Mujeres Ambientalistas de Jiquilpan: another Mexican success story

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Jiquilpan is a typical, very small Mexican town (population about 2000) in the state of Jalisco, about 2kms outside another small town, San Gabriel (population about 5000), which is famous as the place where one of Mexico’s greatest writers, Juan Rulfo, spent his childhood. To get there from Ciudad Guzman, where I live, you have to cross to the other side of the volcano del Nevado, a spectacular drive, full of twisting curves, that climbs up to about 3000 meters, before descending into the plain where San Gabriel is located.

I had been invited to San Gabriel by Alejandro, the coordinator of tourism there, who was keen to show me and my son around the area. Part of our two-day trip, just before Xmas, was to visit a project called ‘Mujeres Ambientalistas’ (literally translated as ‘environmental women’), a group of women who had set up a co-operative to produce jam and other products mainly from the fruit guayaba, and using particularly the fruit that was judged not to be suitable for selling and which otherwise would have been thrown away.

When we visited the cooperative, I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to not only the president, Tamar, but also a consultant from Mexico City, Gerardo Chavéz Segoviano, who was helping the cooperative with the production, distribution and sale of its products.

Tamar told us the history of the cooperative. In 2003, a group of women, who met when they took lunch to their children at the local school, decided they wanted to do something about the rubbish that was accumulating in their town. For a year, this group of about 20 women, together with about 60 children, and with the help of the local priest, organised the clearing of rubbish from sites around the entrance to the town.

This process of working together (what sociologists would call creating social capital) led to looking for ways in which the women could work together to create an income for themselves and where they could also pursue their commitment to the environment. In 2004, they set up a cooperative with the idea of producing jam and other completely natural products from the guayabas that were not sold as fruit. They were given a grant by the state government of Jalisco of 300,000 pesos (about 24,000 USD) and also borrowed from the same government a further 500,000 (40,000 USD) pesos at a low interest rate.

For two years, the women worked together learning by trial and error to make their different products, paying off some of the loan, but without creating any income for any of them. In these two years, half the women left the cooperative. Furthermore, they contracted three consultants to help them (all male), with the technical aspects of their production process, who basically advised them very poorly. Tamar estimates that the cooperative wasted about 300, 000 pesos on bad advice.

Fortunately, the new engineer, found by personal recommendation by a relative of the president, has been a great asset and has helped the cooperative enormously. In 2008, they have had sales of 800,000 pesos (about 64,000 USD) and some of their products are likely to gain certification by a national body accrediting products suitable for diabetics – instead of using sugar, they use a product that comes from the agave plant, which also makes a delicious alternative to honey. In addition, their products, under the label Campo Deli, have just started to be distributed and sold in supermarkets in Mexico City. It is likely their sales will triple in the following year.

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Gerardo explaining a point about the production to Tamar and me (photo courtesy of Michael Roberts)

Overall, to conclude, this is a great success story. When I talked to the president and her adviser the following factors stood out as key reasons for their success:

  • As already mentioned, the social capital that was generated by taking collective action over an environmental issue that concerned them all. There is an interesting parallel here with my previous post about the conservation of turtles by an indigenous community. What is it that leads a community to decide to do something about the degradation of their environment, especially when many communities do nothing?
  • The key role of leadership. It was clear from what the consultant said and from listening to her, that Tamar is an exceptional leader. So much so, that I will devote my next post to this.
  • The important role of finding someone who can offer the advice and expertise that is lacking in the cooperative. In this case, Gerardo, the adviser, helped the women manufacture products with much higher and more consistent quality, use their equipment more effectively and economically, and find important sales outlets in Mexico City. Gerardo does not have a website, but can be contacted at echavez62@hotmail.com

16 comments so far

  1. Meredith on

    Wow, that is a great story. So the cooperative is in Jiquilpan? Some of the interviews for my fieldwork were in Jiquilpan, I wonder if any of those women are involved. They didn’t mention it as a source of income or a job, so I guess not. Now, on to the turtles……

  2. Lola on

    This looks a very good business opportunity for someone eager to help while making money, especially on these days that organic products are so demanded…

  3. Luke on

    Another happy story of success. I wander when we’ll next return to the dark side of Mexican life?

  4. Patricia Shaw on

    I think the thing that most intrigues me is what Tamar (I called her Miriam in my other comment) and the other women would pick out as the scenes when the move from meeting and talking and prusumably complaining about the rubbish turned into the beginning of collective action. Equally what are the scenes in which the jam making possibility was really seen and grasped? I am becoming very interested in seeing if there is consensus about such scenes and what people point to as significant in them in order to understand how change ‘happens’ rather than listing factors as you have done which still leaves something important unanswered. Success is such a hindsight only perspective – so interesting to hear people describe rather than explain the detailed circumstances in which something shifted at the time and not just in retrospect.

  5. Sandra on

    I enjoyed reading your very informative article.
    I myself am from this small town of Jiquilpan Jalisco.
    I am honored that you took the time to visit my humble town to gather information of what these incredibly strong minded women accomplished.

  6. Paul Roberts on

    Sandra – Im glad you liked the article. I recently visited the cooperative again and was equally impressed. Its great to see this project succeeding. There is also a great bakery in Jiquilpan too, which I also visited with a group of students.

  7. Naidu on

    Jiquilpan is not in jalisco, it’s located in the state of Michoacan.

  8. paulrobertsmexico on

    Naidu

    That is another Jiquilpan which is a much larger city in Michoacán. This Jiquilpan is a small pueblito located in the municipality of San Gabriel in Jalisco.

  9. titis on

    HOLA MUJERES TRABAJADORAS!!!!!!
    felicidades y sigan haciendo
    ricos dulces y mermeladas, para ke nos
    manden con mi Hermana.
    LAS EXTRANO Y LAS QUIERO MUCHO
    SALUDOS

  10. cecilia montes de Oca Campillo on

    tengo familia en Jiqilpan. Me interesa saber mas de este Pueblo. FELICITO A LAS MUJERES AMBIENTALES. YO HE TRABAJADO CON LA EPA EN CUESTION DE EL AMBIIENTE

  11. Mago Cordova G on

    HOLA TERE Y CHELA SOY MAGO CORDOVA;;;;tere dice beto que ya boy para aya para que le bayas apartando sus rollos de dulce de guayaba y membrillo OK ~~~~~~~~~

  12. Maribel Aguilar on

    k vien k agan el dulce de guayava esta muy bueno gracias felicidades a todas la mujeres

  13. GEORGE LOPEZ on

    hola muchachonas paisanas de mi bello jiquilpan saludos y un fuerte abrazo y que siga la produccion de los ricos rollos de guayaba …..

  14. karlos moreno on

    hola: me gusto mucho este articulo muy bien redactado y gracias por tomar tu tiempo, soy originario de jiquilpan voy seguido pero no sabia de este proyecto, estoy confundido esto se encuentra en jiquilpan o san gabriel ? karlos m

  15. Paul Roberts on

    Karlos – se encuentra el proyecto en Jiquilpan

  16. karlos moreno on

    ok gracias no estaba enterado ojala me toque verlo een mi proxima visita


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