Recently I travelled to a remote village down winding mountain lanes over an hour from any tarmac road - to attend a workshop for local veterinary students run by The Donkey Sanctuary Mexico staff. The only economic activity of significance in Santa Ana del Rio is the production of mezcal – a clear alcohol liquid distilled from locally-grown cactus in 15 licensed village pot-stills and involving hundreds of villagers and working equids in the process – at every stage from field to final product.
I saw the fields of cactus lined up like soldiers on steep-hillsides. I saw the donkeys loaded down with up to 70kg of cactus-core trundling into the village.
I witnessed how a mule is used to turn the mill-stone to extract the liquid.
I experienced the process of distillation. And I sampled the end-product – rocket-fuel to rival any poteen you’ve tried!
The Donkey Sanctuary is exploring how we might better collaborate with Heifer International, an NGO who are already active in this remote, impoverished region in southern Mexico. Their mission is to work with farmers to end world hunger and poverty; they recognise the key role that working equids play in this local artisanal industry; but they lack donkey and mule expertise.
The Donkey Sanctuary staff can work with villagers to improve their livelihoods, increase productivity and incomes but also improve their donkeys’ lot – safeguarding the welfare of these animals is at the core of what we do. And we will do this directly, by treating sickness and disease; but also indirectly, by educating local service providers and by working in collaboration with other like-minded NGOs.