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Agricultura, sociedad y desarrollo

Print version ISSN 1870-5472

agric. soc. desarro vol.13 n.2 Texcoco Apr./Jun. 2016



The K’ulub lineage changes strategy: productive diversification in the coffee production zone in Oxchuc, Chiapas

P. Pablo Ramos-Pérez1  * 

M. Roberto Parra-Vázquez2 

Javier Fortanelli-Martínez3 

Miguel Aguilar-Robledo4 

1 Programas Multidisciplinarios de Posgrado en Ciencias Ambientales. Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí. México (

2 El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, carretera Panamericana y periférico sur s/n; San Cristóbal de las casas, Chiapas. México. 29200. (mparra@

3 Instituto de Investigación de Zonas Desérticas, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, Altair no. 200, Colonia del Llano, San Luis Potosí. México. 78377. (

4 Escuela de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, Av. Industrias 101-A, Frac. Talleres, San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí. México. 78494. (


A successful case of socio-environmental innovation is analyzed within a context of generalized deterioration of the life and work conditions of Mexican peasants. The logic applied by members of the K’ulub lineage (Oxchuc, Chiapas) to achieve a change in their life strategy, is described. The method of case studies was applied to observe the behavior of the K’ulub lineage during the 2007-2014 period. The Livelihood framework allowed analyzing the process of strategy change in the lineage. The study of the cycles of public policy allowed understanding the way in which the leader of the K’ulub lineage interacts with government offices. The results show that the lineage agent (Wolwanej) participated in various workshops that allowed him to make the diagnosis of his situation, seeking and choosing desirable alternatives for solution, mobilizing his own resources and managing the ones lacking (primarily physical and financial capital), and executing his idea for a project, with remarkable success. Although during the process several local offices and actors were involved, the Wolwanej always maintained his autonomy. It is concluded that in the indigenous communities there are forms of organization and organizational practices that allow the introduction and persistence of socio-environmental innovations.

Keywords: Ttseltal peasants; productive strategy; socioenvironmental innovation; livelihood; public policies


Se analiza un caso de innovación socioambiental exitosa en un contexto de deterioro generalizado de las condiciones de vida y de trabajo de los campesinos mexicanos. Se describe la lógica aplicada por los miembros del linaje K ́ulub (Oxchuc, Chiapas), para lograr un cambio en su estrategia de vida. Se aplicó el método de estudios de caso para observar el comportamiento del linaje K ́ulub durante el periodo 2007-2014. El marco de Medios de Vida permitió analizar el proceso de cambio de estrategia del linaje. El estudio de los ciclos de la política pública permitió comprender la forma en que el líder del linaje K ́ulub interactúa con las dependencias gubernamentales. Los resultados muestran que el gestor del linaje (Wolwanej) participó en diversos talleres que le permitieron hacer el diagnóstico de su situación, buscar y elegir alternativas de solución deseables, movilizar sus propios recursos y gestionar los faltantes (principalmente capital físico y financiero), y ejecutar su idea de proyecto, con un éxito notable. Aunque en el proceso se involucraron varias dependencias y actores locales, el Wolwanej siempre mantuvo su autonomía. Se concluye que en las comunidades indígenas existen formas de organización y prácticas organizativas que permiten la introducción y persistencia de innovaciones socioambientales.

Palabras clave: campesinos tseltales; estrategia productiva; innovación socioambiental; modos de vida; políticas públicas


Poverty is one of the important elements in the definition of public policies from the global perspective, and their implementation at the global level seems to be sharpening. According to Chen and Ravallion (2008) by 1981 the number of poor people in the world was 1500 million people who lived under the international poverty line of US$1 per day. The figures for 2005 indicate that 1385 million people lived under the poverty line, more than was expected from the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.

One of the main strategies adopted in the world to combat poverty are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which represent the most important global effort of recent history to elevate the quality of life of humanity.

In México, of the 24 million inhabitants who live in extreme poverty (dietary poverty), 16 million (60 %) correspond to the rural population. In Chiapas, the rural population is 2 460 380 (50.32 % of the total population) (INEGI, 2010). The effort of public policy is directed at seeking the development of rural indigenous peoples, focusing in offering programs of social assistance and improvement of public infrastructure (Gómez, 2008).

A broad range of government programs has been applied to face marginalization, poverty and food insecurity (Solano, 2013). However, some authors conclude that the agrifood policy applied in México during the last 25 years has contributed to a greater dietary vulnerability of the Mexican population in the short and medium term (González and Macías, 2007).

In his turn, Scherr (2000) maintains that there is a great heterogeneity in the environmental management by the rural poor population, as well as in their ability to adapt to environmental changes and the efficiency of public policies. Scherr finds that under the demographic pressure or that from markets, the population suffers a deterioration of their resources and wellbeing. However, a higher degradation can, in some cases, boost the search for innovations to stabilize or improve their resource base. Therefore, to explore the interactions between poverty, agriculture and environment, Scherr suggests the following questions: “What factors determine when the farmers can respond to the environmental pressures with the aim of improving the safety of their livelihoods and the quality of their environmental resources? And, how can policies strengthen these positive responses?”

In the same sense, Shane (2013) finds that peasants from the Peruvian Andes have their own logic of conservation, which differs from the epistemic vision of organizations of international cooperation. The same seems to happen with the public policies applied in México. In this article, the successful experience of socio-environmental innovation of a Tseltal1 peasant is analyzed, for the 2007-2014 period. The micro-scale analysis shows how, to face the environmental, economic and technological deterioration, a family mobilizes their resources and changes productive strategy, through the diversification of their production and the reorganization of their links to the market. The families studied are characterized by their strong traditional organization, from which the support from various government offices has been negotiated, to explore successful productive alternatives developed by indigenous peasants in diverse regions. Based on their objectives, autonomous decisions have been made to change their life strategies, managing to improve their life and work conditions.

The municipality and the community organization

The municipality of Oxchuc (Figure 1) is located within the region of the “Chiapas Highlands” and belongs to the Tseltal ethnic group. In its 147 localities, there are 43 350 inhabitants of which 21 844 are men and 21 506, with an average of 103.7 inhabitants per km2 and 16 043 economically active inhabitants. Its territorial extension is 418 km2 (INEGI, 2010). The limestone substrate predominates and the karst geoforms with soils of types: cambisol, latosol and rendzina (Mariaca, 2007). The altitude varies from 1000 to 2500 m. In altitudes of 1000 to 1500 m, climate A(C) (m) is present, and in altitudes higher than 1500 m the climate type is (A) Cw. In the low zone, coffee plantations are interspersed between the milpa, and in the high zone there are maize and fruit trees.

Figure 1 Municipality of Oxchuc. 

The families of this municipality have resorted to many alternatives to produce food. For hundreds of years, maize production under the milpa system supported the family unit. However, in a study of the Chiapas Highlands region, Parra and Moguel (1998) found that there was a food supply crisis since the decade of the 1970s. This moment of crisis opened the door to variation; that is, to the search for options to secure their foods.

The change in agricultural systems could be observed clearly in the zone where the physical and environmental conditions allowed the establishment of the coffee plantations, process supported by the Mexican Coffee Institute (Instituto Mexicano del Café, INMECAFE). However, this did not happen in the whole municipality; in the cold lands, producers intensified maize production, and the lands were parceled out for young people to have access to them. Likewise, temporary migration allowed the producers to explore new crops and test them in the plots, as was the case with some fruit trees (Ramos et al., 2009).

The situation worsens with regard to the use of land; the World Bank (1999) has documented that in the Mexican agricultural sphere only 44 % of the total income is strictly speaking agricultural and livestock production. De Janvry and Sadoulet (2000) report that, without income foreign to the plot, at least 25 rainfed hectares would be required to come out of poverty within the institutional conditions and current prices. The ECLAC (CEPAL, 1999) mentions that in México families that have less than two hectares of land for agricultural production obtain annual income of which only 10 % comes from agricultural activities. From INEGI’s statistical data, it is estimated that in 2008 a producer in Oxchuc had access to half a hectare of farming land for production.

In each one of the localities in the municipality of Oxchuc, there are characteristic forms of organization and appropriation of the territory (Sántiz, 2012); one of them, the lineage2, gives sense to the individual and collective actions within the spaces of local action. In this manner, in the communities there are several lineages and each one receives the name of Ts´umbal and is represented through a Tseltal last name and an ancestor who gives origin to the appropriation of spaces in the territory. The lineage land is named k´inal. Therefore, in the localities there are several lineages (ts´umbal), each one with their territory (k´inal). In the same sense, the community assigns “posts” to various people, a practice that allows the organization of tasks and the definition of the spaces of interaction of the lineage with government offices. Within the lineage there are people called Wolwanej, who have the function of managing, experimenting and validating actions that have an impact on the management of the livelihoods of the lineage. This level of organization is hardly known and recognized by the government offices, and it is not considered for the implementation of public policies.

The process of socio-environmental innovation

In the third edition of the Oslo Manual (Gómez, 2013), the concept of innovation is defined as “the introduction of a new, or significantly improved, product (good or service), of a process, of a new commercialization method or of a new organizational method, into the internal practices of the company, workplace organization or foreign relations. (…) It is a series of efforts, where there is an attempt to do it well the first time, but which is not always achieved; many efforts are failed, but they are all thought out, analyzed, planned; innovation contains some moments of creativity but they should not be confused with it”. And there is a socio-environmental character because it recognizes the elements of the social, cultural and natural environment of the actors.

In the locality of Oxchuc, this process began at first with the opportunity of impacting the political agenda of the elected municipal president in 2007, when he requested the Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) to elaborate a municipal agricultural and livestock development plan. For this purpose, the collaboration between the academic group Livelihoods and Territorial Innovation (Modos de Vida e Innovación Territorial, MOVIT) of the ECOSUR, graduate students from Universidad Autónoma Chapingo and ECOSUR, and the direction of productive projects of the City Council of Oxchuc was arranged. At the same time three Master’s thesis studies were developed that had the objective of understanding in depth the functionality of the Oxchuc families.

Once the collaboration agreement was signed between participants, there was a movement towards the next phase of the political cycle: the elaboration of a municipal diagnosis. For this purpose, the decision was made to carry out micro-regional diagnostic workshops with the livelihoods approach, where representatives from the localities participated. Therefore, representatives from the communities identified the cultivation of Hass avocado and peach fruit trees of the Diamond variety as “ideas of change”. The political and academic opportunity was established to implement a process of socio-environmental innovation, which contemplated during the 2008-2014 period, the following stages: participative planning; training and follow-up; training for abilities and human resources (thesis students); management of resources for continuity, and exchange of local and national experiences; and evaluation of the process.

To activate the process, the Local Action Group (LAG, defined as the group of actors who were organized to make decisions with particular tasks and goals, and who encourage the population to work for a common objective) agreed to carry out an exercise of decision making among municipal authorities, the direction of productive projects in the municipality, representatives from localities chosen by the municipal president, and researchers. For this purpose, the actors mentioned carried out exchanges about experiences with successful producers in the region, as well as visits through the zones to characterize the region, based on an analysis of agroclimate potential for these crops.

From this, the town council approved the realization of a Productive Diversification project and contributed a part of the necessary resources, the LAG negotiated with the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, CDI) the financing for technical assistance and purchase of Hass avocado and Diamond peach plants.


This research constitutes a study case (Arzaluz, 2005) through which understanding of a type situation is sought, to explore the possibilities for improvement of agro-ecosystems and livelihoods of indigenous peasants. It was carried out in the community of El Tzay, where the grasshopper lineage (Ts´umbal K´ulub) demonstrated greater organization and adoption of the socio-environmental innovation process from the active participation of the Wolwanej Salvador Gómez López, who has transformed his environment successfully to improve their living conditions. The research-action approach was taken on (Greenwood, 2000), which has meant accompanying the Tsúmbal Kúlub in his processes of change since 2007.

During the first stage, the methodology of sustainable livelihoods was applied (Parra et al., 2011), based on the theoretical framework proposed by Chambers and Conway (1999), and adapted to be applied in participative diagnosis workshops. It is important to highlight that adaptations of this methodology have been made for México’s conditions, to understand, under different contexts, the life situations of rural families (Ramos et al., 2009; Pat et al., 2011; Liscovsky et al., 2012).

Community diagnosis workshops were performed in 2008, 2011 and 2013 by ECOSUR through the MOVIT working team, within the framework of the productive diversification project that began in 2008, through an agreement with the Oxchuc Town Council. This activity has been given continuity through a second socio-environmental innovation project financed by the CONACYT and under a collaboration agreement with the municipal administration during 2011; currently, there is collaboration with the k´ulub lineage with accompaniment from ECOSUR through a doctoral work.

In the second stage organizational analysis was carried out, as well as diagnosis workshops, government management, experience exchange trips, training courses, cooperative formation, and savings banks formation (Arzaluz, 2005; Giménez 2012). The Wolwanej participated in these activities, and he had the task of replicating in his community and in his lineage what he learned. An approach centered on family practices was adopted (Hernández X, 1979; Craviotti, 2012).


Livelihoods in the k´ulub lineage

A livelihood is made up by the assets (natural, physical, human, financial and social) as well as the access to them (mediated by institutions and social relationships), which as a whole define the lifestyles of individuals or the household (DFID, 1999). Specifically, the livelihoods are integrated by assets made up of five types of capital: natural (which is made up of natural resources like local water, soil, vegetation, fauna and flora, which, as a whole, are taken advantage of or provide services to the communities), human (set of abilities, knowledge, aptitudes, attitudes, culture and good health), social (social networks, organizations, institutions, community rules, relationships of trust and power), physical (infrastructure such as houses, roads, schools, hospitals, warehouses and basic services: electricity, drinking water, drainage, roads, among others), and financial (money available in form of savings, loans, credits, financing, remittances, pensions, etc.).

Mutual influence between the assets, within a context of vulnerability, and the regulating and normative action of the transforming structures and processes, lead to the definition of a series of strategies whose results are the goals or achievements that define the livelihood of the families and local communities. These goals and achievements can vary with the priorities and needs of the rural population (DFDI, 1999). Therefore, livelihood is an economic, cultural, social and historical category that represents the vital, socialized and systematic activity that human beings carry out to satisfy their needs at their different levels of social and group (non-individual) interaction, conditioned by the prevailing socioeconomic formation (Gonzáles, 2005).

Human capital

The way that abilities are transmitted within the lineage goes through the inheritance and selection of attributes of service of many members at different moments to maintain the functionality of the ts´umbal families through assignment of posts. To attain the Wolwanej post, candidates should comply with a series of criteria that are observed during the growth of the person: to be honest and just, to have ease in communication, and to fulfill the tasks that belong to the posts assigned inside the community, such as policeman, president of the board of education, roads or health, and municipal agent, among others. When a person satisfactorily fulfills all the community posts, he is considered a principal, who has the function of counseling the community and assigning future posts.

The k´ulub lineage has reproduced its social system through the formation of new families, as is shown in the following genealogy reported by Gómez (2011). According to this author, three members3 of Ts’umbal K’ulub mentioned that more than 100 years ago there were three to four Mamaletik (ancestors) ‘of age’ who came to inhabit the Tzay location. This indicates that the Ts’umbal K’ulub does not come from one Wol naj but from several Wol naj (one Wol naj is integrated by a couple, man and woman, and their children); therefore, they do not come from the same ancestor although they share the last name in Tseltal and Spanish. The members of this Ts’umbal are known as the K’ulubetik in Tseltal, or the Gómez in Spanish, and this identifies them with regard to another Ts’umbal inside and outside the El Tzay location (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Genealogical Tree of Ts’umbal K’ulub

This Ts’umbal has its own norms and regulations, which are similar to those of other Ts’umbaletik; one of them is related to the transmission of inheritance and the non-marriage between men and women of the same Ts’umbal, and the non-sale of lands to members of another Ts’umbal. The transmission of inheritance in the Ts’umbal K’ulub happens in a single line, for only the male sons can inherit land. However, when the male sons migrate to other places, they can lose their right over the land.

Stemming from the already mentioned process of socio-environmental innovation implemented in the community, the Wolwanej from the Ts’umbal K’ulub has transmitted to his family the abilities and knowledge that he has acquired through his participation in the project of productive diversification in Oxchuc, and his relationship with the institutions to try to respond the main preoccupation, which is: How to produce better living conditions for members of the ts´umbal K´ulub and to generate the livelihoods that children would need to reproduce their lifestyle, facing the lack of lands to replicate an extensive production model?

Education is one of the essential components of human capital. Therefore, the income from coffee, avocado and vegetable production, in addition to the government transfers, are used in the search for access to preschool, primary, tele-secondary and high school education, since the objective pursued is for the educated members of the family to have non-agricultural employment. The intercultural university is located in the municipal township, offering the opportunity of continuing with further studies; however, the economic possibilities to sustain university studies of the children are rather limited. Therefore, the Wolwanej has set out the objective of empirically training his sons to generate paid work linked to the land and to obtain the necessary income in that way (Ortiz et al., 2013).

Natural capital

As has been mentioned before, one of the main problems that the K´ulub lineage faces is the lack of lands; in average an economically active person can have 0.5 ha (Ramos et al., 2009). Therefore, we observe that under the current conditions it is impossible to maintain a type of agriculture such as slash-and-burn, which was functional when the “milpa walked” and the restoration processes of the fallow lands were long term. Thus, the new and restrictive conditions gave way to the intensification.

In general terms, the extension of the K’inal of the K’ulubetik, according to Don Manuel K’ulub who is 80 years old, and who lives in the municipal township, adds up to 600 ha (Gómez 2011). The K’inal is located at between 1300 and 1400 m, so it is characterized as a temperate zone (K’ixin K’inal in the Tseltal language). Currently, the land has been divided and the members of the 5th and 6th generation of the Ts´umbal k´ulub se have taken over the territory, dividing it and giving diverse uses to the land. This is the space of action of the Wolwanej (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Territory of the K´ulub lineage, 5th and 6th generation. 

Ensuring the ownership of the reproduction means of the lineage and strengthening the exercise of governance are crucial for its reproduction, according to Munro (2012). For the k´ulub lineage, its adhesion to the norms of communal goods of Oxchuc is vital, since they establish strong regulation systems that allow maintaining the productive strategy at the same time that they make possible its change.

The norms that have been established between the different ts´umbales are the following: the limits between individuals and communities are clearly defined, and in the community there is the figure of community agent and at the municipal level the agent of communal goods, who solve the problems when a limit is not respected; a committee designed by the community participates in the definition of the rules that regulate the community, and these are approved in the assembly, although only members of the cooperative participate for the decision of their application; and when there is a fault committed by a person, a council/group gathers which decides the sanction; likewise, in face of any grave conflict, the community council gathers and depending in the magnitude of the problem the municipal or state authorities are notified; therefore, the local organization forms and the regulations applied are respected and supported by the external government authorities.

Facing the lack of space for the new generations, a process of intensification of land use has begun. For this purpose, new land management practices have been incorporated, such as the construction of terraces, which has allowed retaining soil for the Hass avocado and Diamond peach fruit trees, as well as well as having a favorable medium for the introduction of vegetables. Likewise, rain water capture systems have been incorporated to provide auxiliary irrigation to the crops.

The incorporation of the sons’ work to intensification processes requires greater technical knowledge in the management of crops; in view of this, experience exchanges between peasants are successful, but they do not satisfy the actual technical needs. Therefore, an option generated inside the ts´umbal is migrating to obtain work in the production of one of the vegetables of interest, as is the case of tomato; this allows the young man to learn the activity practically and to obtain resources to purchase lands in the locality. D´Amico et al. (2013) report how the domestic units, once they have satisfied their daily needs, establish their social reproduction, build territory and thus configure a network that is articulated around the family.

Social capital

Facing the privatization and possible loss of land originated by global processes such as migration and climate change, the organization of the lineage into Ts´umbales continues to be the preferential option in the whole territory (K’inal) of Oxchuc.

Thus, the leader of the lineage becomes the link with the outside and constitutes the fundamental social basis; in this manner, the network of relationships with the exterior begins to be articulated and the opportunity of exchanging or acquiring knowledge, resources, merchandise, counseling, experience and rights is fostered. Because of this, the main actors who interact in the ts´umbal are of crucial importance to mobilize the resources and gain access to financing.

In the community and in the ts´umbal k´ulub we observe that the external actors who collaborate most closely with the community are the National Commission for Development of Indigenous Peoples (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, CDI), an office that in recent years has been the main financer. ECOSUR also appears at this level, an organization that has participated in the training for community abilities and skills. In a second level, the actors who allow maintaining intra-community relationships are shown: the education committee, the municipal auxiliary agent, and SEDESOL with productive projects and the payment of Oportunidades. With actors at this level, the Wolwanej negotiates and establishes relationships with the exterior to obtain the resources that strengthen their livelihoods. In a third level (actors who participate circumstantially and are not so close), we find the Technological Institute in Comitán, which has participated in the technical accompaniment, and the CONCAFE with projects of community nurseries and renovation of coffee plantations when they are exposed to blight. In a fourth level (actors who participate intermittently and from far away), there is SAGARPA through payment of PROCAMPO and supports for coffee production. And in the last level, the Town Council (2012-2015); in this case the community did not get on well with the elected municipal president, which meant its exclusion. The National Institute of Social Economy (Instituto Nacional de Economía Social, INAES) is also in this group, whose representatives has approached the community, but have not reached any kind of collaboration.

Physical capital

The physical capital becomes an instrument to improve the productive quality and to increase the intensity of production. The k´inal has been modified to gain access to processes of territorial intensification. Since 2010, the program from the CDI went into operation for the improvement of infrastructure with paving, in two stages (2011 and 2013), of the road that connects to the municipal township; likewise, the community authorities have negotiated the installation of a high school (Colegio de Bachilleres); other complementary programs form SEDESOL have been firm floors and roof construction. In the first stage of the year 2014, the CDI, through its program for infrastructure improvement, introduced tanks for rain water capture for human consumption; all of these works have been accompanied by management by the Wolwanej.

These modifications have represented for the k´ulub lineage the opportunity to equip the production systems to maintain a more intensive use of production, using ferrocement tanks for the auxiliary irrigation of fruit trees and vegetables. Likewise, the Wolwanej is currently negotiating resources to have instruments to allow them to build new works for territorial design through terraces, equipment for drip and microspray irrigation; all of this, as a whole, is allowing the articulation of the territorial physical capital with the production means and the ts´umbal k´ulub family workforce.

Financial capital

The availability of financial capital allows obtaining land, tools, inputs, foods and goods and services for the basic needs of health, education and dress. If the government delivers the supports in kind, it is sold to acquire what the producer really needs; therefore the function of the lineage agent has the main objective of negotiating with the government. By the year 2008, the community of El Tzay was immersed in a condition of food poverty and was strongly dependent on government transferences and migration for its survival (Ramos et al., 2009). The income in the last five years from coffee sales (Table 1) has showed a growing trend; by 2014, the yield decreased and the price increased from problems with borers; it is considered that by 2015, the yields would be diminished.

Table 1 Coffee price for the El Tzay community. 

For the case of avocado producers in El Tzay, in the year 2008 the innovation costs per producer were $2617.00, from the combination of resources between the CDI and the municipality. If the costs of training and follow-up during the years 2008 to 2011 are added to this ($138.10 per producer), a total cost of $2756.00 to introduce the innovation per avocado producer is obtained; if this value is compared with the income from avocado production in the first trial year 2013, of $6000.00, it can be concluded that this production, with its technical and market limitations, paid the costs of the project investment since the first year.

The income for the lineage for 2013 was made up mostly (Figure 4) from government transferences (43.33 %); the agricultural income reached 35.15 % and the income from workdays and loans amounted to 21.52 %. The agricultural income has increased above 10 %. Under the perspective of the FAO, the families have possibilities of increasing their income from processes of intensification of land use and without increasing the surface. On the other hand, the possibility of obtaining a better quality and price of the avocado production can increase the productive income; for example, the prior estimation was carried out with the sales price of the fruit in the community, of 3 pieces for 10 pesos, when the regional average per kilogram is $35.00 (each avocado weighs in average 350 g), that is, selling in regional markets has the potential of tripling the income.

Figure 4 Productive and annual income in the El Tzay community 2013. 

Change of strategy

The predominance of development models directed at the entrepreneurial sector, the liberalization of the markets and the new forms of competition in the food sector have originated substantial changes in the economic and social life of small communities, generating their marginalization (Marañon, 2013). Currently in many of the small rural communities the following is perceived: predominance of agro-industrial models of production, recurring crises in small-scale agriculture, concentration of productive resources in few actors, proletarianization of the workforce, diversification of productive activities and sources of income for the families, growing population mobility, temporally and permanently, redefinition of the rural scope beyond its identification with agriculture, as well as changes in the consumption preferences and practices (Macías, 2013).

Under this context, socio-environmental innovation in the small farms of Oxchuc recognizes the common property of the lineage as the basis of the organization and management of natural resources. A robust ownership of their livelihoods allows the management of ecosystems through the sustainable use of their assets and generates a development process based on the intensification of land use. This strategy of the K´ulub lineage of Don Salvador Gómez, based on maize and coffee production, in the following way: an innovation process took place, based primarily on the acquisition of knowledge peasant to peasant. For this purpose, the exchange of experiences at short and long distance was fundamental (Sántiz, 2012; Ramos et al., 2009; Parra, 2012). Strengthening of their capitals and a high investment in family work (Pool, 1997; Dixon et al., 2001) translated into detailed actions that intensified the use of natural resources, such as the construction of terraces, rustic greenhouses and irrigation systems. Likewise, the cultivation systems were diversified with the introduction of fruit trees and vegetables, which generated the enrichment in terms of capitals, that is, the change in strategy.

Agriculture for auto-consumption, in crisis since many years ago, increasingly demands the sale of workforce and the purchase of inputs from the outside to satisfy the family needs, especially those of food. Betting on production for the international market is not the solution, since it generates problems of dependency and greater abilities and technologies are required in order to be competitive. In face of this, the local sale has greater possibilities of attaining sustainability. In the case studied, Salvador has solved his problems through a diversified local sale with products such as cabbage, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, avocado and peach, which has impacted the increase of their income from production. In 2008 the sale of coffee and the production for auto-supply from his milpa represented 15 %, and by 2013 the agricultural income was 35.15 % (18.01 % from coffee, 4.34 % from milpa and 12.8 % from fruit trees and vegetables). The latter contributed an almost equivalent amount to the income from coffee sales in one hectare of surface in the year 2008. This makes evident that the change in strategy has opportunities to contribute improvements in the living conditions in exchange for an increase in the investment of workforce from the Ts´umbal.

Development policy or welfare policy

The Neoliberal approach for development excludes small-scale producers since, to begin with, the operation rules and mechanisms to gain access to financing require the ability to write a project or an executive summary, condition that is difficult to fulfill for indigenous people who barely have the level of primary school and who, therefore, must resort to getting support from a professional services provider or a specialized firm.

On the other hand, the assistentialist approach allows families to have annual income from government transferences that range, for the case of the k´ulub lineage, between 40 % and 50 %. This dependency is reflected in a strong investment of time from the Wolwanej to manage all the resources and social supports possible like OPORTUNIDADES, PROCAMPO, compensation for the coffee price, among others. Thus, the assitentialist approach, although attempting to alleviate the food problem does not solve it and does, instead, promote dependency.

As has been mentioned already, for the Wolwanej from the group to be chosen, he must have the ability to relate with the actors who offer resources to the community. In the case of El Tzay, the Wolwanej has also managed works for benefit of the community, such as roofing of the civic plaza; the construction and improvement of roads, and the implementation of a COBACH in the community; also, concomitantly with community management, the Wolwanej from the k´ulub lineage seeks the resources for the production and capitalization of his own. Therefore, Don Salvador favors this strategy, whose successful solution will be that the innovations that he has introduced, directed at productive diversification, function, that a certain amount of resources manage to be capitalize, and as consequence, for the lineage to reduce its dependency on the government.


There are several specific factors that affect the vulnerability of the families in the community and the lineage; these are caused by the fluctuating trends in the international coffee prices, which are reflected in the lack of certainty in the purchasing price; likewise, the prolonged periods of drought decrease the possibilities for production; in the contrary case, the humid years generate the ideal conditions for the development of blight, which, at the beginning of 2014 strongly affected the coffee plantations.

In light of this, the community innovations have allowed generating a greater adaptation to global changes, since introducing rain water capture systems for human consumption and irrigation has allowed them to face with greater security the moments of drought and to take advantage of the rains that range in average around 2000 mm annually. The diversification of coffee plantations with other productive alternatives has allowed maintaining other options for income in face of the problems caused by blight, since one fourth of a hectare with fruit trees and vegetables can generate productive income greater than one hectare of coffee; this acquires much importance, since for the coffee harvest in 2015, the diversity of crops would allow withstanding better the problems caused by the lack of production originated by blight.


The function of the Wolwanej within the Ts´umbal is, in essence, to protect his lineage from ecologic, economic and social disturbances generated from the exterior, and to take advantage for the lineage of the opportunities which could come up in a fortuitous or systematic way. For this purpose, he builds the relationships that grant him stability within the territory, compensating the needs for training through the exchange of technical experiences and knowledge, designing the way for experimentation and innovation replica, and following up on the technical improvement in the plots by strengthening their natural capital, giving rise to adaptation, moving from a limited agriculture towards a transformation of the environment. Therefore, the ability for management and negotiation of the Wolwanej in face of the agents in charge of locally implementing public policies is crucial, since these policies will be able to impact the quality of their livelihoods positively or negatively depending on it; therefore, the Wolwanej is the systemic agent and functions as the catalyzer within the innovation system, generating interactive and social learning processes to adjust the micro-structural processes within the lineage, as Klerkx et al., (2009) suggest.

In a context of strong poverty and marginalization, can peasant production be profitable and respond favorably to processes of innovation and diversification? The income reported from Hass avocado production, of $6000, even without being low, could increase if a different type of market is sought to give production a differentiated value. Under the dominant logic, becoming positioned within the regional market would allow increasing benefit-cost relationship simply from triplicating the income, which was already mentioned.

The options that the market offers are of an assorted nature. For example, the sale of ecosystemic services of the lands and cultivation systems by local producers, can favor the corporate image of companies (Bonnelli, 2011); however, instead, it imposes external and unclear conditions on peasants about the good that they offer and that is being paid to them, which places at risk the chain of titles of the lineage and its families. These new challenges from the market escape the reach of the Wolwanej and the Ts´umbal structure. However, there are other friendlier approaches. An example could be what is suggested by Gudynas (2011), who stems from a social and human economy that establishes wellbeing in its central objective and recognizes the functionality of the system including the cultural, social and human values, without basing it strictly in an economic valuation. From this, solidary markets are opened, where there are other exchange values, which are not necessarily economic.

However, the urgent need to improve the possibilities of a dignified reproduction of life in indigenous communities has generated or legitimized public policies under the title of Social or Solidary Economy, aimed at attaining the governability in a market society with massive levels of exclusion and impoverishment. These policies have generated a high dependency of the poor and marginalized communities on social transfers; under this context, it is observed in the study case that the income from transferences are currently equivalent to 40 % of the annual family entries for the k´ulub lineage, which generates a high dependency and, in contrast, insufficient resources are invested to achieve a change that is born from the productive scope.

The logic that families from the k’ulub lineage perceive to guarantee the social and productive reproduction is similar to life without salary that Denning (2006) suggests. Thus, in face of this scenario, the strategy should be to accumulate work instead of accumulating capital through the occupation of unpaid workforce for the undertaking of productive alternatives related to the intensification and diversification of the cultivation systems. Facing the demand of ensuring resources to obtain food security for the inhabitants who live under adverse conditions within the prevailing paradigm of economic growth, the public policy (inside the lineage functionality) presents limitations; this is because it responds to regional, state, national and international plans that seek to improve infrastructure, housing, health, education, but which are not confronting the problem of food self-sufficiency from the sphere of the local systems of production; much less are they considering the local organizational structures with the proper attention. The logic of measuring food security from the indicators of poverty, marginalization, human development and welfare, among others, cannot capture the functionality of local social structures, as exemplified by the conformation of the lineage’s territorial strategy in this study.

The process of innovation moved from the transference of techniques and knowledge adjusted to the operation rules of a program and a municipal period, to a process of socio-environmental innovation; this moves beyond the conventional concept of innovation (Gómez, 2011), explained by the relevant opportunity of combining municipal resources and from the CDI. Thus, innovation was generated by introducing fruit tree cultivation; the transference of knowledge was changed by the accompaniment and facilitation of technical information throughout the process, of researching through observation to researching through action to understand the logic of people’s acts within their territory. Action made the companion into a connection between finance providers, government, academia, and the local needs. Likewise, the exchange of experiences was used as a process of vitality and feedback for the productive diversification.

In a scenario where the lack of alternatives to satisfy the dietary needs promotes the appearance of surges of violence (Bohle, 2013), and increases both the vulnerability in face of climate change and market crises, and the dependency on government support (Bohle, 2007), the Ts´umbal K´ulub has shown adaptability and resilience (Valenciano, 2010). The strategy of the lineage’s family life bet on coffee production despite price fluctuations and institutional abandonment, with the hope that at some point the price increase would demonstrate the effectiveness of this strategy; for this purpose, families have opted for multi-activity (Parra and Moguel, 1998; Rello, 2000) and incorporates non-agricultural occupations, management of government supports, and the diversification with fruit trees as an activity directed at local and regional markets.

The technological level of these production systems is similar to a Mesoamerican system, for there is a great diversity of species that have different ecological and ethnobotanical functions (Franco, 2013); likewise, they are open and flexible, since they allow the introduction of agro-ecological practices that favor the resilience and adaptability of productive systems (Villanueva et al., 2011) in face of the continuous attacks from globalization and the commercialization of natural resources. Under this logic, traditional agriculture replicates its knowledge (Ramos et al., 2013), and modifies and adapts it to changing conditions (Rodríguez, 2011). In the case studied, the Wolwanej designs adaptability strategies to achieve the transmission and persistence of local knowledge, experienced and validated within the K´ulub lineage. However, to guarantee efficient responses in the least time possible, it is of utmost importance for the Wolwanej to have technical training and counseling since there are new elements that must be considered (Orozco et al., 2011). On the other hand, the social reproduction system has taken a sudden turn with the incorporation of women from the lineage in the implementation of productive alternatives; this new attribute can bring greater health to the system (Zuloaga, 2009).


In the end, if the concept of development is cast aside and in its place the one of wellbeing is set out (Gudynas, 2011), what can be done for peasants to participate in the market without compromising their autonomy or the conditions of organization and appropriation of their territory? We suggest that for this, the actions that the K´ulub lineage should undertake are: stimulate the participation of the state without making political the processes of financial allotment; strengthening the capacity for negotiation of the Wolwanej within the lineage and towards external actors, seeking to always maintain the connection with his roots and learning from his global environment the elements that can help him to negotiate with the exterior; accompanying the training processes with the approach of peasant to peasant, and contributing the technical elements that are relevant; seeking the inclusion in public policies of local forms of organization (in this case the ts´umbal) for the allotment and administration of resources in the operative rules. The case studied makes evident the goodness of generating innovation projects centered on family organizations under the management and leadership of one of its members.


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1Wolwanej from the Ts’umbal K’ulub (the agent and person who teaches with his example from the K’ulub (grasshopper) territory-lineage), in the El Tzay community, municipality of Oxchuc, Chiapas. The information was obtained through participative diagnoses, taking as a basis the family within its organizational structure, which is the lineage.

2Lineage: group of people related through blood ties.


-Don Manuel, 80 years old, occupied posts as municipal agent and was a representative, among others.

- Don Enrique, 69 years old, occupied posts as municipal agent, in the education committee and police force, among others.

- Don Salvador, 45 years old, minister of education, is currently representative of a group of Hass avocado producers in the location of Tz ́ay.

Received: July 2014; Accepted: January 2016

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