From the Inter Press Service, writer Emilio Godoy describes the co-op for the maguey plant.
"It has to reach a heavy boil so that the water evaporates, leaving the syrup," Rómulo, 45, an indigenous Otomí woman, told Tierramérica, explaining the process for turning the nectar of the maguey, or pulque agave plant (Agave atrovirens), into something the consistency of honey.
Rómulo is one of the founders of the cooperative Milpa de Maguey Tierno de la Mujer, made up of 22 women and one man who harvest this spiny-leaved plant in the community of San Andrés Daboxtha from a 73-hectare field, located about 120 kilometres northeast of Mexico City.
The pulque agave products have become the leading source of revenue for the Otomí indigenous peoples in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, complemented by maize crops, sheep ranching and ecological tourism.
"It has been a long process and they have learned about many areas. They have received training and have strengthened the organisation. The women themselves do the marketing," said Jocelyne Soto, delegate of the non-governmental organisation Enlace Rural Regional (Regional Rural Link, ERRAC), founded in 1988 to promote productive initiatives in impoverished areas.
ERRAC, which also has a presence in the states of Querétaro, in central Mexico, and Oaxaca, in the south, has backed the cooperative since 1989, when efforts began in this arid zone to replant with maguey and lechuguilla agave.
The maguey, which does not need much water to grow, is cultivated primarily in Hidalgo and the neighbouring state of Tlaxcala, on about 6,000 hectares for a total of 12 million plants, according to figures from the Secretariat (ministry) of Agriculture and the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.
The maguey nectar, made with the "aguamiel" (honey water) extracted from the plant, is a sweetener 1.4 times stronger than refined sugar and is rich in fibre and proteins. In addition, the plant's fructose does not stimulate insulin production like other sweeteners do.