The San José rice mill in Jojutla after the September earthquake. The San José rice mill in Jojutla after the September earthquake.

Damage to rice mill hurts Morelos growers

Earthquake struck at beginning of the harvest, dashing export plans

The rice industry is one of the most emblematic of the small state of Morelos but it too was a victim of the powerful September 19 earthquake that devastated parts of central Mexico.

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The San José rice mill, the only one of its kind in the municipality of Jojutla, was badly damaged in the 7.1-magnitude quake. As a result, about 300 producers who process their grain at the mill are in danger of losing their livelihoods.

Two and a half months after the earthquake, evidence of the mill’s destruction is still plain to see: broken pillars, collapsed walls, machinery rendered useless and storerooms full of rice that is unsellable because it is contaminated by dust and rubble.

A local rice farmer and the president of the rice growers’ association in the south of the state told the newspaper Milenio that losses from the quake had risen to an estimated 30 million pesos (US $1.6 million).

But along with the other growers, Jesús Solís is determined to keep working and honor the brand name of the rice they produce: La Perseverancia de Jojutla or, in English, The Perseverance of Jojutla.

“In Jojutla, rice is our pride and our identity,” he explained.

“Where we are going to get the resources from, I don’t know, but we’ll rebuild the mill,” he declared.

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Fortunately, the Morelos government has made an offer to buy new machinery and fund the conversion of an old mill into a rice museum to generate extra revenue.

In the meantime, the producers themselves are working to repair the damaged mill while continuing with their usual rice production as best they can.

It wasn’t just the mill, however, that was affected by the earthquake but the growers’ dreams of exporting their product as well.

The quake struck at the beginning of the annual harvest, just when growers were reaping their crops in preparation to enter the European market.

“We started having contact with Switzerland and there was a plan to go there to offer tastings. They wanted to buy 30 tonnes a month from us,” Solís explained.

That plan is on the back burner now but given the state’s yield potential and the quality of the internationally-renowned rice it produces, hopes are high that it won’t be long before they get another chance.

“Morelos stands out for being the main producer of rice in Mexico by hectare. The national average is four tonnes, we get 10 tonnes,” state Agricultural Development Secretary Roberto Ruiz said.

Jojutla

The affected growers are also being supported by a citizens’ group in Mexico City, which has started selling their rice on Sundays outside a church in the Coyoacán borough to help raise funds to rebuild the mill.

“There are lines of people that arrive and buy 25 or 50 kilograms. The help is continuing but we can’t let it cool down,” said Denhi Rivera, one of the group’s members.

Jojutla, located about 50 kilometers south of the state capital Cuernavaca, was the worst-affected municipality in Morelos, where 75 people lost their lives in the earthquake.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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