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introducing the area

livelihood strategies

 quotes about livelihood strategies
 key testimonies featuring livelihood strategies

A common feature of the lives of many members of these four Sierra Norte communities is experience of different ways to make a living. A number of narrators describe how they have turned their hands to different activities and occupations. One narrator from Ixtepeji (Mexico 21) reveals the wide range of activities which he has carried out during his long working life: pasturing of dairy cattle (as a boy); cultivation of wheat and beans; hunting; collection and sale of bark; collection/sale of firewood; cutting of rough pine planks for rural buildings and thinner planks for sale; working for a forestry company; making bread; and, latterly, growing flowers for sale.

Another older member of the same community (Mexico 24) tells of his family's different occupations, including farming, making wooden spoons and molinillos (whisks for making hot chocolate, a Oaxacan speciality), charcoal and fish-farming: ".I left the school, and went home to work. My father was a farmer, he worked the land, he made wooden spoons, and I learned to do that for a long time. Time passed. After that he made charcoal, and he taught me how to make charcoal. And the years have gone by.After that I got married.I had seven children.whom I supported through my work of making spoons.Time passed and later.I worked only in the field, taking care of some cows, some bulls.A few years ago they taught farming - and this is what I've been doing until now."

A community member of Yavesía (Mexico 12) describes the diversity of activities which are carried out by the community and suggests a reason for that: "The way of life in this village is different; it's a village that grows all types of fruit - peaches, plums, quince, pears, apples, nuts, avocados. and there are carpenters who make furniture. They go to Ixtlán, Oaxaca or Tlacolula to sell, and it's good. They cut down trees that are already old and on the point of falling. They have a very special system for getting wood to make the furniture. It's rustic furniture and it's a very different way of getting an income. For food they sow corn, beans, wheat and there are bakeries that make bread and sell it right here as well as.other places.Lately they've been farming trout and cultivating mushrooms.because of [these different activities] they always say that they don't want exploitation of the forest."

Cultivation of coffee has also provided a livelihood for some in the Sierra (Mexico 13): ".I've got enough to support myself, because the coffee plantation is producing well.[it] gives me enough to get all my things." Planting coffee has a number of benefits according to different narrators: it may be sold for cash; apparently it is less labour intensive than other activities such as, for example, raising cattle, thus leaving time for other cropping; and it entails clearing less forest than corn or cattle.

The same narrator (Mexico 13) talks of exchanging, in effect bartering, coffee for essentials obtainable only from outside the community: "I brought chorizo (spicy sausage), sweet breads and all those things to eat, salt more than anything, and it was all exchanged for coffee." He also points out that, as in many rural areas, rearing of animals provides a means of saving for unforeseen events: "I built a little house there. It was simple, made of tejamanil (traditional rough pinewood planks), of wood.the wind blew it away.[so] I had to sell my pig that year. Here I had about 200,000 pesos [and] I went to Oaxaca to buy metal rods and wire, plain wire, and I got [the materials] to Yagila... From there I carried it here. Little by little I built my [new, stronger] house."

As one narrator from Yavesía mentions (Mexico 7), cash obtained from working outside the community is an important means of raising money: "Now some people are finding it worthwhile going to the USA; they earn dollars and then invest them in the village." For one young man in Tiltepec (Mexico 5), trying out new livelihood strategies in the relative security of the community is the preferred option: "Here I eat when I'm hungry.In the city, if you work you earn your food; but if you don't work, well, you don't eat, you don't have money to buy food.I mean, if one didn't have money I think you'd die of hunger there. I didn't like it that time and it was better that I came back here." He and another young man in Tiltepec are on the look out for new opportunities to better their standard of living within the community, especially since the value of coffee has proved unstable (Mexico 5): ".as Gil and I get on well we talk about the future so we'll be able to live a little now that the coffee is going down and it doesn't have a good price; [we need] to see in what work we can earn a little more".

Hunting and fishing are, it seems, regular sources of protein for some (Mexico 9): ".when they hunt, it's just for their own consumption . [they mostly hunt].deer; also wild turkey (Penelope purpurascens), and coati (raccoon-like animal, Nasua narica) too. [and] when the river grows [in volume]. it's worth going fishing every day. in the months of April and May.". Wild plants are another source of nutrition at different times of the year, as one woman explains (Mexico 19): "There are many guias (local name for edible leaves of young plants); from courgette, támala (local variety of courgette, Concurbita species), chayote (edible plant from the cucurbitáceas family), there's guia of...huele de noche, hierba mora (Solanum dumetorum and Solanum nigrum, edible plants of the solanáceas family).There are many plants [that I use].they don't all appear at the same time, every plant has its time." The same narrator from Tiltepec also talks of the different types of edible mushroom available locally.

Overall, it's clear that narrators diversify their activities as much as their circumstances and available resources allow. A leader of one community (Mexico 15) expresses the view that its members now need to plan and organise their activities collectively if they are to maintain their livelihoods: "With all the advances that there now are in other levels, other countries, other states, it's necessary that we, as a community, as people responsible for our community, train and know how to organise ourselves in all aspects, to be competitive every day."

quotes about livelihood strategies

"Yavesía has its own means for living, including many people migrating to the USA. Since before we can remember. the village has never looked to exploitation of the forest because nature gave it for us to live in, not to destroy."
Mauro, M/28, representante communal (official responsible for community property), Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 14

"I used to go to the USA every year for seven years; I wasn't there long, just two or three months [at a time]."
Mario, M/67, farmer, Tiltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico 13

"The economy is better [now] have to buy everything. You have to buy gas and the people who use charcoal have to buy that too. everything is easier, but there must be more sources of work too. Before, there was exchange, the people who sold goods exchanged them for corn, beans and wheat and a village could survive like that, [people] helped each other in this way. One didn't have to have a lot of money because one could exchange things, even work."
Soledad, F/62, Ixtlán, Oaxaca, Mexico 16

key testimonies featuring livelihood strategies

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   12    Mario Fernando   male/36   community manager   Yavesía, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   13    Mario   male/67   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   14    Mauro   male/28   representante communal (official responsible for community property)   Yavesía, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   15    Miguel   male/52   member of the consultative committee   Ixtlán, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   19    Victoria   female/32   housewife   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   21    Lucio   male/82      Ixtepeji, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   24    Silvestre   male/72   farmer   El Punto, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   5    Emigdio   male/19   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   7    Ignacio   Male/56   Farmer   Yavesía, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   9    Javier   male/22   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca