NUEVA ESPERANZA, CHIAPAS
Enrique Guzmán took the biggest gamble of his life eleven years ago. Along with the land his father left him, he had his life savings. To add to his good fortune, his fourth child had just been born. Although not an ejido farmer, he had been taught about one thing, and one thing only: agriculture. And the only things he knew how to grow were corn and cassava. Looking back, he remembers that it was his friend Felipe who advised him to grow oil palm.
The story would end in the best way possible. “Oil palm is a goldmine,” says Enrique, who is currently a member of the Southwestern Oil Palm Growers Association. Reflecting back on events, he is convinced that he hit the jackpot and will continue to win by using his land to grow oil palm.
“We weren’t palm growers. We’d always farmed traditionally and raised cattle for dairy and meat purposes,” he says. “That was how we made a living.”
After the boom in palm production boosted by President Ernesto Zedillo’s government programs, Enrique says that many people quit when the program ended. That happened because in those years there were not any established industries to buy the fruit. “A lot of people joined the program as a business, but we didn’t know anything about the process,” he says. “Then some engineers came to advise us, but they only taught us rudimentary things about cleaning. After three years we started producing.”
It was not until the mills came that palm farming started to take off. “I love my four hectares, just love them, because I have four kids and the oil palm has allowed me to give them a chance in life.”
All four of Enrique’s children are in school. Rodolfo, the eldest, is at college studying to be a forest engineer. Rodolfo’s dedication and discipline led the university to award him a scholarship. “That makes me so proud,” says Enrique. “One day he told me we didn’t need to pay his USD 80 tuition bill because the university had exempted him for getting good grades. I gave that money to him anyway so he could buy some shoes.”
Two of his children are in high school and another, the youngest, is in elementary school. “I am a farmer. I tell my children that I don’t get a salary, that we have to earn it all for ourselves,” he says. “I’ve spent the last 15 years working the small plots my dad left me. I’m very thankful for the oil palm. It keeps my kids in school and gives me a living.”
Enrique is excited. He says that he is about to find out the results of the soil and foliage analyses that Oleopalma specialists have done on his plantations as part of the certification program sponsored by the Holistic Program.
“[The data] will enable me to increase my production,” Enrique says. “If my palm production was already good, with me not knowing so many things, now with more information I’ll be able to apply the [proper fertilizer] and increase output.”
Enrique’s plants have about 17 years to go before he has to think about replanting. He is sure about one thing: even after seeing his children graduate from college, he will stay with oil palm farming. He said ”It will take care of my retirement.”