The next problem the poor farmers took on to improve
their economic base was to find a cost-effective way
to keep the rich farmers' cattle from entering their
mountainside maize fields and from eating their crops.
Among the poorest farmers are those who plant the
steep hillsides by the slash-and-burn method. Each
year they would timber a new patch of land, and fence
it to keep the rich farmers' cattle from eating their
crops. To buy fencing wire, they had to borrow from
the rich cattle owners. In return, they were forced
to grant the rich families grazing rights on the land
they had cleared, fenced and harvested. Thus the cattle
owners got new grazing areas timbered, fenced, and
planted with fodder, all for only the cost of the
After discussing and analyzing the implications of
this situation to people's well-being, the Piaxtla
health team, together with members of the small farmers'
organization, began to explore possible solutions.
They organized poor farmers to join together to cooperatively
fence in a whole hillside. Within this large enclosure,
all could plant their small plots of land. To buy
the large quantity of barbed wire needed, the health
team obtained start-up money from a nongovernmental
organization. Once the fencing project was completed,
by charging the wealthy cattle owners for grazing
rights, the poor farmers' were able to pay back the
loan for the fencing wire within two years. From then
on, grazing fees produced an income which could be
used for the food and health needs of their families.
When the first group of poor farmers succeeded in
paying off their loan, the same money was lent to
a new group. Through this revolving fund, a growing
number of poor farmers became more self-sufficient.
The gap in wealth and power between rich and poor
narrowed somewhat, and the health of some of the poorest
children began to improve.
Through these and other organized actions, people
began to gain confidence and experience strength through
unity. This empowering process proved contagious and
soon neighboring communities began to join the informal
but cohesive organization of poor farm workers. As
the numbers and solidarity of the peasant farmers
grew, they and their health team began to combat bigger,
potentially more dangerous issues.