Mexico | Environmental impact

How mice pointed Álvaro Nieto in the direction of ecological farming

22 February 2022 17:54

At his farm Santa Amalia in Mexico, Álvaro Nieto proves that sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand. He provides jobs, pays his workers well, and does business with respect for nature. “We’ve forgotten that we work in a biological system.”

Years ago, Nieto’s farm suffered from a plague of mice and other rodents. He owns around 200 hectares, where he mainly farms varieties of lettuce. Nieto didn’t want to put out traps to kill the mice. “We discovered that they were coming to us because we’d taken their water to irrigate our crops. The simple solution was to just give them water.” So that’s what Nieto did. He planted ecological strips with trees, shrubs and water pools around his fields. They eventually grew into rich nature areas that are now home to birds, insects, wildcats and small mammals. Including the mice.

Everything is connected

The experience changed Nieto’s perspective on how he farms. Since then, he has focused entirely on sustainable entrepreneurship. He installed drip irrigation systems, so he doesn’t need as much water for his crops, and he’s currently working on improving the biodiversity in the soil. “I want to do business in a way that has a neutral or positive influence on the environment. We farmers have forgotten that we work in a biological system. Agriculture isn’t a self-contained production chain: what we do has an impact on our surroundings.”

Planting still needs to be done by hand

Nieto not only wants to have a positive impact on the natural environment; he also wants to create income and well-being for his employees. Around 150 people work on his farm; mainly single mothers and older women. Nieto: “I love innovation and I love investing in new machines, but I’ll never buy a planting machine. We plant 600,000 seedlings each week. That will always be work that should be done by hand, because we want to keep our workers employed.”

Free healthy breakfast

To make his ambitions a reality, Nieto has received working capital from Rabo Rural Fund. “Step-by-step, Santa Amalia is working on sustainability”, says Ellen Bogers, Relations Manager at Rabo Rural Fund. “Álvaro Nieto is good for the environment and for his employees. A lot of men in Mexico migrate to America and leave their wives and children behind without an income. That’s a major problem. Nieto gives these women employment. He pays them a good salary, and he serves them a free, healthy breakfast every day. Another example is that he kept paying employees when they couldn’t work due to the coronavirus. Nieto is really an inspiring example for other entrepreneurs.”

Would you like a tour of the fields of Santa Amalia? Then watch the entire interview with Álavro Nieto.

Rabo Rural Fund invests in the sustainable growth of agricultural enterprises like Santa Amalia. We focus on go-getters who strive to make an impact, but who aren’t yet eligible for standard bank loans.