How Better Strawberries Improve Incomes for Mexican Farmers

COVID-19 was just the latest challenge for small-scale farmers in central Mexico. With limited technical knowledge and market connections, many have struggled for years to improve their incomes. José García Martínez was one of those farmers when he joined a TechnoServe program a year ago. Today, he is earning enough to provide security and better opportunities for his family—“a life-changing experience.”

TechnoServe employee leads income generating training in Mexico

José García Martínez was on the hunt for a better job. better farming techniques improve income. 

For years, the 54-year-old father of four had worked in construction. But though the paycheck was steady, the income was not enough to provide his family with the better life he wanted for them. 

Better farming techniques improve income for José
José stands among rows of strawberries on his farm

A few years ago, he took a leap of faith. José began farming strawberries on his land – a crop with the potential for high profit margins. However, he was unsure of the best growing techniques, and he sold his crop to middlemen, who paid unreliable prices.

In 2019, he met staff from TechnoServe, who were helping neighboring farmers to improve their yields through the Madre Tierra program, an initiative to strengthen the strawberry value chain in Mexico. Despite José’s troubles with strawberry farming, he was hesitant at first to work with them.

“It was my first year, and I didn’t want to look bad,” he admits. “And I didn’t trust that it would give me any benefits. I thought I was going to waste my time.”

He quickly discovered the opposite.

Farmland Provides Better Income for Mexican Farmers

José lives in the rugged, coastal state of Michoacán, Mexico. Despite its natural beauty, more than a third of the state’s people live in poverty.

The area’s rich farmland can provide an escape route – under the right conditions. Though agriculture constitutes about a third of the state’s economy, many farmers lack the technical knowledge or market connections to earn meaningful, reliable profits from their farms.

These are the challenges taken on by TechnoServe’s Madre Tierra program, the initiative was provided with support and expertise by the Danone Ecosystem Fund and Danone Cycles and Procurement, in alliance with Grupo Altex and other partners, including the Mexican NGO Nuup, the Walmart Mexico Foundation, and the German development agency GIZ.

The program aims to work with at least 140 farmers in Michoacán and Guanajuato to turn their strawberries into improved incomes – and find a path out of poverty. An all-Mexican TechnoServe team provides hands-on training for farmers on:

  • Regenerative agriculture practices
  • Environmental sustainability, food safety, traceability, and quality standards
  • Business and financial management

With these skills, farmers can improve the quality and yields of their crops – and sell to better buyers at better prices. These buyers include Danone, a large food company that can provide farmers with a reliable, long-term market.

Through these efforts, the program aims to improve farmers’ incomes by at least 30%.

Better Farming TechniquesCan They Really Improve Income?

Though cautious at first, José quickly realized the value of his training.

“We did soil and water analysis, and I was impressed, because it tells you everything,” he recounts. “That was the thing that helped me first, because now I know what my land has and what it needs, and I spend less buying only the products I need.”

He learned proper worksite sanitation; organic composting techniques; and environmentally friendly pest management, such as glue and vinegar traps. He previously bought products like pesticides, recommended by agrochemical sellers, and sometimes he mistakenly applied products that the formal buyers prohibited.

“The strawberry now comes out cleaner and less damaged,” José says. 

Farmer learns better farming techniques improve income
A farmer in the Madre Tierra program carrying strawberries from his farm

And the composting lesson transformed his farm. “I applied the compost, and only eight days afterward, my land changed,” he recalls. “The color was different…I could not see dryness. It was marvelous.”

Perhaps one of the most significant changes now happens after the harvest. Selling to the formal market is a completely different experience than selling to middlemen, José learned. 

“Last year [before the program], I sold part of my production to the intermediary, and I was never paid,” he says. “That does not happen with the formal market…They respect us.”

COVID-19 Creates Additional Challenges for Farmers

With greater security and guidance, José and his fellow farmers were also able to weather COVID-19 disruptions. As the price of farm supplies increased and strawberry markets were thrown into uncertainty, TechnoServe intensified its support to help farmers navigate the crisis.

While under social distancing restrictions, staff provided farmers with training videos, training games, and access to a mobile data logging platform. Team members provided one-on-one advisory services to guide each farmer on ensuring their business’s survival. 

Read more about TechnoServe’s efforts to help farmers weather COVID-19 disruptions.

The program also enabled farmers to receive a fixed crop price for the whole season, providing them with critical financial security. By having a fixed market with buyers like Danone and Altex, they were able to sell their produce continuously during the COVID-19 pandemic, unlike those farmers who usually sell to middlemen. The program also allowed farmers to receive a fixed price for the harvest throughout the season, which provided them with financial security.

Improving José’s Incomeand His Life

José has now completed the agronomy training. And despite a rocky year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s not looking back.

Instead, he continues to participate in TechnoServe’s regenerative agriculture training and receives commercialization support through the program.

“I had done more or less well in construction,” he says. “But this year, I have done very well in strawberry farming.”

Even with historic market challenges, farmers in the Madre Tierra program are hitting their income goals after two years of intervention. And there’s still two years left in the program.

With improved income from his crop, José made improvements to his family’s home. And he invested further in his strawberry farm, optimistic about the future.

Learn more about how you can help farmers like José grow their farms

“I feel proud and very happy to have crops that I never thought I would have,” he says. “I know that with effort, I can do it.” 

This year, the Madre Tierra program aims to build on this progress by helping more farmers like José to improve their crops – and their incomes – even further.

And after his initial hesitation, José would now encourage other farmers to experience a similar transformation. “I am very happy with what they have taught me. I would recommend this program to other strawberry growers,” he says. 

“Having certainty is a life-changing experience.”