Marginalized Afro-Mexican and indigenous women want to return to ancestral farming methods in Oaxaca state

Artistri Sud recently received a request for support on behalf of a women’s cooperative in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We are therefore seeking funding to develop a project which would help women rebuild their ancestral knowledge and grow their capacity to generate income from their traditional agricultural assets.

The problem

The Costa Chica coastal region in Oaxaca Mexico is home to Afro-Mexicans and indigenous people. In the municipality of Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo, 38,6% are Afro-Mexicans and 14.82% of indigenous–these groups have suffered from systemic marginalization and lack of opportunities.

Afro- Mexican farmers with Jennifer Lonergan,Executive Director of Artistri Sud on mainland near Chacahua.

For 143 Afro-Mexican and indigenous communities in this region, totalling approximately 50.541 people in the region of Tututepec, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in dire economic challenges and suffering which was further compounded by the systemic marginalization and lack of opportunities due to their social, ethnic and racial identities.  Most rely on agriculture for livelihoods, working for local papaya, coconut, peanut and lemon farmers; most own their own subsistence plots for food, and some own larger land holdings.  As a result of the significant drop in tourism in 2020 and 2021, demand for these products decreased significantly, leaving community members–their revenues now scarce–to look for alternative ways of feeding their families, both through livelihood development and by developing and investing in their own more varied food sources.


The Covid 19 recovery phase provides a unique opportunity to build back better. Nine of these communities are actively seeking avenues for economic recovery and are exploring new initiatives and approaches.  The confluence of factors–the need for livelihoods, the interest in new opportunities for both economic growth, learning and health, and the agricultural and natural resources in the region–converge to provide opportunities for regenerative approaches to economic development in agriculture. 

Artistri Sud is exploring opportunities to empower local women to leverage local traditional and indigenous knowledge regarding stewardship of the land to make use of agricultural resources in a symbiotic way which assures nourishment and resilience for local communities and their land, both literally and via income-generating enterprises.  A capacity-building program would take a two-pronged approach: 1) facilitate sharing traditional knowledge and raising awareness of traditional and regenerative agricultural approaches which were once endemic here and 2) facilitate awareness-raising and capacity-building so individuals can leverage market opportunities, based on an awareness of their unique competitive advantages, an ability to articulate them, and to identify markets, tell stories, and employ related sales, marketing and entrepreneurship skills. 

Workshop at Tetupec.

Objectives & Results

Artistri Sud is seeking funding to deliver an intensive capacity-building program in the region, as well as a series of workshops and a year of coaching.  Objectives would be to resurrect earth-friendly and healthful agricultural practices in the Costa Chica and empower local women to leverage their natural resources in a sustainable way which generates revenue for themselves and their families.  Technologies and learnings would include product/service innovation, and storytelling & identifying and articulating their unique competitive advantage. facilitating a shift in the way local communities view natural resources–short-term gain vs. long-term stewardship, and how this can be maximized for greater long-term benefit.  A secondary but critical objective would be to preserve traditional ecological knowledge about the agro-ecological practices used to grow, cultivate, harvest and produce  Afro-Mexican and indigenous plant medicines and traditional foods, contributing to the guarantee of food sovereignty. 


The communities that would benefit from this project are Afro-Mexicans, indigenous and mestizos people on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, located in the municipality of Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo; the communities of San Marquitos, San José Yugue, Charco Redondo, Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo, Santa Rosa de Lima and Chacahua would be targeted; 90 women in these communities have recently formed a collective and reached out for support to Artistri Sud. 

The women interviewed expressed an interest in sharing the knowledge and practices they wish to learn and reclaim with others.  Earth-friendly approaches to agriculture would be shared among members of the communities represented in the collective, including family members and other farmers; additionally a wish was expressed to share these rescued traditional practices with youth and others through a unique educational tour program, which would involve local high schools and universities by bringing students to visit the farms once ecological farming is underway.  

As such, the project would benefit 90 women directly, and impact 1250 indirect beneficiaries in the communities and beyond within one year. 


Lead researcher Lizia Carvalho, PhD candidate, has brought together the Coconatu Colectiva de la Costa de Oaxaca Ña’a Tundaa – is a collective that works with Afro-Mexican, indigenous and mestiza women for empowerment and  defense of their rights in Costa Chica, Oaxaca, Mexico, as well as the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (UPN), which are collecting data which will inform the research, results and helping in the construction of the educational project in the region.


The innovative aspect of the proposed project lies in building the capacity of the women to understand markets and leverage their traditional cultural heritage for marketing purposes; rather than resort to ‘fast’ agricultural, which requires selling high volume at low cost, this approach allows them to both understand and value their cultural assets, and leverage them for revenues.  “In today’s world, we really need to strengthen the knowledge that these communities already have about how to produce healthy, nutritious food in traditional, earth-friendly ways,” says CEO Dr. Jennifer Lonergan, who participated in the interviews in the field.  “People are starting to recognize the true value of small-scale, traditional approaches in agriculture, and though these women recognize the benefit for their own families, they have no idea how to communicate that value to markets, and leverage it for income growth.  That’s where we come in.”

Dr Jennifer Lonergan having a first hand look round the village, accompanied by a local.

Artistri Sud has 9 years of experience building and adapting capacity-building programs designed to leverage cultural assets for revenue generation, and has supported individual women and groups in their efforts to build sustainable sources of income by leveraging market forces and traditional knowledge. This project would provide an opportunity to build organizational capacity in the important area of agricultural knowledge, which is a strategic priority development area of Artistri Sud.