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Mayan Values Reflected in Sembrando Vida

from the May 22, 2024 Bulletin



Victor Poot is a Mayan farmer in the rural area between the village of Felipe Castillo Puerto and the Tren Maya station being built in Quintana Roo; people of Mayan descent make up the largest proportion of the population. We got to visit his farm and to hear his experience with Sembrando Vida firsthand.

Your land used to be part of an ejido, but now you own it yourself, and part of it is now enrolled in the Sembrando Vida program, right?


I love this land. It was my father’s before me. He was one of the original ejidatarios, groups of people collectively made owners of large tracts of land, an ancient form of property management from Mayan times. In 1992, after ejidos were allowed to sell parts of their land to individuals (a provision of the NAFTA trade agreement, ed.), I decided to start the process of buying my land. That was thirty years ago! It’s taken me that long to get the title. I have 100 hectares (247 acres), which I farm on my own. I’m still also an ejidatario, and we govern the entire ejido.


I liked the goals of Sembrando Vida. I’m of Mayan descent. I’m in favor of reforestation and preservation of our native plants and animals, and it helps to get a small stipend every month because farmers can’t count on a steady income.

Even without the project, I’ve been raising all kinds of animals — varieties of chickens, turkeys, peccaries (a kind of wild pig) that run free inside a large fenced area, and a little native animal that is a kind of capybara that sleeps underground by day. All these animals can be used for food. I also planted many different kinds of trees.

chickens, turkeys and peacocks

What are the requirements of the program?


Sembrando Vida identified two and a half hectares (about 6 acres) for use. They required three kinds of planting: the first is milpa, the traditional way of raising corn, which is to plant it together with beans and squash; this method doesn’t deplete the soil. The second is to grow fruit trees.


The third is to plant trees as raw material for wood products. These three kinds of planting provide food to eat today, products to sell, and trees for lumber in the future.

Tzalam, also referred to as Mayan Walnut, used to make furniture

However, my soil is not good for milpa, it has too much limestone. It also wasn’t good for fruit trees — it’s too rocky and doesn’t have enough water. I do grow trees for wood, these are long-term. It will take 20 years for the cedar trees and 50 for the mahogany to be ready for harvest.

However, the program is flexible. It allowed me to substitute some fruit trees that I’d planted on parts of my land not included in Sembrando Vida land. It’s also possible to have some land dedicated to Sembrando Vida in one section of your property and more in another section to piece together into two and a half hectares.

Twenty-four farmers are involved in Sembrando Vida projects nearby, and we have land in common. On the common land, we have our biofabrica (where we make compost) and share a plant nursery. When Sembrando Vida staff come to visit, they help us solve problems and teach us how to improve our methods, particularly for organic farming. To be organic is a requirement; to protect the soil and plants, we don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. While we use organic methods, we aren’t required to be certified. International certification is just too difficult.


How many people work with you?




I do most of the work by myself! I do sometimes have help from my sons and my brother, but I’m the only one living here. My wife and the rest of my family live in the village, Felipe Castillo Puerto. Farming is hard; you have to love it! For those who say we Mayans are lazy, let them come and see how we work!

Victor's brother Gilberto with food for pigs

The Tren Maya passes close to here, and there will be a stop near Felipe Castillo Puerto. What has the effect of the train been?


Well, for one thing, I can’t find any agricultural workers to hire. Everyone is working for the train! It has all kinds of jobs that pay well. Besides work directly related to the train, people in the village are renting out rooms even in their small houses for the workers who are here temporarily to build the train and the station, and, of course, all those workers need to eat. Small restaurants or street vendors have business. The train has raised the standard of living in poor villages like ours; Felipe Carillo Puerto was really struggling before.


What will happen once the building boom is over? It won’t go back to the way it was before. With the train bringing people in, I think we’ll see more jobs, but not at the same level as right now — we’ll see.


What do you see as the biggest threats to preserving the natural environment here?  Is the train causing permanent damage?

A few miles from Victor's farm: "Zone for relocation of plants,"  managed by the military



Through the program I’m in and other reforestation and conservation projects in this area, the government is doing a lot to protect and restore our natural environment. The biggest threat is agribusiness.




We have a growing population of Mennonites. Because of the law allowing ejidos to sell land to private groups, they’ve been able to buy parcels of land and piece them together into huge farms. More and more Mennonites are coming, acquiring more land and creating agribusinesses. They stay in their own communities and don’t interact with others; they don’t even speak Spanish!


They’re cutting down a lot of forest in clearing the land; they use big machinery and don’t use organic farming methods or pay attention to the soil’s health. I’m worried. As they get more and more land from ejidos, they could come to have a majority and turn ejidos into agribusinesses — the opposite of what we Mayans want.

Mennonite girl selling juice on the road

What do you think of Morena, the President’s party?


Our local mayor, who ran on the Morena ticket, is corrupt. He’s a chapulin, or grasshopper, someone who jumps from one party to another just to get elected. But I like what AMLO has done; we need the kind of programs that AMLO started — such as Sembrando Vida — that are helping us in these rural areas. I’m voting for Claudia!