km 36.5. Montecillo, Texcoco, Estado de México. CP. 56230. (

2Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Veracruz. Carretera Federal Xalapa-Veracruz, km 88.5. Tepetates, Manlio Fabio Altamirano, Veracruz. (

3Campo Experimental Valle de México-INIFAP. Carretera los Reyes-Texcoco, km 13.5. Coatlinchán, Texcoco, Estado de México, México. CP. 56250. (


The area destined to produce traditional basic crops changes to other commercial ones: vegetables and flowers, contributing to the creation of income and jobs. Its installation, requires greenhouses to avoid flowers damage, deforesting forests; using agrochemicals; causing waste and generating high costs of production. The objective of this research was to analyze the sustainability of the flower production system and its importance for the peasant families of Zinacantán, Chiapas. The field work was carried out in the agricultural cycle: winter-spring-summer (2015-2016) in the municipality of Zinacantán. A methodology with mixed approach (qualitative and quantitative); the qualitative one with social research techniques; and quantitative one using a questionnaire that was applied to flower producers (81), using the framework for the evaluation of natural resources management incorporating sustainability analysis (MESMIS). Results obtained indicate that of the indicators proposed for sustainable evaluation (17), indicators (11) have an index greater than 50% help to strengthen the system and six of them weaken it. Production is not sustainable due to deterioration and contamination of natural resources; peasants interviewed know the problems caused by the production of natural resources; and there are very few activities they do in order to take care of it. It is concluded that flower production is a non-sustainable production and it is important for peasant families because it generates income.

Keywords: MESMIS; modern agriculture; peasant families; producers


La superficie destinada a producir cultivos básicos tradicionales cambia a otros comerciales: hortalizas y flores, contribuyen a la creación de ingresos y empleos. Su instalación, requiere de invernaderos para evitar daños a las flores, deforestar bosques para su instalación; utilizan agroquímicos; provocan basura y generan altos costos para la producción. El objetivo de la investigación es analizar la sustentabilidad del sistema de producción de flores y su importancia para las familias campesinas de Zinacantán, Chiapas. El trabajo de campo se realiza en el ciclo agrícola: invierno-primavera-verano (2015-2016) en la cabecera municipal de Zinacantán. Metodología con enfoque mixto (cualitativo y cuantitativo); el cualitativo con técnicas de investigación social; y cuantitativo, se aplica un cuestionario a productores de flores (81), usando el marco para la evaluación de manejo de recursos naturales incorporando análisis de sustentabilidad (MESMIS). Resultados obtenidos indican que de los indicadores propuestos para la evaluación sustentable (17), indicadores (11) tienen un índice mayor a 50% ayuda a fortalecer el sistema y seis lo debilitan. La producción no es sustentable por deterioro y contaminación de recursos naturales; campesinos entrevistados conocen los problemas ocasionados con la producción hacía los recursos naturales; son muy pocas actividades que realizan para su cuidado. Se concluye que la producción de flores es una a producción no sustentable, es importante para las familias campesinas porque les genera ingresos.

Palabras clave: agricultura moderna; familias campesinas; MESMIS; productores


Worldwide, millions of traditional or indigenous smallholder farmers are engaged in a type of agriculture that provides agroecosystems with the ability to be resilient to economic and environmental changes, in turn contributing to food security at local, regional and national levels (Altieri and Nicholls, 2009). Maize (Zea mays L.) production establishes the main source of food of Mexican society, it can be planted alone or in association with other plants integrating the milpa system: polyculture that resembles to the natural ecosystem, and is transformed according to ecological and cultural diversity of the country being important for food self-sufficiency, in addition it is a space of socialization and coexistence for the community by its integrated system with the diverse uses and culture in the place that is produced (Aguilar-Jiménez et al., 2011; Reyes, 2014, Morales and Guzmán, 2015, Badillo, 2015).

However, changes in production systems with the introduction of cash crops generates a productive model that introduces technological changes in agriculture: monoculture and use of agrochemicals: fertilizers and pesticides (Faiguenbaum, 2008; Madrid, 2009); among the various crops there is floriculture; it represents an opportunity for producers due to the economic activity with national and state potential.

In Mexico, the increase in surface area (15%) has developed since 1994, in Chiapas, among the 18 regions that favor the floriculture development, mainly in the regions: V Altos Tsotsil Tseltal (90 localities), Zinacantán municipality with 22 localities (INEGI, 2010a). The activity, practiced in a rustic way due to a lack of economic and technical resources, affects the scarce technological growth, together with a lack of infrastructure; the activity has low productivity, but it has been an alternative of survival, income source, intra- and extra-family employment for many poor peasants (Chiapas 2005-2015). Currently, there is an important activity using greenhouses, technology used to maintain the best conditions of the crop but with negative effects on natural resources.

With the advantage of agricultural modernization, the connection between agriculture and ecology is weakened by ecological principles leading to an environmental crisis to increase the forms of artificialization of the unprofitable nature establish monocultures that reduce self-regulation, become vulnerable and dependent on chemical inputs generated, mainly in developing countries; in several regions the crop diversity per unit of arable land decreases (Altieri and Nicholls, 2000; Pengue, 2005). As is the case of production in greenhouses; they generate problems, among them: overexploitation and contamination of aquifers, extraction of areas and soils and occupation of environmental interest areas (García and Pérez, 2012).

It is a technological innovation that transforms the productive process because it needs more activities for the crop management, it is included in the market, it changes the vision of self consumption to sale generating changes in the productive, social, environmental aspect (Altieri, 1999; Gliessman, 2002), indicate that the type of conventional production involves the dependence of agrochemicals, working with monocultures (a single species of plants); agrochemicals are used to increase crop yields, including: fertilizers that allow chemical nutrition with better and faster utilization of nutrients for plants when applied in adequate doses; pesticides that achieve initial control of insects, mites, fungi, nematodes and viruses that damage insects of interest (over time it generates resistance); and herbicides to eliminate “weeds” (unwanted plants) that may affect crop development and yield.

A study by García and Pérez (2012) on the use of greenhouses and their environmental, social and economic implications, emphasizes the capacity to reduce costs, waste generation and treatment and lack of productivity are the main problems of low production under cover; but high productivity is obtained; in addition, economic variables are much more important than social and environmental variables.

Another study on the conversion to (traditional and commercial) production systems Márquez and Martínez (2007), mention that modern agriculture implies the simplification of the environmental structure of large areas, replace natural biodiversity with a small number of cultivated plants and domestic animals, it generates a tendency to monoculture; creating unstable ecosystems, subjected to disease and pests. Due to the changes generated with the beginning of conventional agriculture on natural resources and economic importance, the objective of this research was to analyze the sustainability of the flower production system and its importance for the rural families of Zinacantán, Chiapas.

Materials and methods

The studied zone of is the municipality of Zinacantán located in the Region V Altos Tsotsil-Tseltal of Chiapas. It is located between the parallels 16° 46’ north latitude and 92° 43’ west longitude, at an altitude of 2 140 m. (INEGI, 2010b). The territory occupies 0.27% of the state surface with 199.61 km2; the land used for agriculture is 16.64%, urban area represents 2.24%, forest 71.37% and grassland induced 9.75% (INEGI, 2010b). The municipality of Zinacantán has a population of 3 876 inhabitants (INEGI, 2010a).

In Zinacantán, traditional agriculture, based on areas of only maize production and association of sown plants: bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) and squash (Cucurbita ficifolia Bouché), integrating them with plants of natural growth, among them: blackberry (Solanum americana), chicory (Cichorium intybus), turnip (Brassica campestris) among others. This production system allows peasant families to obtain a variety of crops for their own consumption and food. Because of the physiographic conditions of the place and the lack of food for the animals, the tractive force in the field (plow, furrow, aporque, others) is not used.

On the other hand, flower production destined for commercialization is important for its benefits in generating income for peasant families. The floriculture is part of the Zinacanteca culture from their ancestors by the religious beliefs (adornment of churches, pantheons, weddings, baptisms and birthdays). The first report on floriculture to be commercialized was in 1950, but it began to be developed (1973) by installing three greenhouses, due to programs impulse they became 20 (1984) and then 722 greenhouses with flower production in a floriculture extension of 20.86 ha-1 (1994). After eleven years (2005) they covered an area of 254 554 m2 with the monoculture system (Díaz, 1995; Martínez, 2010). Nowadays, there is no reliable record of the number of greenhouses or area of flower production in the locality.

This research is addressed using a mixed method: qualitative and quantitative (Hernández et al., 2014). The qualitative tools used are: an ethnographic method to observe, know and describe different relevant social phenomena that occur in the geographic environment (Guber, 2001), specifically the floricultural production systems. The direct and participant observation is carried out at the moment of making tours in the community; informal interviews with producers, officials and local authorities. The quantitative, design of a questionnaire composed of 76 questions, applied to 81 farmers, its analysis with statistical methods: descriptive, frequency distribution with the program Statistic Package for Social Science (SPSS).

Regarding to the sustainability approach and use of natural resources in flower production, the framework for the evaluation of natural resource management systems incorporating sustainability indicators (MESMIS) was used, considering the attributes: productivity, stability, reliability, resilience, adaptability, equity and self-management; and their indicators; in this paper, we present the results of a study of the natural resources management system (Torres et al., 2004; Masera et al., 2008).

The field work was carried out in the agricultural cycle: winter-spring-summer (2015-2016) in the municipality of Zinacantán. The place was chosen because here begins and develops the floriculture (1973). The study population: 500 people, obtained by the list of inhabitants (farmers) of the community who cooperate with an assigned quota (water and festivities) provided by the Secretary of the Communal Assembly, collected by the water patronage of the municipalitie’s agency. The sample obtained in random and probabilistic form (Infante and Zárate, 2005), suggests applying 81 questionnaires to maize and flower producers. The hypothesis proposed: the system of flower production in greenhouse in the head of Zinacantán, Chiapas, is not sustainable because its management leads to the deterioration of natural resources; and producers show no interest in keeping them due to their economic needs.

Results and discussion

Modern agriculture: floriculture

Zinacantán maintains the flowers production because it has been important for its culture, reflecting its traditions, customs and habits that represent the Zinacantecos from their ancestors. Nowadays, it maintains the cultural color of this town with its adornments, mainly in religious acts; in addition, this activity constitutes one of the main sources of income for the peasant tsotsiles families that began to develop since 1973 with the government support. The adoption of this crop was a success by adapting different varieties to edaphoclimatic conditions, economic benefits and availability of natural resources for production.

According to the indicators that were generated from the attributes (productivity, stability, reliability and resilience, adaptability, equity and self-management) and diagnostic criteria to identify weaknesses and strengths of the production system (floriculture) in Zinacantán, Chiapas, results to help analyze and measure each indicator that is presented below, were obtained.


Yield: At present there is a production of 78 028 bundles (dozens, tens and bundles) in 422 greenhouses (100%), representing an area of 160 630 m2 (16.063 ha). The development and increase of this activity is due to the economic benefits obtained for being an income-generating crop.

Benefit/cost ratio: it is integrated with the average expenses generated in the production of flowers (800 m2 per crop cycle (100 days)), mainly: daily ($9 100.00) and chemical inputs ($1 550.60) used daily. Materials (plastic cover, rules and poles of wood, nails, etc.) and equipment (pump and hose) are not considered because those are expenses incurred when starting production and renovation of materials when they are damaged (3-5 years). The costs that are generated in the production of flowers per cycle ($10, 650.60), integrate the average profit (income) obtaining in the same area and production cycle ($6 949.19). Costs are increased for the use of family labor in agricultural activities of floriculture (it is not remunerated but it is considered important to obtain the indicator). Cost/benefit ratio is 0.65, indicates that for each mexican peso invested they earn 65 cents (65%) when marketing production.

Production volume: the maximum production (11 017) and minimum (94) of bunches produced per cycle (100 days) to determine the average production quantity (1 804) in greenhouse land area: 1 983 m2 ( on average). It represents 16.37% regarding the maximum production.

Stability, reliability and resilience

Production area: reference is made to the number of greenhouses that were installed in 21 years (1973-1994) in nine towns in the municipality of Zinacantán. The average number of greenhouses installed per locality in those years (80.2 = 3.82 per year) is calculated to represent an installation percentage (100%) and compare it with the current situation (408 greenhouses) using as a reference: 1984 to 2016 (21 years). When obtaining the data, there were: 19.42 (508.4%) greenhouses installed per year in the municipality with 81 producers surveyed, representing more than 100% installation of greenhouses. By contrasting the integrated results, this production surface is considered as one hundred percent.

Number of plant species on the plot: the results obtained when asking if they sow other crops in association (planted or natural growth), 97.5% mentioned that they did not, because it does not allow adequate growth and development of flowers; in this respect, Gliessman (2002) points out that monoculture is the sowing of a single crop, natural production of agriculture with an industrial focus. However, 100% emphasize that if plants grow naturally for domestic use, but 81.5% allow plants to grow for consumption; and 18.5% answered “no” to the various weed “cleaning” activities; others, because they are contaminated with “a lot” of chemicals and recognize is not good for health. The average number of plants in association with flowers (3.62) represents 18.14% with respect to the total number of species (20= 100%). The most sown are: peppermint (Mentha sativa) and mulberry grass (Solanum americana); of natural growth, there are: epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides), verbena (Verbena officinalis), blackberry, chicory (Cichorium intybus), turnip (Brassica campestris), peppermint, bledo (Amaranthus dubius) and mallow (Malva sylvestris L.).

Flowers varieties in the system: this indicator is measured with varieties that are conserved in production, it has as maximum number: eight (100%) different flowers that adapt to the climatic conditions of the place, the reference number to evaluate is the maximum (55.55%), two (19.75%), three (13.53%), four (6.17%), six (2.46%); seven and eight varieties in production (1.23%). The average number of plants in greenhouses is 1.93 (24.22%), this indicates that most of them only prefer one type of flower, the one preferred among producers is purple or white Aster (crystal) because it is cheaper.

Natural resources conservation practices: the practices that influenced the production of flowers were selected (8). All of interviewees at least performs one of them. Standing out: application of natural fertilizer (85%), among which are used gallinaza, lamb manure and forest land; construction of water pots, locally known as “tanks” (80.24%); reforesting their lands (74.07%); leaving crop residues on the ground for decomposition and planting trees around wells and springs (54.32%). In less quantity, there are the use of technical irrigation system (6.17%), establishment of live or dead barriers (7.4%), construction of agricultural terraces (34.56%). The average percentage of respondents who practices conservation of resources is low (49.53%) and the descriptive statistics according to the evaluation (1.17= very little) indicates that it is necessary to carry out more natural resource care practices in order to preserve them in better conditions in and to avoid problems for future generations. Modern agriculture generates environmental damages including the exploitation of natural resources (Altieri, 1999; Gliessman, 2014).

Ethics in the management of natural resources: the opinion on the damages that can be caused by the production of flowers on natural resources is important in order to know the environmental conscience that exists in the community. The data show that, on average, the majority (98.76%) do care and know (ethical) the negative effects on natural resources (93.8%); but caring is not enough as descriptive statistics indicate (2.88= little). Due to the productive change, little planning and lack of service, there is scarcity and contamination of natural resources in soil, water and accelerated deforestation; with the scientific knowledge of modern agriculture, most of the social and cultural aspects related to peasant agriculture are dissociated, and therefore there is the expression of a hegemonic social and cultural model that excludes other cultural systems in an environmental crisis threatening the existence of civilizations (Martínez, 1995; Burguete, 2000).


Availability of technical training: when asking the respondents if they would accept technical support to maintain better conditions and learn new jobs in flower production: 90.1% of them would accept it because they need new management techniques, use of agrochemicals, pest and diseases management, they commented that they have not received training (91.4%). Some farmers received it from working with people who hired technicians, others because when obtaining credits they also include technical support for floriculture (8.6%). However, 9.9% indicate that they would not accept any technical support because they only use information for their own benefit.

Availability to change: poor knowledge in pest and disease management, pruning (some cases) or innovative agricultural practices leads to floricultors needing technical support and new jobs to keep their flowers in better condition. Therefore, 90.1% would agree to work with different practices in order to increase yields or have improvements in their crop. Modern agriculture for financial purposes synthesizes its cognitive dynamics in the concept of minimum effort and investment and maximum profit, of a commodity; is used not for human subsistence purposes but for economic and political control (Martínez, 1995).

Transmission of knowledge: several activities were carried out in which they use labor and knowledge is transmitted to relatives and acquaintances (70.4%), including: children (56.8%), other people (49.3%) including: wife, nephews, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, friends, colleagues and workers. In some cases, they teach their siblings (4.9%) and grandchildren (1.2%). Other producers do not teach anyone (29.6%) because they do not have children, their wives knows how to work or they do not dedicate themselves to the activity and nobody asks “help” to produce flowers.

It is important to emphasize that most of the knowledge is transmitted from the head of the family to the children, this would be important to maintain production over time. The teaching on agriculture is intergenerational, transmitted from parents to children and grandparents to grandchildren (Massieu and Miranda, 2013).


Distribution of water: takes into account the opinion of the respondents about the distribution and use of different water sources (springs: a lot, well: little, and river: little), available in the community for floriculture activity. From the opinions obtained, it can be appreciated that the water resource most used for irrigation of flowers is the one from water wells, it is transported to its land by means of black plastic hoses. The wells can only be found in low areas or at the foot of mountains (hills) because thereis where all the existing underground water is concentrated. The use of river water is shown in farmers who have lands near this resource. When integrating the data, the total is: four water sources (100%); to represent the sustainability of the use of these sources the following is taken as a reference:

Use of three water sources= 0% sustainable; use of two water sources= 33.33% sustainable; use of one source of water= 66.66% sustainable; use of zero water sources (rain included= 100% sustainable).

In this context, floriculture has a water sustainability of zero%, because they use four different water sources with an unequal distribution. The water wells are communal, groups of producers have taken over them, reducing in this way the common use that should exist in the place. In the municipality, farmers who do not produce flowers emphasize that floriculture causes scarcity and possible contamination of water (Seidl et al., 2011). In this research, we observed that the flow of water from the water source to the reservoir is very low. Gliessman (2002) reports that irrigated agriculture consumes large amounts of water.

Family participation: the results indicated that 44.4% of them work with family labor to reduce expenses in the payment of day laborers and 42% work both with family labor and the contract of laborers “because the work is heavy”. In some cases, only hired laborers (8.6%). For its part, 4.9% indicated that they do not receive help from anyone, all work is done by the head of the family. In the integration of results, this indicator will be represented with the percentage of respondents who use family labor and reported by both: 86.4%.

Intermediaries: this indicator allows us to know if there is intermediation in the floriculture that can affect the peasants economy; 91.4% indicated that there are no intermediaries for the purchase of this product because the farmers themselves will sell their products in the local (Zinacantán) and regional markets (San Cristóbal de las Casas and Tuxtla Gutiérrez). On the other hand, 8.6% indicate that they have a buyer from the same locality, this buyer buys the production because of his deliveries in different states and needs more production in order to maintain its market. Respondents say: “It is good that they buy our flowers because this way we sell all our production at the market price and without losing profits”.


External input dependency: different resources are considered that can influence the dependence of external inputs, which are explained below: they have not received any direct support (97.5%) as an incentive to production. In contrast, 2.5% of them have received credit supports; or have used Governmental programs for floriculture such as: PROCAMPO (8.3%), 60 and + (3.7%); and 4.9% earn income from family businesses (grocery store or textile). As for the use of agrochemicals, they use them (100%) from the disinfection of the soil to the opening of flower buds. Due to the care taken in modern agriculture, manual labor is reduced and the use of inputs with a strong technological base is increased, as well as efficiency and productivity. In order to obtain high yields, many expenses are included as non-renewable inputs: fossil fuels (Altieri, 1999; Gliessman, 2002). On the other hand, in this production 50.6% of farmers need external labor in the production of flowers. Results indicate that 100% depend on external inputs, mainly for the purchase of agrochemicals and contract of wages to maintain production in good conditions.

Local organizations: it is evaluated considering whether there are currently organizations for activities to obtain government support, credits, flowers marketing, among others; all of them indicated that they do not belong to any organization; and 1.2% mentioned that there are groups or organizations of producers to manage inputs (agrochemicals), greenhouses and commercialization of flowers.

Percentage of income contributed by the crop during the sale: floriculture is the most important activity in the income generation (93.3%) comparing only the traditional maize activity in an average area of 3005.16 m2 ($1 686.88 per year) with that of flowers in an average area of: 800 m2 ($23 512.02 per year). The interviewees mentio: “with the production of flowers we obtain up to three harvests a year depending on the flower, we earn more money, more if we harvest in high season or on holidays; and with maize production we only have one crop but it is not sold because it is food for the family”. Something similar to that was reported by Seidl et al. (2011), comments from the participants (producers of flowers) in their research: “with the greenhouses there are quantities produced, and soon... in the greenhouse we plant and in three months we are already harvesting. And there is more money. So we are sometimes changing maize for flowers”.

Presentation and integration of results

A matrix is created with the data obtained, in order to present a clearer analysis (Table 1). The intention is to give an overview of the yield of management systems in each indicator (Galván et al., 2008). Finally, the graphic representation of results integration with quantifiable data complementing it with qualitative ones (Figure 1).

Table 1 Indicators of sustainability in floriculture production. 

Fuente: modificado de Fuentes et al. (2015).

Figure 1 Sustainability of floriculture.  

The results obtained in the investigation considering each percentage represented by the indicators are as follows (Figure 1).


Floriculture is the main income generating activity to cover the expenses of the families of the community because they obtain more production in short periods (trhee annual cycles) in small production areas. Commercial production system presents indicators (11) with an index greater than 50% that help to strengthen the floricultural system: yield, cost/benefit ratio, production area, ethics in natural resource management, availability to technical training, availability to changes, knowledge transfer, family participation, dependence on external inputs and the percentage of income that the family provides in the sale of the crop. Intermediation, which maintains a low percentage (8.6%), is considered an indicator that strengthens the system.

Indicators that weaken the system in sustainability are: volume of production, number of plant species in the plot, varieties of flowers in the system, distribution of water, existence of intermediaries, local organizations and conservation practices of natural resources. The system of production of flowers under greenhouse is not sustainable because it deteriorates the forest when deforesting to establish floricultural areas and to install greenhouses, they use the raw material (wooden posts) for its structure.

It contaminates human health, soil, water and air by applying agrochemicals from the conditioning of the soil to the opening of flower buds; and by the waste (plastic) generated in production. Farmers are aware of the problems caused by the production of flowers to natural resources; however, there are few activities for their care and conservation. The production of flowers is an unsustainable production but of economic importance for the peasant families.

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Received: January 2017; Accepted: April 2017

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