In Oaxaca, the caffeine bean is the principal export, accounting for over 30 percent of the state’s total exports. According to Juan Rodríguez Cabrera, a Oaxacan analyst, coffee is the second most important source of foreign exchange in Oaxaca, after tourism.
Nationally, too, coffee makes a significant contribution to Mexico’s trade balance. Coffee exports to the United States alone account for about one-third of all of the country’s agricultural exports to the world. Oaxaca produced 14 percent of Mexican coffee in 1996-1997, ranking fourth among Mexico’s 12 coffee-producing states in production by volume and second in acreage harvested.
In some areas of the state, large producer cooperatives and government support for marketing have helped small coffee growers capture more of the fruits of their labor. In places where intermediaries control transportation and marketing, however, “the middle-men are the ones who make money, not the small producers,” Cabrera says.
Organic coffee, of which Mexico is the world’s biggest producer, is rising in popularity among growers as the world market for it increases. A statewide cooperative association is encouraging its members to use organic techniques.
Pedro Cruz hasn’t used pesticides or chemical fertilizers for six years, and is looking into how to get his coffee certified as organic.
Although growing organic coffee is much harder work, the cost for chemical inputs shrinks and the selling price rises. Organic techniques such as terracing hillsides and interplanting coffee bushes among shade trees help protect the environment and biodiversity of coffee-growing areas against the erosion and deforestation that have plagued other parts of Oaxaca.