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(MEXICO 13b)








Tiltepec, Oaxaca


27 April 1999


This is the second of two testimonies by Mario, who is also interviewed in Testimony 13.

Born in Teococuilco in 1935, Mario has lived in many places, including the USA and Mexico City. He moved to Tiltepec approximately 27 years ago, and currently dedicates himself to coffee production. He has a son and grandchildren living in Mexico City and two daughters in Tiltepec.

Much of this testimony focuses on Mario’s long experience of coffee cultivation. There is perhaps a missed opportunity in both interviews to find out more about his experience of being a migrant worker in the USA and Mexico City. His time working in the mines is discussed to a limited extent in Testimony 13. But Mario’s willingness to talk about coffee production and its importance to the village makes this an interesting interview. His comments about his dealings with the coffee producer organisations and institutions are also revealing; they suggest a need for greater clarity and transparency when dealing with the provision of aid to producers and communities.

Having started cultivating coffee in 1973, Mario was one of the first people to grow it in Tiltepec, and he describes how he collected the first seeds and how the harvest has grown over the years. He claims that, with extra income generated by renting out his donkey, he is now able to live off coffee production alone. He is also keen to emphasise the advantages of coffee production over other crops and the benefits that it has brought to the community: “coffee is very favourable, profitable, because as I said, it [makes] more money and from that one can buy everything one needs.” Another very important factor, he says, is that coffee production means that there is less need to exploit the forest “it helps us to stop clearing the forest a lot…I didn’t need to clear the forest... with coffee I have enough to support myself”. However, he expresses concern that the neighbouring community of La Luz is still clearing forest. He would like to explain to them the way in which his community works the land to produce a good harvest: “the thing is to put a little bit more work into [the land] because it needs ploughing with the animals and like that it will give a good crop. There’s no need to clear the forest, cut down more trees.”

Mario’s experiences of coffee producer organisations and institutions appear to have been largely negative. He describes the “criticism and jealousy” involved, and outlines the numerous complications he encountered when trying to negotiate and manage aid provided by INI (National Indigenous Institute) and others for coffee producers in the community.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  Coffee production: he started growing coffee in 1973; how the harvest has increased over the years, size of plantation, number of plants. Labour used: difficulty of finding labourers now because they are all growing their own coffee – can’t collect his whole harvest.
Section 3-4  How he got the coffee seeds: “Some Señores who know where to look for the seedlings. So I paid them 20 centavos (cents) a seedling and they brought me, well one day it was two-thirds, 500 plants, 500 seedlings” A lot of seeds were found in the old plantations. Now everyone grows coffee. Its benefits: “Coffee is the reason the people have merchandise to sell here and people come here to sell” The trading business he had when he used to buy coffee in Oaxaca. The journey to Tiltepec from Oaxaca. How selling coffee has changed: the FINACIERA; the market in Oaxaca where he used to sell coffee; switching to a private trader in La Luz; selling coffee in Yagila.
Section 4-5  Land used for coffee; grows best where it’s hotter. Crops grown in the community before: just corn, beans, panela (unrefined sugar), chilli. Some people had cattle – damage done by jaguar. Advantages of coffee: “it’s very good because a plant lasts for a long time… one can dedicate oneself to other work because it gives you a lot of time.” Now he dedicates himself just to coffee. Gave fallow fields to his son-in-law. Rents out donkey for extra money – with this he can get by.
Section 5-6  Explains how coffee means there is less need to clear the forest. His concern that people from La Luz are still clearing the forest: “it’s all fallow fields and now they are abandoning them and opening up more forest and then they are growing a lot of coffee too.” It rains less in La Luz – he blames this on fires in the mountains and deforestation. It rains less now than it did when he first arrived.
Section 7-8  Producer organisations: “there is always criticism and jealousy so…I stopped taking part.” Dealing with INI: he collected money from people who owed it and attended meetings negotiating aid for coffee producers. The problems and complications: “Well now I don’t get myself into this anymore, I moved aside” Two women also included in the budget of aid for coffee producers – but the budget wasn’t big enough for any others. The account was “just for those who grew coffee or were listed but then we decided that the money should stay in the savings account for the whole village.” They can’t take out money, only collect interest thinks the account has now been forgotten
Section 8-9  They don’t use fertilisers or other chemicals on the coffee. This year production was good: the heat was good for the plants. Hopes that “everyone grows more coffee and they won’t need to clear the forest”.