Chewing Gum in Cancún

Hikurangi Enterprises business development manager Manu Caddie just completed a ten day trip to Mexico, California and Washington to progress opportunities in bioactives, pharmaceuticals and cannabis. Here’s a summary of his meeting in Mexico with a cooperative interested in working with Hikurangi Enterprises.

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After 24 hours of travel and 36 hours since I slept, Cancun was the first real stop on a ten day business trip.

The peninsula has long, long white sand beach, 26 degree water in the Caribbean Sea, beautiful mangrove waterways (with alligators that come up into the shopping mall in the rainy season) and a rich indigenous history (more recently relocated after the government allowed all the giant US hotel companies to acquire traditional lands to enable the booming tourism industry). There could have been worse places for a business meeting.

Peter Salmon and Georgina Hermandez from the relatively new global NGO Social Environmental Economic Development (SEED) had arranged for me to meet with the leader of a cooperative of indigenous communities cooperatives that were established 100 years ago as a way for workers tapping the chicle tree for the natural chewing gum that Wrigley’s originally used before they shifted to an entirely synthetic, cheaper polymer substitute.

Peter is a Kiwi from the Hawkes Bay who trained as a graphic designer before shifting his focus to community and youth development. Peter was working as a consultant and running programmes in North America when he was invited to Mexico and started working with a foundation funded as a social investment with tax advantages for a large corporation.

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As an aside, I’ve thought for a long time we should encourage taxpayers to fund charitable foundations and social services directly to save all the costs of bureaucracy. I think it was Peter Dunne who led the tax law changes in New Zealand that now allow individuals to claim up to the entire amount of their earnings as tax deductions – which in theory is kind of the same. I can see how such as system could be open to increasing inequalities if the wealthy communities with more tax obligations choose charities that appeal to them and don’t redistribute the wealth between the stratified social classes, but I think it also provides for much more creative approaches to addressing social, environmental and cultural development challenges when the funding system isn’t mediated by the state where it needs to accommodate the vanities, sensitivities and ideologies of politicians and their parties, and the subsequent conservatism and risk adverse bureaucrats pushing papers/pixels around while the real world stays one step ahead of them.

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Peter Salmon has done some wonderful work in Aotearoa and recently established SEED as a charitable trust to access philanthropic funding and provide contracted services to facilitate comprehensive, community-wide planning for development towards greater self-sufficiency and sustainability. Please check out SEED and contact Peter if you’re interested in how they may be able to assist a community you care about – neighbourhoods, marae/hapū, villages, school communities, urban, rural and iwi populations have all utilised SEED services over the past few years.

What I love about SEED is (a) they include intensive focus on social enterprises, but look at the whole community, not just one or two ventures; (b) they not only preach self-determination but practice it – Peter and his colleagues are only interested in contributing what the community thinks is useful. SEED seems to be very conscious and careful not to make any initiative about SEED, it’s about always ensuring the community is leading itself and making decisions, no one else.

Georgina is an architect from rural Mexico and got involved with SEED through her support for an emergency response coordinated by the foundation that Peter had joined. She lives in a small village close to the border with Belize, the old British colony carved out between Mexico and Guatamala when the English were fighting the Spanish for gold and other resources in the region. The village is bout the size of our village of Ruatoria, with only one shop and sporadic access to electricity.

Georgina works with indigenous communities in the area on economic and educational initiatives.

A long lunch with lovely people – Manuel adds some kānuka extract to his chicle… 
Originally the plan was for me to fly from Cancun to Chetumal, where the chicle cooperatives and the chewing gum factory of Chicza are located, but with less than 24 hours in the country and only two weekly flights to Chetumal it wasn’t an option this visit. So the company manager Manuel came to meet me in Cancun, Georgina also came to help with translation and to see if there are ways SEED can continue to support our trans-pacific partnership should it proceed beyond this meeting.

Manuel is a well known community leader in Mexico. 30 years ago he was a consultant for The World Bank looking at rural economic development opportunities across the region. The chicleros, indigenous famers and foresters, were struggling to find income since the market had disappeared for their traditional chewing gum product. Manuel and others established an umbrella cooperative for the network of community cooperatives and set about building a new brand and product dedicated to natural, organic chewing gum products. The cooperative company has grown and they now have more than 40 groups involved with 3,000 indigenous chicleros working in the cooperatives producing over 250 tonnes of product shipped to retail distributors and wholesale buyers in Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Manuel is very interested in our kānuka extract, particularly the bioactive properties and we tried some kānuka extract in pieces of chewing gum. I left several samples and the chicle product development team will start working on formulation options. This was an exciting outcome as we hope to use a chewing gum product in the clinical trials planned for later this year that will test kānuka’s ability to reduce anxiety and stress.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Laurie Stowe says:

    Well spoken Manu?! However, not to be confused with the two Peter’s that you refer to, I am presuming the one you are referring to in the last couple of para’s is Peter Salmon, not Dunne as you mentioned in the previous para…..??

    Hope all goes well! We did a little trip from Tijuana (from IBC Hospital I was in for initial Fibro treatment) down the Baja Peninsular including Ensenada. Was an experience with road blocks, AK47’s, drug mules, great surf and markets during the trip!

    Cheers, Laurie

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  2. Congratulations on a successful trip with potential outcomes that will benefit all concerned. Wishing Hikurangi Enterprises all the best with this project

  3. Ella says:

    Wow, I really enjoyed the story it was so interesting. Do you know where to get the gum in Mexico? Because I’ve been looking for it and I can’t find it at all.

    1. Admin says:

      Check out – there are also some wholesale gum distributors online.

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