The henequen business in Yucatan boosted the region in centuries past. Currently this sector seeks to re-boost the industry and bets on tourism.

The economy in Mérida shone in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just make a tour of Paseo Montejo, with its majestic stately homes, to check the opulence of those times.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the henequen business in Yucatán increased investment in Mérida and made the Yucatecan economy grow. 

What is henequen? 

The henequen in Yucatán comes from the agave plant family and looks a lot like the top of a pineapple, except that the leaves are longer. It grows wild all over the northern Yucatan and is quite an amazing plant. It can thrive in the region's rocky limestone soil with virtually no water or fertilizer. Its virtue is the performance and resistance of its fibers, which can be used to make ropes. 

In ancient times, the Mayans, peeled off the outer covering of the leaf and pounded the pulpy interior to reach the fiber. The plant grows wild in the areas surrounding Mérida.

Due to the high demand and the increase of the Yucatecan economy, at the end of the 19th century, a mechanical means to extract the fiber was developed and a machine was created that removed the skin, water and pulp from the leaves in a single process. . In this way, time and manpower were saved.

Around that time, the industry took off and the owners of the henequen ranches increased their fortunes. The investment in Mérida was reflected in luxurious French-style mansions. 

At the beginning of the 20th century the city had the distinction of hosting more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in Mexico and the world.

Paralysis, fall and resurgence  

In the 20th century, the opulent years of the henequen business in Yucatán and investment in Mérida began to come to a standstill. After the agrarian reform, productivity fell and the price of henequen fiber for export increased by 400%. Americans were unwilling to pay this price and quickly found an alternative source of fiber in Brazil. 

The industry went into sharp decline and in 1950 the countryside was littered with abandoned henequen farms.

At present, due to the high cost of oil, there is great interest in this type of natural fibers. The industry is being reborn and has become attractive for textile designers and for tourism that seeks to reconnect with that lost history.

This sector of the Yucatecan economy is also of interest to China and there are projects to export the fiber to Asia.

Henequén, business in Mérida? 

Currently, according to data from the Yucatan Rural Development Secretariat (Seder), henequen cultivation has increased: in 2012 there were 12 thousand hectares and in 2018 that number amounted to 15 thousand hectares. So it grew 25 percent. In that period, approximately 27 thousand tons were obtained with a value of 241 million pesos. 

Henequen in Yucatan
shutterstock.com/Del cavallo stefano

In general, this fiber has as its main market countries in Asia and Europe. So if you are looking for a business idea, start in Mérida and invest in this fiber.

Henequen is produced in more than 20 towns in Yucatán, such as Izamal, Motul, Muxupip, Sanahcat, Sinanché, Suma de Hidalgo, Tekal de Venegas, Tekantación, Tepakán, Teya, among others. In them there are more than 3,000 peasants who allocate part of their land to this type of cultivation.

The industry is complemented by 16 defibrillators that operate in towns such as Acanceh, Bokobá, Cansahcab, Dzemul, Hocabá, Homún among others.

According Seder, Secretariat of Rural Development this business in Mérida has increased its value and price: 14.50 pesos per kilo. 

Tourism, undertake in Mérida and on its farms

The henequen business in Yucatán is also being reconverted by the hand of tourism. This sector is very important in the Yucatecan economy represents 

The investment in Mérida is committed to tourism and many old henequen estates have been transformed into luxury hotels with sophisticated amenities, which are highly attractive to tourists seeking to discover the nearby archaeological ruins and meet the region's henequen past. 

Many of these farms still retain their plantation and production machinery. When staying in this type of accommodation, there are guided tours that explain the entire cultivation and production process. 

In addition, some of them have cenotes and attract the attention of many tourists. For this reason, it undertakes in Mérida and in developments of this type.

Henequen farms in Yucatan to know

Hacienda Xcanatún. Less than 10 minutes from Mérida, this hacienda was built in the 18th century. From an agricultural and livestock past, like many of the region, in the 19th century it began with the cultivation and processing of henequen. Currently you can visit and operate a luxury hotel, which is another way in which the henequen business is developed in Yucatan.

Tanil. No more than 15 kilometers from Mérida and on the shores of Umán, Tanil was founded at the end of the 16th century. It was an important henequen hacienda. You can visit it to know how the henequen industry developed.

Handicrafts, accessories and design objects 

Finally, another business in Mérida and surroundings, related to henequen is that of textile design. More than 5,000 designers and artisans in the state design and make different types of products with this kind fiber. 

From shoes to purses, bags, decorative objects and even jewelry and handicrafts, henequen fiber is used by more than 5,000 people grouped in 40 cooperatives and workshops.

All the products are natural and for their manufacture the ancestral techniques that were used to spin the henequen fiber are recovered.

This group of entrepreneurs already has more than a thousand products on the market and their capacity to produce pieces exceeds 300 units per week. 

Are you interested in investing in the henequen business in Yucatán? Start in Mérida! 

We recommend you: Paseo de Montejo, an avenue to walk through the heart of Yucatan

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