Search Results : 20 » Geo-Mexico, the geography of Mexico » Page 42

Sep 082012
 

The production of (genuine) tequila is tightly regulated because tequila has denomination of origin status. This status (sometimes called appellation of origin) sets specific standards for producers in terms of how a product is grown or produced, processed and presented. Equally importantly, it defines the geographic indication, the specific places or regions where the product has to be made. Other items having denomination of origin status include champagne, asiago cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Geographic indications are “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.” (World Trade Organization)

Mexico’s denomination of origin area for genuine tequila includes includes 180 municipalities in five states, a total area of about 11 million hectares (27 million acres).

Tequila producing areas of Jalisco and neighboring states.

Tequila producing areas of Jalisco and neighboring states. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved. Click to enlarge

The main area (see map above) is the state of Jalisco (all 124 municipalities), with extensions into three neighboring states:

  • Nayarit (8 municipalities): Ahuacatlán, Amatlán de Cañas, Ixtlán del Río, Jala, Xalisco, San Pedro Lagunillas, Santa María del Oro and Tepic.
  • Guanajuato (7 municipalities): Abasolo, Cd. Manuel Doblado, Cuerámaro, Huanimaro, Pénjamo, Purísima del Rincón and Romita.
  • Michoacán (30 municipalities): Briseñas de Matamoros, Chavinda, Chilchota, Churintzio, Cotija, Ecuandureo, Jacona, Jiquilpan, Maravatío, Marcos Castellanos, Nuevo Parangaricutiro, Numarán, Pajacuarán, Peribán, La Piedad, Régules, Los Reyes, Sahuayo, Tancítaro, Tangamandapio, Tangancicuaro, Tanhuato, Tinguindín, Tocumbo, Venustiano Carranza, Villa Mar, Vista Hermosa, Yurécuaro, Zamora, and Zináparo.
Tequila growing area in Tamaulipas.

Tequila growing area in Tamaulipas. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved. Click to enlarge.

About 80% of all blue agave is grown in Jalisco, and almost all tequila distilleries are located in the state.

The municipality of Maravatío in the eastern section of Michoacán is a tequila outlier, some distance away from the main producing area centered on Jalisco.

The other major outlier is a group of 11 municipalities in the northern border state of Tamaulipas (see second map) where 11 municipalities (Aldama, Altamira, Antiguo Morelos, Gómez Farías, González, Llera, Mante, Nuevo Morelos, Ocampo, Tula and Xicotencatl) are included in the denomination of origin for tequila.

The first denomination of origin for tequila was registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1978. Since that time every trade agreement signed by Mexico has contained a clause to ensure that tequila’s special status is fully protected by the other signatories. Mexico has signed free trade agreements with more countries than any other country in the world.

For example, the relevant NAFTA clause states that:

“Canada and the United States shall recognize Tequila and Mezcal as distinctive products of Mexico. Accordingly, Canada and the United States shall not permit the sale of any product as Tequila or Mezcal, unless it has been manufactured in Mexico in accordance with the laws and regulations of Mexico governing the manufacture of Tequila and Mezcal.”

In 1996, Mexico succeeded in getting the World Trade Organization to recognize tequila, and also mezcal, as denomination of origin products.

The following year, Mexico signed an agreement with the European Union whereby Mexico recognized 175 European spirits, including champagne, cognac, grappa and scotch, as having denomination of origin protection, in exchange for E.U. protection for tequila and mezcal. At that time, Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) estimated that some 3.5 million liters of “pseudo-tequilas” were sold annually in Europe under such names as “Blue Tarantula” in Italy and “Hot Tequila” in Finland (In search of the blue agave: Tequla’s denomination of origin).

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Sep 062012
 

Mexico is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles, all of which are on the international Red List of endangered or critically endangered species.

The beaches along Mexico’s Pacific coast, those in the north-east state of Tamaulipas, and those in Quintana Roo on the Caribbean, are among the world’s most important breeding grounds for marine turtles. These turtles spend almost all their life at sea, but mature females come ashore in late summer and fall to burrow into the warm sand and lay their eggs.

On the Pacific coast, it is estimated that about 40% of these eggs will be stolen by wildlife poachers. When the remaining eggs eventually hatch six to eight weeks later, the baby turtles then stagger towards the relative safety of the ocean, hoping to avoid not only human poachers, but also predators such as crabs, iguanas and birds. Less than one in one hundred hatchlings will survive the fifteen or twenty years required to reach maturity.

The three turtle species most commonly found along the Pacific coast are the Olive Ridley or golfina (Lepidochelys olivacea), the Leatherback or laúd (Dermochelys coriacea) and the Green Turtle or tortuga verde (Chelonia mydas).

The Olive Ridley is relatively small in size with a narrow head. Its numbers are now recovering on the Nayarit and Jalisco coasts. Important nesting sites for the Olive Ridley include Caleta de Campos and Ixtapilla (both in Michoacán), and Playa de Escobilla and Morro Ayuta (both in Oaxaca). About 23.3 million baby turtles were born in the 1.2 million Olive Ridley nests recorded in the 2010-2011 turtle nesting season.

Leatherbacks, the world’s largest turtles, undergo amazing migrations, regularly crossing from one side of the Pacific to the other. Their numbers are in serious decliine. In 2010-2011, 15,400 baby Leatherbacks emerged from the 615 nests recorded. (Mexico is thought to have about 1,600 Leatherback nests in total.) Important nesting sites include beaches in Guerrero, Michoacán and Oaxaca. However, in the last-named state, the number of eggs laid has declined by about 20% a year over the last decade.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico. Copyright 2012 Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

Green Turtles are an endemic species and their preferred nesting sites include Colola in Michaocán.

The three remaining species are the Kemp’s Ridley or lora (Lepidochelys kempii), the Loggerhead or caguama (Caretta caretta) and the Hawksbill or carey (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The Kemp’s Ridley is an endemic species and the only marine turtle to nest exclusively during daytime. Its most important nesting site is Rancho Nuevo, in Tamaulipas. While the numbers of Kemp’s Ridley at Rancho Nuevo fell from an estimated 40,000 or so in 1947 to about 5,000, this species appears to be well on its way to recovery. In 2010-2011, 20,574 Kemp’s Ridley nests were laid in Tamaulipas and an additional 534 in Veracruz, which produced a combined 18.9 million hatchlings.

The Loggerhead is found on both sides of Mexico, while the Hawksbill, smaller than the other species, is most common on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, though it can also be found, much more rarely, on the Gulf and Pacific coasts.

Mexico’s first turtle management program was launched in 1962. In 1990, the government enacted a total ban on the trafficking of all turtles, turtle products and byproducts. Even so, illegal poaching  (for meat, eggs or shell) continues to be a problem, especially since successful convictions relating to the capture or trafficking of turtles are rare. It is still possible to buy baby turtles (for pets) and turtle eggs (thought to be an aphrodisiac) on the black market.

The most successful strategy to date has been the establishment (since the early 1970s) of turtle protection camps on key beaches. During the egg-laying and hatching season conservation groups led by biologists, with the assistance of volunteers, local fishermen and Mexican navy personnel, guard the nesting sites, sometimes moving nests to better protected areas. This strategy has definitely been successful. For example, over the past few years, the conservation group patrolling San Francisco beach has seen the number of active Olive Ridley nests increase tenfold to 700. However, not all beaches can be protected. In Jalisco, for example, only about 80 km of the state’s 200 km of sandy shores are closely monitored.

Protection efforts at 33 nesting beaches are overseen by the National Commission on Natural Protected Areas (Conanp). Of these 33 beaches, 10 are natural protected areas, 3 are in biosphere reserves and 15 are internationally-designated Ramsar wetlands; the remaining 5 have no formal protection status.

Besides the threat from wildlife poachers and predators, marine turtles face numerous other long-term threats, including:

  • habitat destruction, when beaches are cleared for tourist development
  • the installation of coastal infrastructure, designed to prevent erosion, which may limit turtle access to beaches
  • hurricane damage destroying nests
  • the accidental bycatch of turtles by commercial fishermen
  • artificial lighting which may disorientate hatchlings who head towards the light assuming it is reflected off the ocean
  • ocean contamination by items as mundane as plastic bags, which may be mistaken for jelly fish, a favorite food of Leatherbacks

Further reading (Spanish language):

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Sep 032012
 

A cave dwelling known as  “Cueva del Chino” is located a short distance from the Posada Barrancas railway halt, very close to the present-day location of the Posada Barrancas Mirador hotel. When I first visited this cave, in the mid-1980s, I was struck by the obvious dangers of living so close to a precipitous drop. The cave is on a very narrow ledge, some 20 meters or so below the canyon rim. There is a local spring which acts as a water supply, though it is perhaps not always a reliable year-round supply. Outside the cave is a tangle of vegetation, much greener and more varied than elsewhere along the canyon wall. It was only on my second or third visit to this cave that I realized that this unruly vegetation was not only due to the nearby natural water source, but also due to the assiduous work of the cave’s residents. The tangled vegetation was actually a very productive garden, offering a variety of vegetables, fruit and herbs.

Accustomed, as most of us are, to the idea of crops and plants in neat orderly rows, the mini-jungle in the cave’s small garden-farm may come as a surprise. But there are sound ecological (and economic) advantages to maintaining, and even encouraging, this apparent disorder. Among the major advantages of mixed cropping (sowing several different crops more or less at random in an area) are the following:

  • (a) some plants are perennial, others annual; hence a ground-cover is maintained all year and the likelihood of soil erosion is diminished
  • (b) taller plants provide shade for shorter plants, offering distinct microclimates within the garden
  • (c) some plants (legumes) help fix nitrogen in the soil; other plants need the nitrogen
  • (d) a variety of plants means a much more varied diet
  • (e) since different crops use different nutrients, the total yield off a small plot is greater with a mix of crops than with a single crop
  • (f) if disease or insects strike one plant, they may not be able to spread to the next plant of that kind
  • (g) if one crop fails for any reason, another may succeed; this may be enough to ward off starvation for another year
  • (h) in terms of energy efficiency, this is a very efficient system, since it involves relatively little labor; the output of energy will exceed the input (see The energy efficiency of farming in Mexico and elsewhere for more details)

Put simply, who really wants to work harder than necessary?

Cueva del Chino, 1989.Copyright Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

Cueva del Chino, with “garden” on the left, 1989.Copyright Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

Cueva del Chino, 2003.Copyright Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

Cueva del Chino, 2003 [from the opposite angle]. Copyright Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

The photos show the truly astonishing changes that took place in this cave dwelling and garden between 1989 and 2003. The major change in the area between those years was the construction of the Posada Barrancas Mirador, only a few steps away from the path leading down to the cave. This has led to a steady trickle of visitors who buy the locally-made pine needle basketwork (top photo) or leave behind a few pesos.

Are these changes really for the better? There are arguments on both sides, and I’m honestly not entirely sure. I haven’t been back for several years, but would welcome an update (and photo) from any Geo-Mexico reader who happens to visit.

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Sep 012012
 

Tequila is made by distilling the juice of certain species of agave plants. Agaves are commonly called “century plants” in the USA, a name derived from the length of time they supposedly grow before producing a flowering stalk – actually, from eight to twenty years depending on the species, rather than the hundred suggested by their common name! Some species flower only once and die shortly afterwards, others can flower almost every year. Agaves are no relation botanically to cacti, even though they are often mistakenly associated with them. The ideal agave for tequila is the Agave tequilana Weber azul which has bluish-colored leaves.

Agave field in Jalisco

Agave field in Jalisco. Photo: Tony Burton

The tequila agaves are started from seed or from onion-size cuttings. When the plants are mature (about 10 years later), their branches are cut off, using a long-handled knife called a coa, leaving the cabeza (or “pineapple”), which is the part used for juice extraction. Cabezas (which weigh from 10 to 120 kilos) are cut in half, and then baked in stone furnaces or stainless steel autoclaves for one to three days to convert their starches into sugars.

From the ovens, the now golden-brown cabezas are shredded and placed in mills which extract the juices or mosto. The mixture is allowed to ferment for several days, then two distillations are performed to extract the almost colorless white or silver tequila. The spirit’s taste depends principally on the length of fermentation. Amber (reposado) tequila results from storage in ex-brandy or wine casks made of white oak for at least two months, while golden, aged (añejo) tequila is stored in casks for at least a year, and extra-aged (extra añejo) for at least three years.

Distillation: the Filipino Connection

Mexico’s indigenous Indians knew how to produce several different drinks from agave plants, but their techniques did not include distillation, and hence, strictly speaking, they did not produce tequila. Fermented agave juice or pulque may be the oldest alcoholic drink on the continent; it is referred to in an archival Olmec text which claims that it serves as a “delight for the gods and priests”. Pulque was fermented, but not distilled.

If the indigenous peoples didn’t have distilled agave drinks, then how, when and where did distillation of agave first occur? In 1897, Carl Lumholtz, the famous Norwegian ethnologist, who spent several years living with remote Indian tribes in Mexico, found that the Huichol Indians in eastern Nayarit distilled agave juice using simple stills, but with pots which seemed to be quite unlike anything Spanish or pre-Columbian in origin.

By 1944, Henry Bruman, a University of California geographer, had documented how Filipino seamen on the Manila Galleon had brought similar stills to western Mexico, for making coconut brandy, during the late sixteenth century.

Dr. Nyle Walton, of the University of Florida, expanded on Bruman’s work, showing how the Spanish authorities had sought to suppress Mexican liquor production because it threatened to compete with Spanish brandy. This suppression led to the establishment of illicit distilling in many remote areas including parts of Colima and Jalisco. Even today, the word “tuba”, which means “coconut wine” in the Filipino Tagalog language, is used in Jalisco for mezcal wine before it is distilled for tequila. This is probably because the first stills used for mezcal distillation were Filipino in origin.

“Appelacion Controlée”

Though colonial authorities tried to suppress illegal liquors, the industry of illicit distilling clearly thrived. One eighteenth century source lists more than 81 different mixtures, including some truly fearsome-sounding concoctions such as “cock’s eye”, “rabbit’s blood”, “bone-breaker” and “excommunication”! By the 1670s, the authorities saw the wisdom of taxing, rather than prohibiting, liquor production.

For centuries, distilled agave juice was known as mezcal or vino de mezcal “mezcal wine”). It is believed that the first foreigner to sample it was a Spanish medic, Gerónimo Hernández, in the year 1651. The original method for producing mezcal used clay ovens and pots.

By the end of the nineteenth century, as the railroads expanded, the reputation of Tequila spread further afield; this is when the vino de mezcal produced in Tequila became so popular that people began calling it simply “tequila”. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, it swept away a preference for everything European and brought nationally-made tequila to the fore. Tequila quickly became Mexico’s national drink. It gained prominence north of the border during the second world war, when the USA could no longer enjoy a guaranteed supply of European liquors.

To qualify as genuine tequila, the drink has to be made in the state of Jalisco or in certain specific areas of the states of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Tamaulipas. (We will take a closer look at this distribution in a future post).

The ideal growing conditions are found in semiarid areas where temperatures average about 20 degrees Centigrade, with little variation, and where rainfall averages 1000 mm/yr. In Jalisco, this means that areas at an elevation of about 1,500 meters above sea level are favored. Agaves prefer well-drained soils such as the permeable loams derived from the iron-rich volcanic rocks in Mexico’s Volcanic Axis.

Production of tequila has tripled within the last 15 years to about 250 million liters a year (2010). About 65% of this quantity is exported. Almost 80% of exports are to the USA, with most of the remainder destined for Canada and Europe.

Connoisseurs argue long and loud as to which is the better product, but all agree that the best of the best is made from 100% Agave tequilana Weber azul. I’m no connoisseur, but my personal favorite is Tequila Herradura, manufactured in Amatitán, a town between Tequila and Guadalajara. Anyone interested in the history of tequila will enjoy a visit to Herradura’s old hacienda “San José del Refugio” in Amatitán, where tequila has been made for well over a century. The factory is a working museum with mule-operated mills, and primitive distillation ovens, fueled by the bagasse of the maguey. The Great House is classic in style, with a wide entrance stairway and a first floor balustrade the full width of the building.

Visitors to the town of Tequila, with its National Tequila Museum, can  enter any one of several tequila factories to watch the processing and taste a sample. They can also admire one of the few public monuments to liquor anywhere in the world – a fountain which has water emerging from a stone bottle supported in an agave plant. “Tequila tourism” is growing in popularity. Special trains, such as “The Tequila Express” run on weekends from the nearby city of Guadalajara to Amatitán, and regular bus tours visit the growing areas and tequila distilleries. The town of Tequila holds an annual Tequila Fair during the first half of December to celebrate its famous beverage. Another good time to visit is on 24 July, National Tequila Day in the USA.

In 2006, UNESCO awarded World Heritage status to the agave landscape and old tequila-making facilities in Amatitán, Arenal and Tequila (Jalisco).

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Aug 302012
 

Veteran blogger Matt Osborne has unearthed a real gem! This 1977 BBC documentary was the tenth episode of The Age of Uncertainty, John Kenneth Galbraith’s history of economic thought. In this episode, Galbraith examines the economics of poverty and inequality.

The section of greatest interest to Geo-Mexico readers is his overview of the changing relationships between land and people in Mexico from precolonial times to the 1970s. [This ten minute segment starts at minute 4:33 of the video].

Galbraith does confuse his Teotihuacanos with his Aztecs, and clearly many things have changed since 1977, but this video is a great and straightforward introduction to the complex issues of land resources and population, suitable as the starting point for many discussions at high school or college level about land clearance, the financing of land improvement, the Green Revolution, population growth and social organization.

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Aug 272012
 

Corn (maize) has been the principal food of the Tarahumara Indians since long before the Spanish arrived in Mexico. There are several precolumbian varieties that are still grown, including the ancient and delicious “blue corn”. Maize is the source of a wide variety of foodstuffs and drinks including flour (pinole), a non‑alcoholic drink called esquiate, tortillas, atole and tamales. Green corn and blue corn tortillas are made when in season, for special occasions. A version of corn beer (Spanish “tesgüino“) is also important, and is described separately below.

The Tarahumara continue to “hunt and gather” locally available foodstuffs, though these activities now supply only about 10% of their diet. Several varieties of cactus fruit are collected, edible agaves are cooked, and small river fish are caught where possible. Small animals are ruthlessly hunted. Squirrels, birds and deer, though rare today, are considered particular delicacies.

Beans, mustard green and squash also play important parts in the Tarahumara diet which is rounded out by wheat, potatoes, peaches and sweet potatoes. Those Tarahumara with access to lower elevations, such as Batopilas Canyon, also include crops typical of warmer regions such as oranges, figs and sugar‑cane. Chiles and tobacco are also cultivated.

Meat is hard to come by, and eaten only on ceremonial occasions when a goat or cow is sacrificed. It probably accounts for less than 5% of the average Tarahumara diet. Most protein comes from beans; these are usually prepared by roasting, grinding and then boiling with water, to produce a hot soup. Pork, chicken and eggs are rarely found, while sheep are kept mainly for their wool.

Squash is only eaten in season though the Indians know how to preserve it by drying. The squash flowers are eaten too, boiled with water and salt. Mustard greens (Tarahumara “maquasori“, Spanish “quelites“) are grown in the rainy season and carefully gathered and dried, for use throughout the year, providing minerals and vitamins. Quelites include the epazote plant (Chenopodium ambrosioides), described by Diana Kennedy, the world’s foremost authority on Mexican cuisine, as “the Mexican herb par excellence”.

Many families have a small number of scrubby fruit trees, usually peaches, near their house. Fruit is often picked and eaten green. Peaches are an important trading item, and may be exchanged for cigarettes or cloth. At higher elevations, apples are grown.

Given the well-documented endurance feats of Tarahumara runners, this diet clearly provides adequate nutrition! In the 1994 Denver, Colorado, “Sky Race”, Tarahumara Indian Juan Herrera (25 years old) smashed 25 minutes off the previous record, completing the 160 kilometers in 17 hours, 30 minutes, 42 seconds. He came in more than half an hour ahead of his nearest rival!

However, in many years (including 2011, 2012), and seemingly with increasing frequency, food is in extremely short supply by the time the summer growing season arrives. Fortunately for the less successful Tarahumara farmers, an age‑old tribal custom, korima is still observed. This custom requires the better‑off to share food with the less fortunate in times of need. The poor person visits successive ranchos, collecting small quantities of food to last him a week or two, then repeats this procedure as necessary. No lasting debt is incurred. The severe drought in northern Mexico over the past 24 months – see Many states in Mexico badly affected by drought – has meant that many Tarahumara have no food reserves left and have had to rely on infrequent emergency aid organized by charitable organizations, and the federal and state government.

Tesgüino (corn beer)

The average Tarahumara family expends 100 kg of corn a year to make tesgüino. This is sufficient corn to last a family of 4‑5 about a month, a significant quantity, given the regular annual food deficiencies in this region.

Tesgüino is a form of corn‑beer. It is a thick, milky, nutritious drink, supplying much needed vitamins, minerals and calories. The corn is first dampened and allowed to sprout in a dark place, then ground and boiled for about 8 hours with a catalyst to promote fermentation. The catalyst may be local grass seed (basiahuari) ground in a metate, or bark, leaves, lichens or roots, depending on the place. The liquid is then strained and left to ferment for about three days. The total preparation time is therefore about seven days. To avoid spoilage, the beverage must be drunk quickly. It’s at its best for only 12‑24 hours. This explains why it would be so wasteful to leave any beer can tesgüino undrunk at a “tesgüinada” (see below); it would be far too wasteful, even if as many as 50 gallons have been made.

Other alcoholic drinks are also made, one based on green corn (pachiki or caña) and another on maguey (meki). In earlier times, there were no alcoholics as we define the term, since tesgüino can’t be stored, but today the greater availability of commercial alcohol poses a serious problem.

Why are tesgüinadas so important?

The tesgüinada system is the social device which ties individual settlements (ranchos) together in a cooperative framework for performing all kinds of agricultural tasks. The person requiring assistance with a particular task will invite his neighbors and friends to a “tesgüinada”. He takes responsibility for providing the tesgüino, other refreshments and food. In return, the persons who attend will help plow. sow, reap or weed..

Lumholtz, recognizing from his time among the Tarahumara at the end of the last century the importance of the tesgüinada, summed up their philosophy writing that, “Rain cannot be obtained without tesgüino. Tesgüino cannot be made without corn and corn cannot grow without rain.”

The tesgüinada is necessary since many families cannot supply the labor required for both herding and cultivation at certain times of the year. In small groups like the ranchos, high mortality inevitably leaves some families unable to manage on their own. The tesgüinada is their response to the economic uncertainties facing them just as collective religious rituals help them face the unpredictability of weather, sickness and plagues. The cooperative effort moves from one rancho to another, from one tesgüinada to the next.

The tesgüinadas, which are like large, boisterous parties, provide a focus for Tarahumara social life, a chance for entertainment and to make extra-familiar friendships. Being held in a succession of different ranchos, they offer some communal resilience against the risks of becoming further isolated and marginalized. The Tarahumara attach no shame to being drunk; indeed, they positively revel in getting as drunk as humanly possible at tesgüinadas. Children are excluded until they are 14 years old or so.

Tesgüinadas do come at a cost. They increase the incidence of accidents, such as adult men falling off precipitous rock ledges that would normally pose little risk, even when running. They increase violence, which may result in serious injury or death. They also limit the amount of corn that can be held over from one year to the next. Assuming an average of 4‑6 tesgüinadas per year per family, with additional visits to tesgüinadas held in perhaps 15 other households, many Tarahumara Indians would be likely to attend more than sixty tesgüinadas a year. Even if the true figure is only 50% of this total, it still means that the Tarahumara spend as many as 100 days a year either preparing for a tesgüinada, attending one, or recovering from one.

Sources /  Bibliography:

  1. Bennett, W. and Zingg, R. (1935) The Tarahumara. Univ. of Chicago Press. Reprinted by Rio Grande Press, 1976.
  2. Kennedy, J.G. (1978) Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre; Beer, Ecology and Social Organization, AHM Publishing Corp, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Republished, as The Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre: Survivors on the Canyon’s Edge in 1996.
  3. Lumholtz, C. (1902) Unknown Mexico. 2 volumes. Scribner’s Sons, New York. Republished in both English and Spanish.
  4. Pennington, C. (1963) The Tarahumar of Mexico, their environment and material culture. Univ. of Utah Press. Reprint by Editorial Agata, Guadalajara, 1996.

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Aug 252012
 

Gapminder is a wonderful resource for an overview of all manner of things geographic. The link below will take a few minutes to load, but should then show how Mexico’s GDP/person (on a purchasing power parity basis) and life expectancy have changed since 1800. The size of the yellow circle for each year is proportional to Mexico’s total population, with a scale that can be user-modified at the bottom right of the graph. Hover your mouse over a circle for the year to be identified.

The early figures for GDP/person are unlikely to be very reliable, but once we reach the 20th century, the figures are based on better assumptions and data. After falls in GDP/person and life expectancy in the early stages of the Mexican Revolution (which began in 1910), both variables increased steadily until about 1926. While life expectancy has continued to rise since then, with the occasional dip, GDP/person shows some obvious “blips” such as the early 1950s when it fell quite sharply.

It is interesting to play with the chart and look at how GDP/person and life expectancy have changed for other countries.

To do this:

  1. Select one or more countries by clicking on them [each country is identified when your mouse hovers over it]
  2. Use the slider at the bottom of the chart to select the time period of interest
  3. Sit back and prepare to get engrossed in the world of Gapminder!
Aug 232012
 

This short (3 minute) video is a promotional video produced by Mexico City administrators in 2010. It refers only to the Federal District (México D.F.), and not to the entire Mexico City Metropolitan Area (which also includes parts of adjoining states).

The video highlights some of the challenges facing Mexico City’s decision makers. It uses some slick graphics to provide some of the basic facts and figures about area, population, daily commuter flows, improvements in public transportation, reductions in emissions, and so on.

Perhaps the most startling of the statistics given in the video is that the average daily travel time for Mexico City workers, including the several million who commute into the city from the surrounding states, is about three hours. This is a truly staggering amount of time compared to average commutes for most other major cities around the world.

For example, the average commute is 80 minutes a day round trip in Toronto, 68 minutes in New York, 56 minutes in Los Angeles, and 48 minutes in Barcelona. On the other hand, Moscow commuters apparently have even slower journeys to work than Mexico City residents.

World Commuting Times. © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

World Commuting Times. Click to enlarge. © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan); used under Creative Commons License

The size of each country on the topological map above, from Worldmapper, is proportional to the total commuting time for that country. To quote Worldmapper: “Commuting time is a measure of how long people spend travelling to work, by whatever means. It could be by foot, bus, car, boat, train, bicycle or other means. The world average commuting time is 40 minutes, oneway. This is the average for people that work.”

Total commuting time is influenced by each country’s total population, but a whole host of other factors also play a part in determining the time required for workers to travel from their place of resident to their place of work. These factors include the available means of transport, transport links, wealth, land use zoning, type of occupation, city size, and so on.

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Aug 162012
 

Six months ago, we gave an optimistic mention of Maya Biosana, a cacao megaproject in Quintana Roo, noting that it had received the support of the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa):

We also noted that the project was not without its critics. In this post, we look at some of the claims, counterclaims and available evidence.

What is Maya Biosana?

The Maya Biosana project aims to make Mexico the leading producer of organic cacao in the Americas. In the early phases, Maya Biosana claims it will plant one million cacao trees to create 500 hectares (1200 acres) of irrigated orchards in 12 communities near Chetumal in Quintana Roo, with similar numbers of new trees to be planted annually for another three years. The trees are expected to yield 2.4 metric tons of cacao per hectare, produce 4800 metric tons of cacao a year (destined for high quality chocolates) by 2017 and provide up to 2,000 additional jobs.

A fuller description of the intended project (pdf file, in Spanish) is available on the Sagarpa website.

Pipedream or reality?

Industry insiders, such as Denver-based chocolate maker Steve DeVries, who leads specialist tours to the cacao growing regions of Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador, have drawn our attention to the fact that such numbers will be virtually impossible to achieve. In their view, producing and planting one million cacao plants will take far longer than a year, even in ideal circumstances. They also point out that a million trees on 500 hectares would be an average planting density of 2000 plants/hectare. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about half that figure, 1025 plants/hectare, would be a more normal spacing. 

The Maya Biosana project apparently intends to plant only cacao Criollo. Of the three main varieties of cacao (see further reading for more details) – Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario –  Criollo produces the most flavorful chocolate, but is little used at present in the mainstream chocolate industry because it is very susceptible to disease, and takes longer to reach maturity. The most widely grown variety is Forastero, which is hardy but least flavorful, while Trinitario, a hybrid of the first two, falls somewhere in the middle.

This makes Criollo a very strange choice for such a major plantation. In fact, industry insiders say, there is no source anywhere in Mexico for the huge quantity of Criollo grafts that the Maya Biosana project would require.

Maya Biosana claims that the first phase of its megaproject is already underway on land in the Los Divorciados ejido, about 100 km from Chetumal, and recently released a promotional video. The film includes lots of “feel good” footage and memorable quotes, but some of the footage of mature cacao appears to have been shot elsewhere, presumably in Tabasco state. More importantly, what exactly does the Maya Biosana team bring to the table, besides good intentions?

Who are the main players in Maya Biosana?

The two main players in Maya BioSana, according to press reports, are Jim Walsh and Fernando Manzanilla.

Entrepreneur Jim Walsh is the self-styled “reinventor of chocolate”, CEO of Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate from 1992, and CEO of the closely-related Intentional Chocolate since 2007. Fernando Manzanilla Prieto is a well-connected Mexican politician, member of Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), and businessman who is currently the Secretary General of the government of the state of Puebla in central Mexico.

According to its website, samples of Intentional Chocolate, co-founded by Walsh and Manzanilla, were given by former president Bill Clinton as a gift to the Japanese Royal family and have the seal of approval of the Dalai Lama. The company “treats” regular chocolate using “breakthrough licensed technology” that “helps embed the focused good intentions of experienced meditators and then infuses those intentions into chocolate”. An early press release stated that such chocolate can “significantly decrease stress, increase calmness, and lessen fatigue in those who consume it”.

The major claim made for this chocolate is that it elevates the mood of consumers more than non-intentioned chocolate does. This claim is based, apparently in its entirety, on a single “double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled experiment”, the results of which were published in an article, co-authored by Walsh, entitled Effects of Intentionally Enhanced Chocolate on Mood in EXPLORE: The Journal of Science & Healing, an Elsevier journal, in the September/October issue of 2007 (Vol 3, No 5: 485-492).

The sample size was small, 62 individuals in total. For one week, participants self-recorded their mood by means of a recognized “profile of mood states”. Some participants consumed “intentioned” chocolate, and others “non-intentioned” chocolate, twice a day, at the same times, for three consecutive days, in the middle of the week.

The most fascinating part of the article is actually the last paragraph, where the authors recommend that efforts to replicate the findings should “seriously consider sources of intentional enhancement and contamination that might influence the postulated effect.” They call for intentional imprints to be provided only by “highly experienced meditators or other practitioners”, writing that “persons holding explicitly negative expectations should not be allowed to participate for the same reason that dirty test tubes are not allowed in biology experiments.” Even more bizarrely, they claim that vigilance about the intentions of people involved in the test may even extend to “people who learn about the experiment in the future after the study is completed”.

Put another way, skeptics and disbelievers should stay home.

To the best of our knowledge, the Explore study has not been replicated, while statisticians and others have criticized the methods used and the conclusions drawn. See, for example, Debunked: Effects of Intentionally Enhanced Chocolate on Mood.

The other two authors of the Explore study besides Walsh are Dean Radin and Gail Hayssen. Radin is a prolific author of articles about parapsychology and also just happens to be a co-editor of Explore. Both Radin and Hayssen hold posts at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California.

Walsh and Radin, together with Manzanilla, all have connections to the Human Energy Systems Alliance (HESA) Institute,  “an alliance of scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and spiritual leaders devoted to unlocking the potential of the human energy system and to developing technologies and products that transform human health and increase human flourishing.”

According to the HESA Institute’s list of its main members, Walsh is the institute’s founder and CEO, and Radin is a prominent member. Manzanilla’s bio claims that he was, too, founded HESA but, curiously, his name is absent from the HESA Institute list.

Between them, Walsh and Manzanilla have created an impressive web of interlinked and overlapping projects, supported by an equally dazzling range of positions on advisory boards. For example, both men are members of the three-person advisory board of the Institute for Spirituality and Wellness (ISW) at the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), which continues “to educate and prepare future leaders for a multitude of ministries” (Ref). The CTS is an affiliated seminary of the United Church of Christ, “a mainline Protestant Christian denomination primarily in the Reformed tradition but also historically influenced by Lutheranism” (Ref).

Several of the projects associated with Manzanilla, according to his CTS bio, have surprisingly little or no web presence. For example, he founded (in 2007 according to his Linkedin profile) and remains CEO of ImaginaMéxico, which “directs a network of organizations whose brands encompass the areas of food and beverages, agro forestry and wellness, human capital and technology, all under the common theme of helping individuals lead more meaningful and vital lives.” Yet, as of last week, the ImaginaMéxico website was “under construction”. According to the bio, Manzanilla also founded Cielo y Tierra (no web links found), Facthum-Mexico (no website found) and Kakaw Universal (no evidence from a Google search that it even exists)…. Manzanilla also co-founded Baja BioSana,  “an intentional community with a vision to become an example of sustainable living and educational center” (Ref) located in the small village of El Choro in Baja Califórnia Sur.

Financial shenanigans

It now looks as if the Maya Biosana project may be dead in the water, before it ever really gets off the ground. According to this document from the Superior Audit Office of Mexico (Auditoría Superior de la Federación), Maya BioSana received two payments in 2010 from Financiera Rural, acting on behalf of Sagarpa, as part of the latter’s  Strategic Project for Sustainable Rural Development in the South-South-East Region of Mexico (Proyecto Estratégico para el Desarrollo Rural Sustentable de la Región Sur Sureste de México). The two payments totaled 15 million pesos (about $1,140,000 dollars).  The document states that Sagarpa is already requesting the return of these funds because the Maya Biosana project has fallen behind schedule.

The Superior Audit Office document says that visits to the site did not find any cacao plantation and alleges that the Sagarpa funds had been transferred from one company account to another before a payment for 12,400 million pesos (about $946,000 dollars) was made to a foreign bank account belonging to one of the individuals who had signed on behalf of the company “Maya Biosana S.A.P.I de C.V.” Perhaps this was the cost of the recently-released video?

For the sake of the ejidatorios of Los Divorciados in Quintana Roo, who were counting on the success of the Maya BioSana cacao-growing megaproject, we hope that they have gained, and will gain, more from this experience than they lost. They deserve far better than a mere handful of chocolate-coated intentions.

This is one chocolate megaproject that appears to be melting fast. Maya BioSana looks much more like Maya Bio-Insana.

Further reading:

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Aug 132012
 

To understand the distinctive settlement patterns of the Tarahumara today, we first need to romp through a thumbnail history covering their experiences during the years following the Spanish Conquest.

While it is uncertain precisely when the Tarahumara arrived in this area, or where they came from, the archaeological evidence seems to support the view that they probably only arrived a short time before the Spanish reached the New World. By 1500 A.D., the Tarahumara had stone dwellings, simple blankets of agave fiber, stone “metates” (pestles), and combined hunting and gathering with the cultivation of corn (maize) and gourds. Settlements at this time would have been small and scattered, with no more than a few families able to survive in any given area. Then the Spanish arrived.

In early colonial times, Spanish explorers and clerics gradually moved ever further north of Mexico City. The first twelve Jesuits had arrived in New Spain in 1572; more arrived in 1576 and by 1580, they had already established centers for their work in Michoacán (1573), Guadalajara (1574), Oaxaca (1575), Veracruz (1578) and Puebla (1580).  However, the inaccessibility of the Copper Canyon area prevented them from extending northwards as fast as they had hoped.The first important Spanish contact with the Tarahumara dates from around 1610 when a Jesuit missionary, Juan Fonte, established a mission at San Pablo de Balleza. This mission, located between the traditional territories of the Tarahumara and the neighboring Tepehuan Indians, was short-lived. In 1616, a Tepehuan‑inspired revolt led to Fonte’s death. Several hundred Spaniards along with thousands of Indians were killed in the ensuing two years of conflict.

During the remainder of the 17th century, however, the Jesuits made a steady advance, establishing numerous missions including Sisoguichi, which is still the center of their influence today. These Jesuit missions were a clerical modification of the encomienda system, an institution designed to help spread Spanish civilization, by rewarding chosen settlers with the right to collect tributes and labor from the indigenous population. The Jesuit missions usually had two friars teaching religion, handicrafts, agriculture and self‑government, together with a few soldiers for protection.

As early as 1645, some Tarahumara were working in mines, some as slaves, others voluntarily for wages. This is when both the Jesuits and the mine operators encouraged the Indians to relocate and concentrate their homes in villages or towns. This major change in settlement pattern facilitated the provision of religion and education and made it easier to organize the labor force. The Tarahumara resisted this move more strongly than other indigenous groups did elsewhere in New Spain.

The early Jesuit/Tarahumara contacts were relatively friendly, but disillusionment soon set in and around 1650 the Tarahumara essentially split into two opposing factions, the “baptizados” (Christians) and the “gentiles” (unconverted). The former decided that the priests offered a worthwhile alternative to their traditional way of life and remained in the missions. The gentiles, blaming the Spanish God for widespread epidemics, withdrew into the difficult terrain of mountains and canyons of the Copper Canyon region, effectively trying to avoid any further contact with the Spanish. Later rebellions by the gentiles , such as that in the 1690s, were brutally put down by Spanish troops. This ended Tarahumara military resistance but ensured that they withdrew still further into the canyons.

The mission settlements

The two groups of Tarahumara now have very different settlement patterns, and some significant differences in their way of life. The baptizados live in mission villages, many of which are located east of the true canyon region, where valleys offer ample arable land and better possibilities for highways and communications. The settlements are nucleated, with homes built close to the protection of the church, and farmland surrounding the villages. These villages attracted many mestizo settlers, who saw opportunities in agriculture, forestry and commerce. Intermarriage became more common and the Tarahumara’s social customs changed as they assimilated more mestizo habits and became more Mexicanized.

Cerocahui

The mission settlement of Cerocahui

The largest settlement in the region is Creel, a much more modern town, founded in 1906. The town received a massive boost following the completion of the railway between Creel and Chihuahua in 1907, and again in the 1960s when the “Copper Canyon” railway to Los Mochis and Topolobampo was finally completed.

Creel has also benefited in the past decade from its designation as one of Mexico’s Magic Towns and has received significant investments in tourist and urban infrastructure. Set at an elevation of 2340 m (7,600 feet) above sea level, Creel lies some distance from the nearest canyon, but has become the main marketing, lumber and tourist center and the gateway for trips into the more remote areas. Its population is about 6500.

Twenty kilometers from Creel is Cusárare (“Place of Eagles”), a typical mission village. The simple mission church, originally erected in 1767, was rebuilt in the 1970s. The village has a few small “corner” stores, some also selling tourist souvenirs. Less than an hour’s walk away is Painted Cave, a good-sized cave with pictographs said to have been left by the “Ancient Ones”. In the mid‑1890s, ethnologist Carl Lumholtz wrote that “there are no Mexicans [as opposed to Indians] living in Cusárare, nor nearby. Except for the small mining camp in the Copper Canyon, there are none for more than 50 miles to south, east or west.”

The gentiles‘ settlements

The traditional Tarahumara, the gentiles, are less Mexicanized, though they continue to use introduced crops, animals and agricultural implements acquired from the Spanish priests and settlers. Restricted to marginal land on the canyons’ rims and walls, they live in small, variable‑sized, dispersed settlements, often several hours apart by foot. This pattern is no surprise, given the extremes of topography that characterize the area, the limited technology (plow agriculture) available to them, and their need for spatial mobility to ensure access to grazing land for small herds of sheep and goats.

In these marginal areas, only small pockets of potentially arable land exist and many families have plots of land scattered about a considerable area, with several hours’ walk between plots. The population of their dispersed settlements (ranchos) is variable, depending on the available resources of land and water, on the pattern of marriages, and on the amount of inherited land in other ranchos, but averages between 2 and 5 family groups, a total of between 10 and 25 individuals.

The serious challenge is finding any land suitable for farming

The serious challenge is finding any land suitable for farming. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The homes are often perched on the gently sloping tops of the steep-sided spurs that jut out from the canyon rim, affording spectacular views, but with dangerous drop-offs beyond the areas suitable for settlement and cultivation. Individual dwellings used to be stone and mud huts, or caves in the canyon wall. The Tarahumara’s skill with the axe (a 17th century introduction) is considerable and, today, houses and other structures are made almost entirely of wood, though many caves are still inhabited, at least for part of the year. Caves which face south are preferred and their position on distant hillsides is often marked by a black, smoke‑darkened upper rim.

Perhaps the best‑built structures are their storage boxes which are wooden cubes (side about 2 m) where notched hand‑hewn planks are fitted together so tightly that not even a mouse can gain access. These structures are raised about 50 cm off the ground, usually on boulders, and have wooden roof singles. They are used to store not only food but also animal hides, horsehair ropes, simple implements, cloth, yarn and anything considered valuable. Where wood is harder to obtain, they are built of stones and mud.

Their houses are constructed in a similar fashion, but with less attention to detail. Their houses are not, therefore, very permanent. Indeed, one ancient Indian tradition holds that when a member of the household dies, the house should be abandoned or destroyed. Nowadays, the family simply moves the structure a few hundred meters and rebuilds it. The houses have dirt floors and minimal furnishings, such as wooden benches and stumps, items for food preparation, metal plates and a bucket and some animal (goat or cow) skins for sleeping on. There may also be some rough blankets and a homemade violin.

Most gentiles have more than one dwelling since they wander far afield with their animals in search of pasture and food, and since many practice a form of transhumance, spending winters near the canyon floor and summers near the canyon rim.

Sources /  Bibliography:

  1. Bennett, W. and Zingg, R. (1935) The Tarahumara. Univ. of Chicago Press. Reprinted by Rio Grande Press, 1976. Classic anthropological work.
  2. Dunne, P.M. (1948) Early Jesuit Missions in Tarahumara. Univ. Calif. Press.
  3. Kennedy, J.G. (1978) Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre; Beer, Ecology and Social Organization, AHM Publishing Corp, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Republished, as The Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre: Survivors on the Canyon’s Edge in 1996. This anthropologist lived in one of the more remote Tarahumara areas for several months, accompanied by his wife and infant daughter.
  4. Lumholtz, C. (1902) Unknown Mexico. 2 volumes. Scribner’s Sons, New York. Republished in both English and Spanish, this is a fascinating ethnographic account dating back to the end of the 19th century.
  5. Pennington, C. (1963) The Tarahumar of Mexico, their environment and material culture. Univ. of Utah Press. The reprint by Editorial Agata, Guadalajara, 1996, of this classic account of Tarahumara life and culture is embellished with wonderful color photographs, taken by Luis Verplancken, S.J. (1926-2004), who ran the mission in Creel for many years.

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