Mexican Strawberry Farmers Cultivate Success
Ramiro Silva has grown strawberries in central Mexico for over 20 years. But despite his many years of experience, he often struggled to control plant diseases and pests around the farm. He also sold through intermediaries, earning limited money from his crops. After joining a TechnoServe program, Ramiro gained the skills and connections he needed to improve his production and increase his income.
On a small farm in Michoacan, Mexico, neat rows of strawberry plants bask in the strong sun. Ramiro Silva has grown strawberries here for the last 20 years, using techniques his father taught him as a child. But farmers in this region often struggle to earn a living from their strawberry crops.
In Mexico, 50% of farmers cultivate fewer than two hectares of land. Smallholder farmers like Ramiro face unique challenges when it comes to growing and selling their crops.
“[Buyers] were not taking us into consideration because we were not big producers,” Ramiro shares. “Our land is really small, and [they] did not turn around to look at our work.”
In 2019, TechnoServe staff knocked on Ramiro’s door and asked if he would be interested in joining a program working with strawberry farmers in his area. The Madre Tierra program is an initiative funded by the Danone Ecosystem Fund and Danone Cycles and Procurement, in alliance with Grupo Altex and other partners, such as the Walmart Foundation in Mexico, TechnoServe, and the German development agency GIZ, to develop a transformative, inclusive model for sustainable strawberry production.
The program aims to increase 140 smallholder farmers’ incomes by at least 30% over four years by combining hands-on training, innovative technologies, and improved access to finance and supplier networks. With improved farm productivity and crop quality, farmers can access formal markets and sustainable supply chains, thereby increasing opportunities for their families and communities.
Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Successful strawberry cultivation often requires fertilizer and other agricultural inputs. Even in normal times, these farm supplies are expensive. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, prices increased even more. Many farmers were in the planting phase and struggled to afford the supplies they needed. In addition, many wholesale markets closed, and there was widespread uncertainty around future strawberry prices.
At the height of the lockdown, the TechnoServe team continued to support farmers virtually by sharing recorded training videos. Danone is supporting the deployment of additional TechnoServe staff to provide farmers with one-on-one advisory services to help them through this difficult period. TechnoServe will intensify and adapt farmer training sessions to support their investment decision-making in a climate of uncertainty.
Challenges on the Strawberry Farm
Before joining the Madre Tierra program, Ramiro struggled to control pests and plant diseases on his farm. Strawberries are highly susceptible to insects and disease and therefore require farmers to invest significant time and money to combat them. Despite his hard work, Ramiro had difficulties increasing his yields, which meant he had less money left over at the end of each month to invest in his farm and support his wife and daughters.
TechnoServe staff taught him how to implement new practices on his farm that would address the pest and disease problem while more sustainably caring for the land. “I have learned how to take care of the environment, to dispose of the containers adequately, and not to have garbage around the farm,” Ramiro says. “The program has helped us a lot. We are now implementing a system to monitor plant diseases.”
[The program] changed the way I work. Now I know my numbers well and how much money I make. [Before], the coyotes (intermediaries) paid us very cheaply.”
— Ramiro Silva, strawberry farmer, Mexico
Better Access to Markets
The next step in helping Ramiro to improve his family’s income was to provide him with the business skills that would allow him to independently connect to the right buyers and keep track of farm activities.
Now, he is aware of costs and revenue and can better manage his resources. “One thing that has helped us the most is that we implemented activity logs to understand and be aware of how much we are producing, and how much money we are making,” Ramiro shares. “Previously, we could have lost money, and we would not even know.”
Farmers in the program are also gaining connections to the formal market rather than relying on intermediaries. In doing so, they can keep more of the money they earn from their crops and invest it back into their farms and households. “[The program] changed the way I work,” Ramiro says. “Now I know my numbers well and how much money I make. [Before], the coyotes (intermediaries) paid us very cheaply.”
Entire communities are seeing the benefits of this improved ecosystem. Strawberry production is labor-intensive and requires several workers. Farmers in the program can now hire additional people to help around the farm, which has ripple effects for the whole community.