In Mexican system of government, an ejido ([eˈxiðo], from Latin exitum) is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually farm designated parcels and collectively maintain communal holdings. Ejidos are registered with Mexico's National Agrarian Registry (Registro Agrario Nacional). The system of ejidos was based on an understanding of the Aztec calpulli and the medieval Spanish ejido.
During the colonial era and the 19th Century Liberal La Reforma and expansion of haciendas in the late 19th Century under Porfirio Díaz, landlessness was a serious issue in Mexico. It was one of the core problems that contributed to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, notably Morelos where Emiliano Zapata led revolutionary peasants seeking return of their lands. Tierra y libertad (land and liberty) was one of the slogans of the Revolution. Distribution of large amounts of land did not begin until Lázaro Cárdenas became president in 1934. The ejido system was introduced as an important component of the agrarian land reform in Mexico.
The typical procedure for the establishment of an ejido involved the following steps:
- landless farmers who leased lands from wealthy landlords would petition the federal government for the creation of an ejido in their general area;
- the federal government would consult with the landlord;
- the land would be expropriated from the landlords if the government approved the ejido; and
- an ejido would be established and the original petitioners would be designated as ejidatarios with certain cultivation/use rights.
Ejidatarios do not actually own the land, but are allowed to use their allotted parcels indefinitely as long as they do not fail to use the land for more than two years. They can pass their rights on to their children.
Opponents of the ejido system pointed to widespread corruption within the Banco Nacional de Crédite Rural (Banrural), the primary institution responsible for providing loans to ejiditarios, illegal sales and transfers of ejido lands, ecological degradation, and low productivity as evidence of the system's failure, but defendants countered these arguments by pointing out that every administration since that of Cárdenas had been either indifferent or openly hostile to ejidos, that the land assigned to ejidos was often of lower quality and therefore inherently less productive than privately held land, that the majority of agricultural research and support was biased towards large-scale commercial enterprises, that the politicians complaining about Banrural were the people responsible for the corruption, and that, regardless of its productivity, subsistence production is an important survival strategy for many peasants.
As part of a larger program of neoliberal economic restructuring that had already been weakening support for ejidal and other forms of small-scale agriculture and negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Harvard-trained President Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1992 pushed legislation through congress that modified article 27 of the national constitution to permit the privatization and the sale of ejidal land. This was a direct cause of the Chiapas conflict.
The changes to the ejidal system have largely failed to improve ejidal productivity, and have been implicated as significant contributing factors to worsening rural poverty, forced migration, and the conversion of Mexico, where the cultivation of maize originated, into a net-importer of maize and food in general.