My first impression of Chiapas

The Importance of Hunger for Knowledge in the Production of Food

My first impression of Chiapas, southern Mexico, was: wow, it’s a lot greener here than I expected. My second was: these people drink a lot of Coca Cola. Both of these observations, while perhaps not related at first glance, have much to do with agriculture.

As a senior at CornellUniversity with a major in international agriculture and rural development, I’m always drawn to situations where farming and an interest in progressiveness collide. So, when I found out about a class offered through Cornell to participate in a two week field study trip to southern Mexico, I had to go. It was one of my best college decisions.

While we saw many amazing things in Mexico, including the ancient Maya ruins in Palenque and the mysterious blue waters of Aqua Azul in the mountains outside San Cristobal, I was constantly fascinated by the many farmers we met along our drive south through the state of Chiapas. They were agriculturalists of every kind: dairy farmers, corn farmers, cheese makers, flower growers and even mangrove and coffee farmers. Each struggled with the challenges of rural agriculture, like manual labor and small yields, but noted the good rainfall of Chiapas as compared with the rest of Mexico and considered themselves lucky.

Many of the farmers, I was happy to see, also participated in rural development projects, either with NGOs or local universities. It was encouraging to see the Mexican people take an interest in their local agriculture and want to invest in it. For all the years these indigenous people had been farming, they still lacked some of the most basic infrastructure in modern farming. Things like chicken coops to keep the chickens safe from predators and disease or shelters for the cows at milking time to lessen contamination were only just being introduced. However, I was also encouraged to see how eager the farmers were to improve their own operations. They listened intently to the rural extension workers and even asked us students for advice about problems they had. They wanted to share their experiences and hear our own. They wanted to learn.

This hunger for knowledge impressed me the most about the farmers of Chiapas. Compared to the large growers in the US, the rural farmers in Mexico had almost no land to grow their crops on. In order to make enough money to feed their families they get creative with their cropping systems, many times growing five crops on one hectare of land. Touring one of these small farmers is like walking through a department store; there’s something for everyone.

The amount of manual labor that goes into operations such as these is mind blowing to the average person. The farmers work from sun up to sun down without a day off all year. Although this is standard for work in the agriculture industry, so much physical work is unheard of this day in age. Most modern farms have tractors and other industrialized equipment that make the work faster and easier, allowing for larger harvests and more hectares in production.

The farmers in Mexico have my ardent admiration. Not only for their ability to work such long hard hours with such perseverance, but also for their desire to improve themselves. Agriculture in Mexico has a very positive outlook for the future if all farmers are as willing as the ones I met to try new practices and accept outside advice. The potential for growth and prosperity is there and some rural communities and farms are working hard to realize it.

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