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.