In May and June of 2018, I travelled to Mexico to carry out research for my master’s dissertation. Collaborating with NGO The Hunger Project Mexico, I visited small, rural communities in the Sierra Mazateca to find out more about agricultural producers’ experiences of climate change.
The Sierra Mazateca is a beautiful mountainous region in the very east of Oaxaca state, populated primarily by small, indigenous communities. Many of these communities are very remote and visiting them involved at least an hour’s drive along a dirt road, in some cases followed by a two-hour walk through the forest. Carrying out research in these communities was initially a daunting prospect. The first, or sometimes only, language for community members is Mazateco and I was unsure how they would react to me arriving at their remote communities with a list of questions to ask them. I also had doubts about the nature of my research. Although the anthropological and qualitative research methods I had chosen were deliberately open ended and flexible, I worried that I would struggle to gain enough information to form a dissertation or would waste the time of research participants on a topic that they didn’t find particularly relevant or important.
My experience however was incredibly positive, both personally and academically. People I met in the communities were extremely welcoming and generous and keen to share their food, homes and experiences with me. I gradually adapted to rural life and became used to washing from a bucket in the open air, walking through the forest to a long-drop toilet, sleeping on hard wooden beds alongside entire families and being awoken at 5AM by cockerels crowing and people lighting their fires to cook breakfast.
In the end, the research methods that I had been worried about allowed me to constantly learn from research participants and I quickly discovered the importance of the topic of climate change in these communities. During lengthy interviews, walks around their farmland and endless meals of tortillas and beans, numerous agricultural producers emphasised how they were struggling to produce enough food for themselves and their families due to recent changes of climate, explaining how this was undermining their way of life, which had already long been threatened by a globalised food system and government support for industrial agriculture.
Hearing these experiences first hand highlighted the injustices of climate change in a very real way. Thanks to the support of the PGAF I was able to use academic study in a real-life setting, producing research that will hopefully be useful to The Hunger Project and their participants in the long term.