Water Security Project
The mezcal producing regions in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca have changed a lot over the last 20 years. Artisanal Mezcal – once an undervalued product predominantly consumed locally – has found national and international fame, resulting in vast increases in demand and perceived value; producers are selling significantly more mezcal at significantly higher prices. This has had a large and positive impact on the fortunes of families involved in the industry - a change clearly visible in their improved infrastructure and lifestyles. Our producers have built new houses, invested in land, and bought new amenities: vehicles, clothes, televisions and computers. The rural areas of Oaxaca are some of the poorest in Mexico, and therefore the world, so this change is wonderful to see.
However, this increased productivity and the associated increased agricultural footprint of the process presents a threat to local natural resources. For hundreds of years artisanal mezcal has been produced on a small and sustainable scale in harmony with its environment. Current levels of demand for mezcal risk upsetting this balance.
This doesn’t have to be the case. The mindset of people in these rural regions tends to be less short-sighted than in the urban areas, and producers have a keen interest in sustainability; both to protect their industry and to ensure the health of their homelands. And environmentally speaking there’s still plenty of room for sustainable growth. Given sufficient analysis and education (underwritten by sufficient funding) we can work with our producers to help develop the required sustainable agricultural techniques.
This is the core of our charitable commitment – 10% of proceeds from each bottle sold donated to sustainability projects in the communities where our mezcals are made.
One of the ways in which change has already been felt is the availability of water. Miahuatlán is a semi-arid region with a long dry season, meaning scarce water for much of the year. This has been keenly felt in the town of San Isidro Guishe – home to Atenogenes and Jose Garcia. Wells which were once full have been diminishing, and ancient rivers have run dry. A consequence of both increased agricultural demand, and sporadic rainfall due to climate change. In recent years, during long dry seasons, many families have been reliant on water delivered by trucks - an expensive and unreliable dependency. They asked us if we could help, and we were happy to oblige.
To implement these changes, we assembled a team. Lou Banks from SACRED Agave was our first port of call. SACRED is an NGO committed to improving lives in the rural areas of Mexico where heritage agave spirits are produced. They’ve built rain-harvesting systems, greenhouses and agave nurseries, a community plaza, and a library, as well as operating a vast re-planting operation – supplying producers with agave seedlings purchased from underfunded primary schools. We spoke to Lou about the situation in San Idisro Guishe and he offered to work as director of the project.
Lou, in turn, reached out to Vinik Jure of Expresiones Bioculturales – a research based Oaxacan NGO focussed on developing regenerative agricultural systems. Vinik agreed to manage the project, and immediately got to work establishing the objectives and methodology. After consulting members of the community in San Isidro, Vinik developed a 3 part plan:
- Build a new community well to ensure immediate water demand can be met.
- Work with the community and specialists to analyse the local environment and demands of agriculture.
- Run educational work-shops with the community to encourage regenerative agricultural practices through improved water management.
Each of these steps is to be developed and implemented in collaboration with the community – it is a collective solution, not a foreign imposition. The majority of the funding will come from Pensador, with a partial local contribution to ensure alignment of objectives.
The project began in July 2022 with a meeting in San Isidro Guishe to introduce the local community to the project and some of the ideas behind water management. In September we began construction of the new well, which is now drawing clean drinking water which is distributed to 12 families via a mechanical pump. In November we were in Oaxaca and had the chance to inspect the well and share a few mezcals with some of the beneficiaries. They were proud of their new infrastructure, and grateful for the contribution which made it possible.
On the same trip I was able to attend the second community workshop run by Vinik. I was impressed by Vinik’s teaching ability. The focus of the group was somewhat hampered by the fact that they had been involved in a tapada – the building of an agave roast – at 5am that morning; an exhausting physical task accompanied by liberal pours of mezcal. But despite the weary heads Vinik was able to command the attention of the crowd and teach a valuable lesson about effective methods of rain water capture through the planting of trees. The workshop concluded with a hearty meal and a discussion of the topics raised, accompanied by a few more mezcals.
The next step involves working with geologists from Mexico City who specialise in water management. They will analyse the state of the water table in Miahuatlán to give us a better idea of our current situation; information which will help us to develop specific solutions to the challenges faced.
We’re proud of what we’ve already achieved and excited to see the project grow. Big thanks to everyone who bought a bottle of Pensador over the last two years and helped to make this possible.
More updates to follow.