Some friends and I were discussing building financial opportunities for women. It made me think of the micro-loans that were championed by the Grameen Bank many years ago. One of my colleagues, a Bangladeshi engineer, was personal friends with Grameen founder, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate. The concept of micro-credit and micro-finance has worked in many places to help people build financial security.
Our discussion centered on ways to help women, specifically, to build financial security. It made me think of a study trip to Mexico, a few years ago, when I was able to learn from people who were using micro-credit to run very small farms called, ejidos (Eh-hee-tho). Looking back at my journal notes, I will describe their process for growing tomatoes (tomates).
We visited several farms in the county (municipio) of Ayala. An ejido farm can be compared to a parking lot. When you go to a parking lot, you just know there will be a place for you to park. And as long as you do not abuse your parking privileges, you can continue to park in a spot in that lot. An ejido farmer does not own his/her “lot”, but as long as he or she wants to farm there, and as long as it is used properly, the farmer can be on the land indefinitely. Like paid parking lots, there are only small fees to be paid, or food can be supplied to municipios.
My colleagues and I visited a wonderful tomato farming operation, which had been in production for about five months. It took about one month to begin to produce significant quantities for sale. Before entering the facility, we had to step inside a sunken, concrete box holding chlorine bleach.
Situated on approximately one-fourth hectare, which is about 2,500 meters, which is about .62 acres, is a screen-enclosed structure holding about nine-thousand tomato plants. The plants’ soil and root systems sit inside heavy, pliable, black plastic bags, which are approximately 13 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. The stems of the plants are three to six inches in diameter. The plants vine up strings rising 12 feet above to horizontal wires running parallel to each row of plants. The tomatoes nearest the bucket-like bags, holding the dirt and root systems, ripen first. As tomatoes are harvested, the green tomatoes nearest the horizontal wires are lowered to run more parallel with the ground. Then the top of any given plant will be hanging over buckets 10 spaces away. Every 15 days, the strings are lowered, and the tomatoes nearest the ground ripen first. This Loreto-variety of tomatoes takes a lot of nitrogen, we were told. If you want to see pictures, please let me know. You would love seeing this operation.
The plants take 20-thousand liters of water a day, which is about 5,265 gallons. The farmer harvests 200 boxes of tomatoes per week. The boxes held about two bushels, which is about 106 pounds. There is not much exporting, but this operation supplies several grocery stores (tiendas) weekly. The picked fruits are sold to the stores, and the fallen fruits are sold in the barrios (neighborhoods).
The producer told us the next thing to be learned is composting so that something useful can be done with the organic waste, which is one other by-product of this operation.
All this was built from a micro-loan, and the farmers told us they thought they’d begin to see a profit just after the second round of purchases.
Don’t forget to roll the “Rs”. Okay, so I already introduced the ejido farm producer. The community or municipio owns the land. You stake a claim, of sorts, to some land, and you farm it. As long as you do not abuse the land or other farms around you, you can work that land as long as you like. There is a small usage fee to help the community. The county (municipio) government usually helps with initial seeding, reclamation, and improvements.
We visited the farm of two women near the minicipio of Ayala, state of Morelos. The señoras farmed their ground together. They produced corn, green beans, squash, and sugar cane. Their corn seed came from the U.S., and they grew both grain (maiz) and sweet corn (elote) – pronounced “my-eese” and “eh-lo-tay.”
Farming 3,000 feet above sea level, the ladies planted, irrigated, and harvested by hand and with the use of oxen and horses. Small irrigation ditches ran through the land. It is up to the farmer to flood her fields from the ditches with dams and canals. They farmed four hectares (about 10 acres) per year. It costs about 5,000 pesos per hectare (2.48 acres) including 200 pesos for fertilizer and 350 pesos for insecticide. They pay their water usage annually. The ladies gave us an estimate that it took about 29,000 pesos to get their produce to the market. That is about $2,900.
In the ejido system, producers help one another plant and harvest. For example, the sugar cane was harvested with a machete. It takes strong arms to swing a machete. The crops go to market in Mexico City. Visiting this particular farm held a few contradictions. Everything was done by hand, which took us back in time. The power lines above had electricity surging through them, audibly. That brought us back to reality.
Thank you for reading.