Female farmers play a vital role in Mexico’s growing sustainable palm oil sector. Ana María Miranda Sarao believes in the tradition, that what you learn you should teach others so that best practices can be applied across all farms. Some of the best practices, that this 43-year-old learned relate to the tradition of planting, conserving, managing and the selling of oil palm.
With 10 years as a sowing coordinator for the Mundo Maya association, she is thankful for the abundance that comes from the four hectares that she inherited from her father. “The oil palm has been very generous to us. Speaking in terms of the community, if the oil palm did not exist most men and some women would have no work and migrate to the city. The oil palm has helped us a great deal and made our community what it is,” she says.
When we spoke to her, Ana Maria said that, in the past, farmers could only work as day laborers going from one plantation to the next in search of enough work to live on. In addition, because only seasonal crops were grown, people often went several weeks without earning anything. “Farm workers typically used to be day laborers, but now they have both work and workable land. One farmer can now provide work to two more families. And during the harvest season, yields are much higher.”
“[The oil palm] won’t leave us financially strapped.” She is convinced that it is one of the most benevolent fruits she has sown since she was a child. “If we want or need a financial boost, we can cut five or six bunches a week and have enough for sugar.” she says. “Palm oil has been a true blessing for us.”
Thanks to the support of the Holistic Program, Ana María now belongs to an association that is about to complete a certification process that will help increase overall yields as well as her grove’s production. She does all this while bringing up her son. Having inherited her land from her father, she plans to pass it on to her son Luis Ángel, a young man of 20, who now tends to the crops every day.
“The oil palm helps us support our children while they are in school, covers family expenses and even buy cattle when the harvest allows for it, with which we will earn a bit more,” she says. “It has helped us a great deal. The holistic program has made me aware of things we didn’t know before, and we’ll see whether it helps us increase production.”
The oil palm is a plant that naturally bears fruit year-round. The number of bunches we get depends to a great extent on rainfall volumes. However, although rainfall has decreased in the last few years, the oil palm has never left producers empty handed. Ana María says that the program is also making it possible to better manage and maintain plantations. “We kept the leaves watered,” she says. “The cutters risked running into animals while working. Now we have the crops in rows and there’s less risk.”