Gendered fruit and vegetable home processing near the US-Mexico border: Climate change, water scarcity, and noncapitalist visions of the future

Stephanie J. Buechler

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


A more rapid pace of change has been evident in San Ignacio, a community in Sonora, Mexico, near the border with the United States, for many years and in many different forms, including through globalization, livelihood transformations, and environmental degradation. Perhaps most worrying, the area is experiencing water resource pressures as well as increasingly visible impacts of climate change and climate variability. These climate changes have had significant gender impacts, with ripple effects on socioeconomic relations in the community. Where once the community depended on agricultural production and processing, especially fruit and vegetable cultivation and canning, such livelihoods have been made more tenuous. Due to environmental changes, the future of agricultural production and processing in this area is at risk. As one resident, Maria, worried aloud, "All of my neighbors' wells are drying up or have already dried up. Like our trees, my neighbors' trees are being dug up and they are not planting new trees when they die from too little water. There is very little work with the economic crisis, and soon there won't even be orchards" (interview, March 2009). This chapter examines how sustainability issues are related to gender divisions in fruit and vegetable production and processing in San Ignacio. Currently, men are involved in agricultural production in more commercial fields on a daily basis, whereas women are more involved in smaller-scale agriculture in the orchards located within the home compound (solar). In addition to gender divisions in production, agricultural processing enterprises also see division: women are involved in the canning and candying of fruit and the pickling of vegetables and olives, whereas other processing enterprises, such as the production of quince jelly and jam on a more commercial basis, involves both men and women at different stages. These divisions of labor activity are also reflected in different visions of economic reproduction for the future and thus are deeply entwined with long-term sustainability issues. Women's visions for the present and future are geared toward family ties, social networks, and noncapitalist relations, whereas men have different paths. Men's visions do include family ties, but overall are more focused on agricultural production for the market, thus prioritizing capitalist relations. In this chapter, I examine these alternative visions of Sonoran women and men that stem from their engagement in home processing of agricultural goods and their exchange of these goods within social networks. An important finding of this study is that women, to a greater extent than men, are able to maintain noncapitalist visions of the present and future. They do this by retaining a conviction that there are important linkages between agricultural production and commerce on the one hand, and the reciprocal aid and affection of family and friends on the other, which need to be constantly nurtured. These alternative, noncapitalist visions ensure a degree of social and economic sustainability for women and for men, albeit in different ways. However, the dynamic environmental conditions in the area are beginning to have detrimental effects on agricultural production and, by extension, agricultural processing enterprises. I argue that this could lead to a fundamental restructuring of social organization that could adversely affect these future visions of the women and men producers and their entire community. This community extends beyond the geographical boundaries of their village and fields to include family and friends in other cities and towns in Mexico as well as across the border in the United States. This research is an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of how women and men in San Ignacio envision their future in the context of this environmental change, and how they have incorporated their long-term visions into present-day practices, with concomitant effects on sustainability at the local level. Such a focus is much needed, as water resources and climate are critical factors affecting the sustainability of agricultural production. The impacts are clearly also going to be affected by gender, yet researchers have just begun to study gender differences concerning the effects of water scarcity for agriculture (Buechler and Zapata 2000; Zwarteveen and Meinzen-Dick 2001; Ahlers 2005; Buechler 2005; Buechler 2009a; Buechler 2009b). Research on gender, agriculture, and the long-term effects of climate change is an even newer area of inquiry (see Denton 2002; Nelson et al. 2002; Roy and Venema 2002; Ahmed and Fajber 2009; Buechler 2009a; Buechler 2009b; Khamis et al. 2009; Nelson and Stathers 2009; Lambrou and Nelson 2010). My study of agricultural production and processing in Sonora contributes to this emerging area of inquiry on climate change and livelihoods in developing countries that includes studies in geography and anthropology (e.g., Eakin 2000; Eakin and Bojorquez-Tapia 2008; Eakin and Webhe 2008; Osbahr et al. 2008). This study of Sonora adds a focus on gender and water to this literature, and it contributes to work on gender, environment, and sustainability in Mexico generally (e.g., see Vázquez-García 1999; Cruz-Torres 2001; Vázquez-García and Hernandez 2002; Pablos 2003; Radel 2005; Soares 2006; Chambers and Momsen 2007).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGender and Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationLessons from Asia and Latin America
PublisherUniversity of Arizona Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780816599479
ISBN (Print)9780816530014
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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