21 de octubre de 2019
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Designer handbags, shoes spark new demand for agave in Mexico

By Flor Castillo

Merida, Mexico, Jul 4 (efe-epa).- "Henequen," a type of agave cactus whose fiber is traditionally used in making ropes and cords, is experiencing markedly increased popularity among Mexican artisans who are using it in designer handbags, shoes, satchels, wallets and other items for decoration.

"I've been working with all types of crafts for 25 years. I work with fabric made from (henequen) yarn and it's not difficult," said Rayna Isabel Uicab, an artisan in the town of Hunucma, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state.

Henequen is a cactus in the blue agave family - from which Mexican tequila is made - and is endemic to Yucatan, where 27,000 tons is produced annually, according to figures from the state's Rural Development Secretariat.

In the Mayan culture, as it developed in Yucatan, henequen - known as "ki" among the Mayans - was used to make cords and ropes and its cultivation peaked at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th in the so-called "henequen zones," although as the years passed synthetic fibers steadily replaced it in all sorts of goods.

With the increase in henequen cultivation in recent years, the land planted in the crop grew from 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) to 15,000 hectares between 2012 and 2015, a new record for the natural fiber.

With henequen fiber as their raw material, craftmakers prepare assorted products that have begun to bring in profits for local communities and create jobs.

About 5,000 artisans work on making handbags, shoes, jewelry, satchels, decoration and assorted other handicrafts in about 40 cooperatives and five workshops that are keeping alive techniques passed down from previous generations, Uicab said in an interview with EFE.

"The difficult thing is to color it. You have to clean the henequen and then you have to parboil it and then you have to dry it," she said.

The artisans make the various products working with the henequen on looms.

"We start 100 percent with natural henequen products, but because of the demand and the (market) trends we include other materials, but (they must be) natural ones," Pedro Galindo Cab Ku, the owner of the Henequen Art Gallery, an 18-year-old firm, told EFE.

Cab Ku said that his company collaborates with the local communities to buy the henequen fiber, which they put through a process developed by the firm that takes it from cutting it to the finished product.

His company catalog has more than 100 products and the workers are able to turn out between 300 and 400 items per week, a source of pride and satisfaction for the artisans, whose products are appreciated and valued by the tourist industry.

Artisan Marta Angulo said she was pleased to see that the company's work is finding a good use. "You feel 'wow,'" she said, adding that she's "very happy" that people value her work and buy what she makes.

In the mid-1800s henequen was cultivated on large haciendas and plantations as the "green gold" of Yucatan.

At least 400 farmers currently grow henequen on their plots of land, another 600 harvest it, sow it or work in the de-fibering factories located mainly in the communities of Motul, Hoctun, Xochel and Kimbila.

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