From her family home in the mountainous coffee growing community of La Tlaltetela de Veracruz, Mexico, first-year student Gladira Quiroz Munoz took a few minutes during the student vacations to talk with us about her first eight months at EARTH and her hopes for the future of her community.
Tell us about your family’s connection to coffee.
My family, my grandparents and ancestors, have always been coffee farmers. In this area, which is called La Tlaltetela de Veracruz, 80 per cent of the farmers and people are dedicated to coffee production. From my grandparents, we have learned about this crop and we are following in their footsteps.
Can you describe La Tlaltetela?
La Tlaltetela means, “place on the rocks.” It is a mountain. We have very distinct climates and seasons. In winter it is very cool and in summer—in May and June—it is very hot and doesn’t rain. The municipality is really big. We now have around 32 communities in this municipality.
The strength is that our community has been growing quickly since my grandparents’ generation. Before, the families cultivated and sold their crops right here. They cultivated coffee, lemons and other crops but only for local consumption. And now, with people sending their children to college, the town is awakening. There are more young people dedicated to and concerned about the countryside, and they are starting to farm on a much bigger scale. They are exporting, and the community is growing. Also the youth is becoming more interested in farming little by little.
Our weakness, well, we have very good land, but there is little support for farmers from the government. Since they are small farmers, they have to sell to intermediaries. They cultivate, but since they don’t have a consistent market for exportation, they sell their crops to intermediaries. So the prices they receive are the minimum. And this makes it more difficult to continue producing, to produce on a larger scale, and in some cases farmers lack technical support to produce in an environmentally-friendly way.
Tell us about how you came to study at EARTH.
It was a very pleasant experience thanks to the Regional Union of Small-Scale Coffee Producers of the Huatusco Region. My father is a member of this union. He has two hectares of coffee. He sells his coffee to them for export and processing. One day my brother told me that they were offering scholarships to study. I was already in the process of searching for a university in the country to continue my professional studies. So he mentioned that they were going to offer a scholarship and that it was for a university in another country. It really grabbed my attention that it was for a school abroad.
I then went to talk with Rubén [Rubén Zúñiga Peralta, president of the Regional Union of Small-Scale Coffee Producers of the Huatusco Region]. They had already had the experience of visiting EARTH. They told me about the University’s way of teaching, how they give classes—that it has a lot to do with both the theory and the practice—and of the University’s focus on agriculture. I was thinking of choosing a field that had to do with rural communities, with my dreams. So this opportunity fell from the sky. I got really motivated, and searched for information. I completed the admissions process step by step. Thankfully I was accepted and now am in my first year at EARTH. I am so grateful.
Arriving at the University was so different. Being far from your town and coming with your head up high and with pride in representing a woman in a university in another country, a university of agriculture, which normally is a male-dominated field. I came with this happiness and saw how things worked at the University, which was totally different from how I imagined it would be. For instance, living with students from other cultures, the methods of teaching and learning, the support of the professors—all of this has made the past eight months perfect.
And well, it has helped my way of thinking because here in Mexico, it is easy to lose faith in your country, because many things happen in government or politics or you experience situations that disappoint you. But, at EARTH you learn to dream. You say, I can do this and I can be capable of doing more because I have a strong foundation, because I am learning a lot. And everything we learn at the University, we translate to our home communities and countries. So you say, of course I can achieve this; when I leave here I am going to do this and implement this in my town. The things you learn, you want to put into practice in your country. And when you go back, as I am now during our vacation, you tell your family and neighbors about what you are learning.
During my break, I went to talk with the authorities of my municipality and their reaction was very positive. They are very pleased that a member of the community, and in my case a woman, is studying in another country at a very good university, and that one day when I return I can help the Mayor, giving them good ideas of some projects that could help to promote the well-being of my community and the countryside.
What do you want to do after you graduate from EARTH?
At EARTH you learn many things and I like everything I’m learning so far. I left to study with the idea of returning to my community and supporting an institution called CONAFE, which is dedicated to bringing education to children in rural communities. I would like to implement an agricultural project for these families so that they can supply the needs of these small communities. As they are marginalized small communities, they hold Earth’s treasure, but in some cases they don’t know how to maximize what they have because they don’t have the resources or the technical support of someone to help them. So I would very much like to work with people in these rural communities.
I also want to work in my town with the authorities and the people of the countryside, with the coffee farmers. And more than anything, I want to implement a project to provide technical assistance for them and link them to foreign companies, because our town is big enough, yet all of the people are selling their crops to intermediaries. It is time that someone helps and advises them so that they can export their products themselves, and receive fair pay for their crops, and that they care for the land as they should, in a correct way. All of these are my dreams and aspirations.
And, well, my personal dreams have always been to help others in any way I can.
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