Mayo Itzel Suárez Román
Ashoka Fellow since 2018   |   Mexico

Mayo Itzel Suárez Román

Grupo Murlota
Itzel is providing an alternative model for egg production that changes the value chain to support rural women through large corporate conglomerates that currently control agricultural space, while…
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This description of Mayo Itzel Suárez Román's work was prepared when Mayo Itzel Suárez Román was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2018.


Itzel is providing an alternative model for egg production that changes the value chain to support rural women through large corporate conglomerates that currently control agricultural space, while improving the diets of rural families.

The New Idea

Itzel is creating a new model for food sovereignty and rural income-generating activity by empowering the disadvantaged inhabitants of rural communities with an innovative value chain for food. Itzel is mainly aimed at women, but also at senior citizens and people with disabilities as rural egg producers so that they are micro-entrepreneurs and support them at every step of the supply chain. Most subsistence farming programs focus only on producing enough for family survival, while Itzel supports producers from production to marketing, drastically increasing their yields and their ability to sell their surpluses to markets more broad through a cooperative model. Starting with the most important basic nutritional element that is the egg, Grupo Murlota plans to add additional basic products collaborating with other social organizations to increase the country's food sovereignty, while guaranteeing higher income and access to national markets for the most vulnerable segments of the society.

To implement its model, Itzel provides rural women with comprehensive packages that include basic start-up materials such as infrastructure for the animals, but also adds market linkages, business training and ongoing technical assistance. Itzel facilitates implementing egg production model, being able to settle in the backyard of a house, offering employment options for women within their own homes, so it is easily combined with other responsibilities. Itzel also invites egg producers to be part of a network formed by other producers within their communities, improving communication and social interaction, obtaining cooperative actions of social cohesion. More importantly, Itzel is improving independence and confidence in women and reducing the pressure to feed the family, giving them new roles to ensure food sovereignty and allowing them to improve the diets of rural families through the consumption of nutrient-dense animal protein.

The Problem

Societies such as Mexico, which discriminate on the basis of gender, pay the cost of greater poverty: slower economic growth, a weaker government and a lower standard of living for their citizens. Being a country where the predominant ideology is still patriarchal, Mexico continues to lack fair employment for women. This is especially true for women in rural areas, since traditional gender roles confine women to their homes. As a result, many rural families in Mexico have only one source of income: the male head of the household.

More than 50 million Mexicans can't afford the minimum food products necessary to live a nutritional lifestyle. In addition, many families don't consume dietary proteins of sufficient quantity or quality, resulting in a protein deficiency or even malnutrition. The majority of rural families obtain their proteins from corn and beans, which is insufficient to guarantee a balanced family diet and affects negatively the development of children. In the last century, rural communities have also been forced to move from being food producers to consumers, as families continue to lose skills and knowledge about how to produce their own food, leaving them in an even more vulnerable situation.

Meanwhile, on a national scale, Mexico is the world's largest consumer of eggs per capita, but it is the third producer, indicating a gap in the market potential for domestic egg production: current production doesn't meet national demand and the eggs must be imported every year. The national government and other programs have already identified the opportunity to increase egg production in rural areas, but have fallen short, promoting the development of egg farms for self-consumption, without linking small farmers with larger networks , neither providing them with lasting business skills or technical training. In addition, the current production of eggs in Mexico is overwhelmingly industrial: 90% of the national egg market is supplied by industrial production in cages, 5% of which must be imported. Only the remaining 5% of the market is supplied by small farms, of which 1% are organic. Itzel is filling a market niche for the production of free-range eggs that are similar in nutritional value to organic eggs, but which are easier to produce since they do not require expensive certifications.

The Strategy

Grupo Murlota's supply chain model addresses the complete egg production cycle by offering an all-in-one package for women, the elderly and disabled people in rural communities. Itzel' model begins with the installation of a chicken coop with capacity for 35 chickens, followed by training in raising chickens, continuous technical assistance and veterinary attention as necessary, until the final commercialization of the egg through connection to local markets and collection centers to sell the production surplus. For eggs not consumed by the family or the local community, producers take their surplus to a local cooperative-style collection center for all local Murlota egg producers, where Grupo Murlota collects the eggs every one or two weeks. While 10% of the eggs produced by small producers within the Grupo Murlota network are consumed at home, 30% are consumed locally, leaving 60% of the total eggs available for national sale.

Raising chickens in backyards is not a new activity for the inhabitants of the field, but the Murlota Group technifies and formalizes the production system, along with promoting the development of commercial skills and adding links with the market. Grupo Murlota has developed meetings at the municipal and state level for producers of backyard eggs to share best practices, helping them to strengthen ties of collaboration among micro-entrepreneurs. The complete package for the production of eggs in the backyard has a cost of approximately 860 USD, which is paid in part by partners such as the national Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), social development departments in state government levels and local animal food providers. To guarantee the commitment of the beneficiaries, they must contribute with part of their own money, while the partner organizations pay the rest. For those beneficiaries who can't pay their contribution, Grupo Murlota is negotiating with the government to provide accessible credit rates.

Several governmental food security programs of NGOs and the government, such as the "Campo en nuestras manos", run by the federal government and directed by the state to combat poverty and malnutrition in Mexico, have adopted Grupo Murlota's model. By doing so, they are ceasing to put pressure on rural communities and families to adopt subsistence farming methods to produce products and produce them in the market, increasing people's economic resources. For example, local NGOs in 16 Mexican states and the State offices of SEDAGRO (Secretary of Agricultural Development) have already turned to Itzel as the exclusive provider of infrastructure and training to their beneficiaries of the food security program.

To help finance the empowerment of vulnerable women, Itzel developed a business model as part of her doctoral thesis in Spain, focusing on the implementation of large-scale poultry farms, including the same elements of the basic package, but for up to 1,000 hens, with a cost of 13,450 USD. Combining the eggs of the producers of the large farms and the surplus of the small ones, Murlota buys the eggs for $ 0.10 USD to sell them for $ 0.13 in Mexico City. Itzel took advantage of its ability to produce coherent and nutritiously better chicken eggs from several farms and cooperatives with which it works to secure important supplier agreements with popular restaurants and supermarket chains in the capital, such as The Green Corner, City Market, among others.

Murlota allows its beneficiaries to more than double their monthly income to approximately 750 eggs per month, which allows them to improve their income and the diet of their families. Selling 60% of the eggs produced, the beneficiaries of Grupo Murlota earn an average of USD 53 per month from the sale of these surplus eggs, which results in slightly more than half of the monthly minimum salary to supplement their family income. This new income resource only requires two hours of a woman's workday, which allows her to devote the rest of her time to other responsibilities.

Grupo Murlota has already delivered 3,600 chicken farms in 16 states of the Mexican Republic and each farm impacts a family of between 4 and 6 members. Itzel's work has a proven impact on the quality of life of rural women: her master's thesis measured the effects of the implementation of the Grupo Murlota model in the rural community of Lomas de Tepemecatl. According to the study conducted over 2 years, the mental and physical health of the beneficiaries increased by 22.17%, community participation and collaboration increased by 24.45%, due to greater social interaction.

Sociocultural self-esteem, as the degree of knowledge that a community has of itself and the way in which members value it, increased by 32.90%. The intelligent use of natural resources, taking into account flora, fauna and soil characteristics, with the sustainable use of technology and common resources increased by 37.57%.

Thanks to the replicable and scalable commercial model of Grupo Murlota, they plan to increase operations to the 31 states of Mexico and continue piloting the model with additional food items from the "basic food basket", as well as expanding the model to Spain through continuous collaboration agreements with universities, government and non-governmental partners. In 10 years, Itzel plans to have 10 million chicken farms implemented to guarantee the food sovereignty of 10% of Mexico's population.

The Person

Itzel was instilled with a sense of social justice early in her life, having parents who developed sewing workshops training women in a poor neighborhood of Mexico City. In her youth, Itzel worked in the workshops, helping her develop leadership skills and vision for small-scale businesses, while forming a mindset that prioritized social benefits over economic ones. Itzel studied subjects of agricultural sector in a public university, very encouraged by his parents who didn't have this opportunity. During her university studies, Itzel had a formative experience working in rural areas of Chiapas in a project with Tzotzil women, and was impressed by the central role of women in herding and raising sheep to produce wool. During this 3-month project, she saw how the government gave the community sheep for the production of milk and meat, however, the community ended up letting them die because they were not suitable for wool production and traditionally do not consume any product of sheep. The project in Chiapas taught her about the real needs of rural communities and the importance of respecting the customs of each community when implementing food security projects.

During her Master's Degree in Agricultural Sciences, Itzel researched and developed the first sketches of micro-enterprises in the aviary sector run by women. At the age of 21, the project began with 15 women and a total of 1,000 birds, distributing 50 to 80 chickens to each woman and keeping 300. However, Itzel quickly realized that, without market links and marketing skills, the total number of eggs produced could not be used. While continuing to research to improve her model, she was surprised to learn of the disconnection between self-consumption and commercialization of agricultural projects. After graduating she was invited to work for the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food of the Nation (SAGARPA) as Project Manager for the implementation and support of rural development programs in agriculture. Realizing that her weekend hobby was her passion, Itzel decided to leave SAGARPA in 2012 despite her high position and stable income. That year, she went to the University of Alicante to carry out her doctoral studies on models of cooperative agriculture in Spain, which gave her the opportunity to improve the business model of Grupo Murlota.

Her work has received wide recognition from external actors in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, which was selected in 2010 by Goldman Sachs to launch her project, by participating in its 10,000 Women program that provides women entrepreneurs with education, mentoring and networking of business management, and access to capital. In February 2017, she was awarded the Forbes "30 Promises" award that recognizes the promising leaders of the Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystem. In April of 2018, she was invited to The Shark Tank Mexico program where the 5 participating investors offered 250,000 US for 49% of their company, being for now in the process of closing the negotiation. Likewise, Itzel participates actively in the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and Social Enterprises, both National and International.

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