Sustainable water management is a core sustainable development goal (SDG) that also contributes to other SDGs, including food and water security, ecosystem health, and climate adaptation. To achieve these synergies, policies must target efforts to regions that best correspond with development objectives. This study designs a targeting strategy for irrigation expansion in southern Mexico—a region long considered to have strong potential for sustainable irrigation development. We use an integrated farm typology and decision tree approach to identify priority municipalities for irrigation expansion. We use multivariate statistics to examine the relationships among farm characteristics in 933 municipalities, classifying each according to four farm types: lowland, midland, midland-irrigated, and highland. We then partition municipalities into 11 farm-type subgroups, each ranked by priority level for receiving irrigation interventions following Mexico’s National Water Program guidelines. Results identify a ‘highest-priority’ subgroup of 73 municipalities comprised mostly of midland and highland farm types. These types are characterized by low irrigation use, small farmland areas, high vulnerability to climate, high marginalization (poverty), strong representation from indigenous communities, low maize yield, and high rates of subsistence production. Findings provide a crucial first approximation of where irrigation expansion would best address water policy priorities and sustainable development objectives in southern Mexico. This study also provides a useful framework for scaling organizations tasked with targeting development efforts across large spatial scales.
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