Mexico is the 14th largest country in the world. According to the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), in 2013, 11% of the country’s area was used for agriculture and food production. 75% of agricultural production in Mexico is seasonal; most of the farming is family-run. According to a study on family farming in Mexico, carried out by the FAO and SAGARPA in 2012, 40% of “rural economic units” have business productive potential, as long as they have an average production area of between 3 and 4 hectares per head, and an average of three or four working family members. Almost one in four of these family farms is run by women, and between 11% and 39% are run by speakers of an indigenous language.
When it comes to consumers, an increasing interest in “healthier” foods can be seen for various reasons: they are more natural, their ecological footprint is lower and they are often organic. Unfortunately so-called “co-producers”, committed to supporting producers, are still a minority. Many consumers, despite showing interest in this type of food, are still reluctant to pay higher prices. However, it is also often the case that buying goods directly from producers softens the perception of price mark-ups, as the consumer appreciates having fresh, local and organic products. These are some of the factors that led to the creation of the Mercado el 100.
On September 5, 2013, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity included this project in the Earth Market network. The market’s small-scale producers come from no further than 100 miles to sell their products directly to consumers, products that have been cultivated and produced using sustainable techniques. On October 30, 2013, the Mercado el 100 also created a program for ethical sales, responding to a pressing need to generate a positive social, environmental and economic impact. Now consumers can establish a relationship of trust with the producers: The producers provide information about their goods, and the consumers suggest new products or variations.
The Earth Market currently unites 26 small-scale ecological producers who follow traditional techniques, using resources carefully and contributing greatly to the country’s food security. Organic produce also offers new marketing opportunities, with demand for these products increasing sharply.
Letting producers speak
Community leaders Emma Villanueva Buendía and Abel Rodríguez Rivera run the Casa Tlalmamatla integrated project, which adds value to different products from the milpa and their family-run plot. Their products include tortillas, tlacoyos and tamales made using native corn varieties, as well as at least 10 bean varieties, three native avocado varieties, cultivated and wild native tropical fruit, and much more.
It was not easy for them to seek new commercial opportunities. The large organic food shops, for example, ask for credit, demand competitive prices and offer payment conditions that are not advantageous to small-scale farmers. What’s more, many also require organic certification, which is a big stumbling block for many producers.
At the Mercado el 100, the main motivation is not a need to make money, but rather to create relationships of mutual trust. Giving producers the chance to communicate directly with consumers returns value to local foods, and develops better understanding of the work that lies behind every single tortilla.
The Earth Markets are an international network of producers, farmers and consumers who respect Slow Food’s philosophy. There are currently 38 Earth Markets located around the world, from Austria to Turkey to India.
This article was first published in the Slow Food Almanac.