An interview with Guadalupe Bojorquez, General Manager at Mexialoe Laboratorios
Mexialoe is a leading supplier of Aloe Vera to the cosmetics, food, pharmaceutical and personal care industries globally.
Tell us a bit more about Mexialoe and your commitment to respecting local people and biodiversity.
In partnership with local NGOs and the Government of the State of Campeche in Mexico, Mexialoe Laboratorios works with local communities located in buffer zones of two protected natural areas. The reserves of Los Petenes Biosphere and Calakmul Biosphere are both important nationally and internationally for the conservation and regeneration of flora and fauna.
We train communities on good agricultural practices and improved working conditions. They receive legal advice and are offered medium- to long-term contracts. The company has also developed partnerships with the local government to help unlock financing for smaller producers.
For Mexialoe Laboratorios, respecting ethical principles means improving the rural Mexican landscape as well as providing employment opportunities so that local people find work within their communities and not leave their place of origin.
It is very important for us to be in daily contact with indigenous people to understand their traditions and practices, so that we show respect to them and try to improve their living conditions.
What does the concept of ‘ethical sourcing’ mean for Mexialoe and how does it translate to your work in the sourcing areas?
For us, an ethical supply means - above all else - establishing dialogue with our suppliers leading to long-term partnerships that benefit both parties. Reaching agreements is never easy, so dialogue helps us understand and respect one another.
I understand there are a lot of youth leaving the region and going to cities because they don't think farming is a good opportunity for them. How is your work keeping indigenous families together and helping indigenous youth see farming as something to stay in Campeche for?
Young people learn to love their land when they receive empowerment from their parents through training. At Mexialoe, we involve women and also the rest of the family. Young people are now staying in the family’s house where they participate in the harvesting of crops. It helps them understand that it is a way to improve their economic condition. In addition, we participated with the local government, schools and other companies in developing activities focused on agriculture and today there are more than three schools that train young people in sustainable development.
Mexialoe staff also interact directly with suppliers of aloe vera or sabila and promote the activity through technical advice on the cultivation, good agricultural practices, preparation of natural fertilizers, application of biological control systems, and even how to negotiate with the shippers to lower production and harvest costs. Young people now perceive that there are a range of opportunities.
Mexialoe has been a UEBT member since 2016. How did you learn about our organization and why did you decided to get involved with us?
Mexialoe actually learned about UEBT through The Body Shop. UEBT was recommended to us as an NGO specialized in ethical sourcing and dedicated to improving companies’ relationship with small communities. We decided to get involved because we were already working with small farmers but we needed structure to help us grow over time, and we felt this was something UEBT could provide.
Working with UEBT experts on dialogue with communities and biodiversity conservation has been of great help to develop projects with local people and also to lead the way in ethical sourcing with respect for people and biodiversity.
You have personally worked more than 12 years with Mexialoe. What has changed over the years in the sourcing of Aloe Vera? What challenges have you overcome and what threats still remain?
Originally the company had its own fields of aloe vera and sabila that we were sourcing from. As we grew and in order to maintain the supply of raw material to our customers, we created a structure of three supply chains with large farmers, small farmers and communities.
The growth of aloe production units within the state and in the country as a whole has been slow, but we already had local crops and the interest of small farmers, especially from women in the communities.
What has changed over time is that the ‘green market’ has grown. New considerations have appeared such as social responsibility, respect for biodiversity as well as an increasing demand for organic. These were concepts that were, at first, utterly foreign to us. And several challenges still remain today: finding loyal producers who want to do business in the long-term. Intermediaries that could get involved in the process and could potentially corrupt the relationship that exists between us and the supplier.
Another challenge is price. The supplier will always look to sell where the price is higher, even if it is temporary. This means the producer wins when prices go up, but they lose when market prices go down. Mexialoe decided to maintain its price throughout the year regardless of where the price is fluctuating in the market, and we guarantee our purchases.
I believe throughout the years we have achieved important and relevant changes towards respecting both people and biodiversity - from developing organic production to the fair treatment of our suppliers.
Aloe vera is increasingly popular in the world and you can find it in everything from cosmetics to beverages. Does this increasing market demand threaten its availability?
It is a threat to resource availability indeed! However, at Mexialoe Laboratories we managed to turn this threat into opportunities for the communities of Campeche. Aloe can grow in most types of soils. It requires 12 months to grow and produces seeds three times a year. We use the seeds for propagation and very few leaves – no more than four or five per plant - of each plant are collected so that we have a continued supply.
What are your hopes for the future of the Campeche region and the people and biodiversity in it?
Recently Mexialoe Laboratorios has reached important agreements with the state government to support small farmers. We have created programs aimed at developing aloe vera crops and are offering farmers increased business opportunities and improved living conditions thanks to secured income.
In terms of biodiversity we have also decided to plant aloe on previously degraded land and have avoided planting in high biodiversity areas. We teach people to conserve and live alongside diverse species present in their aloe fields and hope they will spread this philosophy to the next generations.