Organic farms in Mexico areslowly but surely gaining ground. Local demand has been low. 98% of the organic produce is exported. However with a rising middle class and a burgeoning middle class who are increasingly becoming health conscious, local sales of organic produce are increasing. According to Laura Gomez, a researcher at the University of Chapingo and co-author of a 2003 report “La agricultura orgánica en México,” the best estimate of organic production value for 2004 is $350 million on a land base of 300,000 hectares.
Coffee accounts for the highest area of land under organic agriculture, about 67%. Other highly ranked crops are corn (blue corn), sesame, mixed vegetables and maguey (an Agave species traditionally grown to make the mild alcoholic drink pulque). Others include herbs, mangoes, oranges, field beans, apples, papaya, avocado, soy, bananas, cacao, African palm, vanilla, and pineapple. Majority of the producers are smallholder indigenous farmers in rural Mexico.
One such farmer is Carlos Burgoen who grows a variety of herbs and spices. Burgoen and his family farm four and a half hectares of tomatoes, basil, mint, and other culinary herbs outside San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur.
Another farmer, covered in an article by Leah Peniman is Josefino Martinez, affectionately called “Professor” by his neighbours. He is a well-respected indigenous farmer and community organizer from the remote town of Chicahuaxtla, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He practices organic farming as his ancestors did and he has found it to be profitable, environmentally friendly and sustainable. Despite his farm being literally etched into the mountainside, with a slope so severe that ploughing with tractors or animals was impossible, his storage room was full of maize, beans, dried chilli, squash seeds, and fresh fruit that he’d grown right on his farm. One of the measures he has taken is to plant trees to stabilise the soil on the slope.
Oswaldo Flores, a Zapotec indigenous man from the village of Yaviche, says his community uses intercropping and agroforestry to grow more food without expanding into new lands. These are key practices of organic agriculture. His farm is a cafetal, a shady, multi-storey system with tall, purple-podded guajinicuiles and fruit trees forming the upper layer, coffee trees at the intermediate layer, and smaller food plants and vines (chillies, chives, chayotes) near the ground. The trees protect the plants below from high winds and cold temperatures, and their fallen leaves provide natural compost that inhibits weed growth, adds fertility, and retains soil humidity. Guajinicuiles also fix nitrogen, making it available in organic form in the soil.
Corn, beans, and squash grow together in this milpa, tended by Oswaldo Flores. Photo by Leah Penniman.
Increasingly, organic farms in Mexico are looking for alternatives to chemical nitrogen fertilizers. With demand for organic food increasing year over year, organic farms in Mexico are answering the call with traditional Mexican crops returning to ‘their roots’.
• Sizing up organic farming in Mexico By Don Lotter, freelance agricultural researcher and journalist based in Davis, California.
• Four Ways Mexico’s Indigenous Farmers Are Practicing the Agriculture of the Future. Leah Penniman. (for more, click here)