Mexico has seen an impressive increase in its berry production in recent years.

The state of Jalisco, located on Mexico’s western coast, is one of the largest berry producers in the country.  

Berries are a high-value and high-risk crop that require significant investments for uncertain returns; high grower returns in recent years have encouraged the berry industry to expand.

Blackberries and raspberries are typically grown under plastic tunnels; metal hoops are erected to support the plastic that covers rows of berries, with air entering at both ends and between the plastic and the ground.

A 20-hectare blackberry or raspberry operation could have 100 to 120 workers during the harvest. Berries are labor intensive because the same plant must be re-picked multiple times.

Sometimes, fields are re-picked 40 to 50 times during a season.

Workers pick raspberries every day and blackberries twice a week.

Workers with shopping baskets containing plastic clamshells walk down rows of blackberry and raspberry plants. Most work without gloves. The average worker can pick 35 trays of blackberries and 25 trays of raspberries a day; so that 35 trays of blackberries at 13 pesos a tray means 455 pesos ($25) in daily earnings.

A typical weekly wage during the peak of the harvest season was reported to be 2,500 pesos ($140) for a six-day, 48-hour week. 

The peak berry harvest season in the Guzman area is March to May. As yields drop, a major challenge is to retain migrant workers when there are other high-earning crops available to pick in other regions. Migrants with land at home often want to return to their farms, prompting some berry growers to offer end-of-season bonuses, paying one or two pesos for all trays picked during the entire season to retain workers. These bonuses reportedly persuade 90 percent of pickers to stay until the end of the season. 

Most growers recruit single men. Growers often provide migrants with housing, with 4 or 8 people per room, and cooking facilities.

Many growers employ a mix of local and migrant workers, although migrants and local workers are often segregated in the workplace and in lunch and rest areas. 

The major issue for growers is the availability of labor for continued expansion. 

Migrants are often preferred workers. They tend to be faster pickers and are willing to work longer hours and Sundays if needed, while local workers may not show up every day and may refuse extra hours. Migrants are about 80 percent men and 20 percent women, while the sex ratio of local workers varies with the season.

To solve this problem, growers may need to consider new labor options, such as employing more local youth, internal migrants, or guest workers.

Growers recognize that a major threat to berry farming is the availability and treatment of migrant workers, and they are cooperating and paying for efforts by major berry marketers to establish and promote best practices to recruit, house, and supervise migrant workers.

 

 

This project is made possible by the support of the Walmart Foundation.