TLAYACAPAN, Mexico – Very near the area where Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata was born there is a feminine figure they call “La Comandanta” (The Commander) who defends the growers of bean varieties en route to extinction to foster regional development by establishing a fair price for local peasant farmers.
“I decided to create La Comandanta so that this traditional (bean) market could aspire to a be a bigger, fairer market, bringing this product to the big cities,” Mexican Silke German, the promoter of the project, said.
The plan already includes a network of six peasant farmers who plant endangered bean varieties including the so-called “bull’s blood, vaquita, ayocote morado and negro criollo” beans.
Mexico is focusing on diversifying its bean crop, given that of the 150 wild bean varieties that exist in the world, 70 are endemic to this country.
They are spread among seven main groups – black, yellow, white, brown, yellowish white, pinto and spotted – according to studies by the Autonomous University of Queretaro and the national INIFAP forestry, agriculture and livestock institute.
German, who is of German origin, admits that she has encountered some resistance to her plan, although this year she hopes to market 6.5 tons of assorted beans.
One of the “soldiers” in La Comandanta’s ranks is Adrian Allende Diaz, originally from the central state of Morelos, who has been supporting the initiative since it was launched in January 2016.
“We rural people stopped working because there were no markets. Now that this project is under way, we want to work together with this lady,” said Allende, one of many former migrants who sought a better life in the United States but was deported back to Mexico.
According to figures from the Frijol 2016 report prepared by the FIRA agriculture institute within the Finance Ministry, along with the Bank of Mexico, per capita consumption of beans in Mexico has been declining over the past 30 years.
From an average of 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds) per person per year during the 1980s, annual per capita bean consumption has fallen to 8.4 kg currently, a figure of great concern in a country for which the agricultural staples are beans, corn and chili peppers.
There are not only problems with consumption. There is also a downward trend in production, with the bean harvest falling 23.9 percent to 969,100 tons in 2015, compared with the previous year, according to the FIRA report.
Despite the fact that beans are very important to the Mexican diet, in 2015 imports of the product increased 7.7 percent and exports fell by 43.9 percent compared with the previous year, creating a deficit of almost 52,000 tons.
Mexico is importing more and more beans, just like what is happening with corn, with the US being its main provider, but La Comandanta is working to halt that trend.