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Rufino and Juana









Las Animas, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca


12 November 2001


Rufino and Juana have worked in the molinillo (wooden whisk for making chocolate drink) trade for 29 years. They are married and have seven sons, of whom all but one are involved in the trade. Their family-run business is reflective of the specialisation of craft families in the community. Rufino first learnt the trade using the traditional methods, but after purchasing a lathe they were able to increase productivity and create more competitive products. Juana takes on a leading role in the family business; she is in charge of selling the products – negotiating prices with their clients. With her strong business mindset, she hopes for more technical advice on how to improve their work/productivity and make better use of the resources by minimising waste. Both refer to the rising scarcity of resources; Rufino describes how there are no longer trees on the breach way and that now they must order/purchase wood from other towns. They point to the need for more joint cooperation in the community in managing resources and businesses. Rufino tells of his dream of setting up a tree nursery to ensure preservation, but according to him, it hasn’t developed because “there is no support for that”. Neither from the authorities or the community itself, he complains.

Like many others from the community, Rufino at first worked with the production of charcoal but he is glad to have left that hard work. He tells of the hardships in the past, even having to endure shortages of food. Now, “the situation has changed a little, but at that time … it was very hard. We only harvested corn, chilli, beans, tomatoes, and that’s it”. They are happy to be working in the molinillo trade: “I suffered a lot. Thank God that I have this work now, I don’t think I could go back to doing what I did before” he says; “Yes, thank God, it has given us enough. It has been a good little work” she agrees.

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Section 1  The molinillo (wooden whisk for making drinking chocolate). Traditional methods: “we worked the molinillo by hand... carving with a knife and an axe… and simple saws.” Using the lathe: “we asked one of the people who came to sell at Oaxaca market, about the possibilities of acquiring a lathe like theirs to work the rounded molinillo, because there was a lot of madera de águila (“eagle wood”), and nobody was using it - it wasn’t good for any other thing, only for that. And that man wasn’t selfish. He told me, ‘If you want, come to my town, there I have a lathe, if you want I can sell it to you.’ And that’s how that work arrived here.”
Section 1-2  Selling the crafts: “We only deliver, we don’t sell in the market.” Resources used/method of production: “Before, we used madrono (Arbutus menziesii, native tree/shrub with many uses; Ericaceae – heather – family) wood … it was a special wood used to make the molinillo… with madrono the process is that it needs to be boiled, it needs to be’ cooked’. After the green (unseasoned) molinillo was finished, we had to put it in a big bowl on the fire, so that it boiled and boiled, until a point when it was really well pressed(?) by the hot water. We got it out, left it outside in the sun, and it wouldn’t open. And if it is not done that way, when we throw it in the sun, the molinillo cracks and the work is lost. That is what happens.” Exploration of resources: “100 metres below the path there is a lot of wood, but we can not get to it. To lift it, to carry it, it is difficult…What’s happened is that all the aile (“eagle wood”) that was next to the clearings is finished.”
Section 3  His idea for preservation: “I had the idea, if it was possible, to build a tree nursery for that… all the people who work in this could take part in this work.” Whole family is involved in the trade: “there are my sons who have already learnt to work, then my wife who sells the product. She goes to the delivery point to find a good price… she is the one who knows, she has her clients and she is in charge here.” Former work with charcoal. Transportation problems: “ we had to take the loads of charcoal by mule, and go walking to Oaxaca, imagine that! Walking about 10 hours at night, to arrive at 8 or 9 in the morning to the city to sell the charcoal there. That was too hard… we were forced to go out… whether it was raining or not, come on!” Business providing an income: “At least we have now… we can eat something. At that time, we didn’t have meat to eat, no! Not bread, nor chocolate, nor chicken broth, nor fruit, there was nothing, because we didn’t have enough. But now, at least we have fruit, bread.” Planting of crops for consumption: “I plant a little corn in the backyard, that’s all. The corn, squash, green beans. Yes, a little bit of each.”
Section 4  Exploitation of resources: “Each one lives his own way, and each one does what he wants and is able to, he goes and cuts his wood, he doesn’t mind whether there will be enough to use later or not, the only thing they want is to cut and that’s all.” Plans for building a nursery. Water management: “up here it is very bad with pine. Then there is an agreement between the people to take the water from the community to maintain the plantation.” A family trade: “me and my sons, they learnt; the sons of the people who worked over here, they learnt too. But if we aren’t related, they don’t learn, they don’t work in that, they work in other things. For example, the ones who make the spoons, they are spoon makers only, and they don’t make the molinillos, they only make spoons.”
Section 5  Potential for exporting: “the secretary of tourism came to see us, and he told us that if we wanted we could export the production to improve our market. But that is hardly necessary for us, because we have a lot of buyers here in the city.” Economies of scale: “if we sell one piece, we sell it more expensively than if we sell it to wholesale. It is more convenient, the only thing is that to sell, for example 100 molinillos, this way - one by one - when will we finish? We don’t see the money.”
Section 5-6  Seasonal demand: “In some seasons the market is very good, but there are seasons when it goes down a lot; then we have to put in more effort to sell”. Need for technical assistance: “we need somebody who can give us some advice, to see how the lathes are, if it needs more space, more power… but we need somebody to tell us this is the way you should do it, that way the wood is better used. Because now, for example, we use maybe half the tree, the other half is lost. Now what we need is somebody to come with an idea or knowledge of how to use all of the wood … maybe to install a disc or something.”
Section 6-7  Maximizing use of resources: “Before we cut only the wood for the molinillo and by the other side another head came out; but we didn’t know how to use it from the side. Now we cut it, and with the chainsaw we cut it by the side and two heads come out, and we can use a little more. But we couldn’t before because we threw away one molinillo, we threw it at each slice, and it was a lot of waste. And that’s because I didn’t find the idea of how to do it… That’s why I say that probably half is wasted.” Scarcity of trees: “here in our land, here in our town, we go to cut a tree, then we don’t have to buy it, it is for the community. We went before, but now we can’t go anymore because there is no more left, not by the side of the path. But then it wasn’t at any cost to us.” Need for setting up a cooperative: “each one works at home and each one does his work, and each one respects the others. Since there isn’t an organisation, let’s say to make an agreement, to think how to do it, to buy the wood together… No, each one buys its own.”