How Banhez Began:
In 1992, Francisco Javier Perez Cruz (right) returned home to Oaxaca to assist his ailing brother in starting an agave-farming business. They proposed a maguey shoot reproduction project to the state agriculture ministry and it was approved. Around the same time, his mother had also started a maguey nursery with a group of women, but unfortunately both his mother and brother passed away soon thereafter.
Francisco Javier decided to finish what his family had begun and it led him to the community organizations in San Miguel Ejutla. He saw the potential to help strengthen the community, and in 2002, he formed the Consejo Oaxaqueño del Maguey Mezcal (Oaxaca Mezcal Maguey Council) and served as its president.
Francisco Javier established nurseries, rehabilitated distilleries and gradually helped people in the industry organize and work together. Though he had his own operation, he wanted to found an association with other producers to mutually promote their brands on both the domestic and international markets.
In late 2004, he was elected president of the National Mezcal Council, where he was able to band together all of the denomination or origin states to boost regional councils. From 2005-2008, federal funding seeded 44 mezcal producing projects with matching funds from state governments and the producers themselves for a total of 400 million pesos invested in the seven states.
The Banhez Cooperative of farmers and producers, unified by Francisco Javier, form the Integradora Comerical de Ejutla (ICESA), which consists of 35 families, 25 of whom have their own distilleries. The company ensures that all master mezcal makers' products are entirely handmade, organic, 100% agave mezcal that have passed rigorous laboratory quality testing. ICESA sees its mission as improving its partners standards of living.
The firm's partners hail from 16 poor and extremely poor Oaxacan communities. Currently, they are farming about half a million maguey plants on 250 hectares of land. Every year they plant another 50 hectares, with at least four varieties. With ICESA's own production of mezcal, along with the blends it achieves using the handcrafted products of its master mezcal makers, partners and their communities are finding a way to break out of poverty's smothering embrace.
Mezcal has created over 295,000 jobs, mostly in social enterprises with producers owning their own businesses. In the last 4 years, production of mezcal has increased by 320% and exports have risen 62%. In 3 years, annual production of certified mezcal is expected to reach 6 million liters, generating good income for Oaxacan families.
Extolling culture and tradition is not intended to keep the craft of quality mezcal in a self-defeating mode of isolated makers doing all the work a one-man operation requires, condemning the rest of the family members to seek economic stability elsewhere. Modern cooperative maguey farming now provides many careers, including plant specialists to care for the distinct species.
Up until now, mezcal tradition has been one of poverty, but the cooperative offers another option. Francisco Javier says his guiding concept is to organize and work together for the good of all. He wants to fortify the Mexican nation through the love of the land and heritage, and to create enough jobs so emigrants can return to their homes and traditions.
Francisco Javier Perez Cruz's current goal is to be able to report to the world that this excellent beverage, mezcal, is providing a living for more families every day.
MEZCALEROS & THE COOPERATIVE