Ejido (eh-hee-doh) is a plot of land, communally owned and family managed, via a system established in the 1930's, in Mexico, as a key element in that country's Agrarian Land Reform. Agrarian Land Reform had been in Mexico's constitution since 1917 but little re-distribution of land had been done until Lázaro Cárdenas was elected President of Mexico in 1934. Cárdenas helped re-distribute 45 Million acres (180,000 square kilometers) of land, much of which came from large haciendas. The ejidal system gives a citizen of Mexico, if approved by that country's National Agrarian Registry, the right to produce agricultural products on community-owned land. They may continue to manage said land for as long as they want to unless it can be shown that the land was not worked (no agricultural production) for two consecutive years. The rules include the right to pass the ejido on to one's rightful heirs as part of one's estate. The individual working the land under the ejido system is known as an ejidatario. The amount of land per ejidatario varies by population density but usually ranges between a fraction of an hectare and 14 hectares. Those are a few key facts. Rather than going into a great deal more detail about how an ejido works, I will try sharing some of my own personal experiences as background.
During the first part of the 1970's I lived in a small town in the Mexican State of Michoacán known as Ziracuaretiro. I was in my late teens at the time and my family and I camped (with permission, of course) on an ejido that was managed by a campesino (tenant farmer) whom we knew as Don Manuel.
Don Manuel was a very hard worker and worked on the ejido almost every day of the year. Most campesinos did, from my experience, and they all referred to such land as "mi parcela" (my parcel). Don Manuel had a definite sparkle in his eye and smiled with his whole face a lot. He had a couple of horses, an ox and a steer, and grew corn and milo on his parcela. Manuel's parcel was located near the railroad about three miles from town and we made our camp near a creek that ran through it. He and his wife, Doña Natalia, lived right next to the bakery in town and he walked to, and from, his parcel daily. Trips to town involved either walking the railroad tracks (isolated) or taking a shortcut through the outskirts of town. The "shortcut" was filled with scents and sounds of human habitation and every kind of flower and food plant you can imagine.
The ejido to the east of Don Manuel's parcel was worked by Don Luis who kept a few dairy cows and sold milk in town. My stay in Ziracua totaled about a year and was divided in half by a trip back to the US to renew travel visas (which would expire in six months unless renewed).
When we returned stateside, after the first six months, we stayed in Snohomish County in Washington State for a couple of months . This was where we had lived before the house fire (and before our decision to head to Mexico instead of rebuilding). During the time we were there I met a runaway 18 year old girl named Sheri from Ohio. Six of us came north from Mexico (myself, three siblings and our parents) and seven returned south to Ziracuaretiro. Seven always has been a lucky number for me. But I digress.
When we got back to Ziracua things were a bit crowded in the camper so Sheri and I pitched a tent next to it. Sheri thought she heard something in the middle of the night and woke me from a sound sleep. I grumbled and turned on our little camp lantern. There were a half dozen scorpions crawling up the inside walls of our tent. We started looking at other options for sleeping quarters. Meanwhile Don Luis (remember Luis, with the neighboring parcela and milk cows?) offered to let us (me and Sheri) stay in his ranchito, which was a small adobe hut on his parcel. We gratefully accepted.
One of the amazing features of the area we were staying in is the abundant springs. Maybe it's because of the volcanic origins of the mountains we were in but there were crystal clear fresh water springs everywhere. There was a saddle shaped, dormant (fortunately), double coned volcano right next to the ejidos we were living on, and there was even a spring on top of it, if you knew where to look. The ejidatarios had long since channeled many of these these springs down the tops of the ridges so almost every parcela had access to water. One day Luis was tending his cows when a man came walking up along the stone fence row near the ranchito. Luis leaned over close to me and proceeded to tell me how this so-and-so was here to steal his water again. Honestly, the way he carried on, I half expected a fight. "I'm going to go give that rascal a piece of my mind", said Luis. I watched apprehensively as Luis approached the man. They exchanged friendly greetings and asked about the health and welfare of each other's families. Those men talked for close to an hour before the subject of water even came up! When they did get on the subject of irrigation water they were polite, agreeable, and whatever conflict there may have been seemed easily resolved. I just wish that all wars over water rights could be so smoothly handled.
There have been several changes in the ejidal system of land re-distribution in Mexico. Small farms are on the decline there just as they are in many other countries. The Mexican ejidatarios I met in the 1970's were very proud of their parcelas and the system that provided them. I personally hope that is still the case, even if the numbers of them are diminished.