Living off the land is no easy task —everybody knows this. That is why, 10 years ago, Sistema.bio decided to focus on working with small and medium farmers: it was clear to us that investing in them would be key in the fight for our planet, for food security and a better life for thousands of people. And the results of that decision never cease to amaze us.
Liliana was born and raised in San Felipe del Progreso, State of Mexico. Her father harvested corn and her mother had a small vegetable garden. She lived on the family ranch for the first 7 years of her life. Later, like many other people in the countryside, Liliana and her family had to leave the ranch in search of a traditional education. Years later, Liliana moved to Mexico City to study Public Accounting —yet always remained aware of her roots, of the infinite treasures that the ranch of her childhood had given her: “I remember my mom telling us, bring some eggs, cut some zucchini, bring this and that. That is, we opened the door of our house and we had all our food right there.”
After a health scare with her father, Liliana decided to return to the ranch in order to be closer to her family. Once back in her roots, memories of the ranch were reborn in Liliana —and so was her love for the place that gave her a home for so many years. It was then that she decided to reactivate the family farm with her own productive project, a decision that changed her life forever —as well as the life of many others.
After analyzing her possibilities, Liliana decided to raise rabbits, an innovative idea in an area where sheep and cattle breeding was the norm. For Liliana, this project was a bet, a leap of faith in search of a new life for her and her family. And it was that bet that earned her a place in the region’s productive history.
At the beginning of her project, Liliana sold the meat to local butchers, a method that soon proved ineffective. In high season, sales barely covered maintenance costs, and in low season the high production of the rabbits resulted in bottlenecks in relation to demand. “In rabbit farming, you have to work hard 365 days a year. The rabbits do not obey seasons when they reproduce, and the young eat every day! It was almost impossible to feed 2,800 rabbits with the income from sales,” Liliana tells us.
Liliana worked under that structure for two years, but soon the tiredness and frustration set in. The prognosis was ominous: the business in which she had invested so much was not profitable. However, giving up was not an option. Liliana had her parents as an example, who had taught her the value of reinventing herself, of seeking alternative solutions to the problems that life presented. She decided to make one last effort, one last attempt to rescue her new life project: “I told myself, if I criticize people so much for not being creative, I can’t throw in the towel now. I have to set an example, prove that living off farming is possible.”
Liliana began to move among her acquaintances, seeking advice from the government and market experts. Thus she arrived at a cuniculture congress where she found the key to her success: imagination. In a break between lectures, Liliana tried a rabbit burger: “I tried it and thought, what? Why aren’t there more rabbit burgers out there? What else could I produce with my rabbits?“
She returned to the farm with newfound clarity: in order to save her business, she had to start thinking outside the box. If her biggest challenge was dependence on local markets, what she had to do was change those markets. She joined forces with other rabbit farmers in the area and began producing rabbit-based dishes, which she would sell directly to consumers. Soon her new idea proved fruitful, and for the first time ever her production began to be profitable.
It was in this reinvention process that Liliana found Sistema.bio. She learned about our work when she saw us on television, and immediately knew that a great treasure was hiding right there in her animals’ waste: “I thought, of course! I knew there was something there, to me the waste tubs have always smelled of gas“. At the next congress she attended, she asked the speaker if it was possible to produce biogas from rabbit waste. The speaker, an icon of rabbit farming in Spain, told her that it was not possible. However, and fortunately, Liliana decided not to listen to him: “when someone says ‘no’ to me, I always ask myself, why not?”
Liliana, a tireless innovator, decided to call us for a second opinion. She bought her first biodigester in 2013, and after a month her system was completely inflated with biogas. The valuable renewable energy came at the perfect time: she could now cook her products without having to invest in LP gas. “The biogas fitted perfectly in my puzzle,” Liliana says with a laugh.
Now Liliana has a multi-reactor, which allows her to cook in greater quantities and satisfy the growing demand for her products: with the arrival of COVID-19, the association of producers initiated by Liliana began making home delivery in Mexico City. Now her hamburgers, her tinga and her rabbit in mazahua sauce feed more families, getting closer every day to Liliana’s goal: “my goal is to make rabbit the main meat protein in the country, because it is one of the healthiest. As we say here, ‘if you want to stay young, feed some rabbit to your tongue’“.
Stories like Liliana’s remind us of the value of reinvention and resilience. But they also remind us of the importance of what we do: investing in clean technologies for small and medium farmers has an impact that goes far beyond caring for the environment. It also means the creation of new economic opportunities, new ways of finding answers to our problems.
For us, knowing the stories of our users is always a source of inspiration, admiration and pride. On our tenth anniversary, we thank each and every one of the people who believed in us, who bet on a new way of doing things. We thank each and every one of the farmers who have joined our movement, who day by day create value from their waste.
Text by Elena Coll | Art by Brianda Suárez | Edited by Montserrat Cortez & Xunaxi Cruz