Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Student Internship Spotlight - Katey Finnegan

Katey Finnegan (LASP MA '18) is currently interning with the government of Oaxaca, Mexico, working with the Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Agriculture in their strategic planning to develop the mezcal value chain. Katey’s internship was one of fifteen regional placements that was secured and funded through Johns Hopkins  SAIS Latin American Studies Program. This past weekend she attended a forum for producers to discuss their most pressing challenges, and of course taste some mezcal.

Meeting with local mezcal producers.
I am currently interning for the Governor's staff in Oaxaca, Mexico as a policy intern. Specifically, I am working across ministries to coordinate an action plan to develop the mezcal industry in a way that benefits the small producers. I have been working with representatives from the Mexican Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Agriculture at the state level, as well as interviewing NGOs, small producers, and larger brands.

Mezcal is a spirit made from the agave plant. While tequila is made from only the blue agave, mezcal can be made from many different types of agave. Mezcal is deeply rooted in rural culture and the production process is highly artisanal (still involving fire pits for roasting and a donkey pulling a cement wheel for mashing the agave).

A competition  for the biggest "piña" (the part of the agave plant they use to produce mezcal).

Developing the mezcal industry is an absolutely fascinating case for rural development. While the drink is experiencing a boom in demand internationally, the level of production is incredibly underdeveloped. Most producers have little or no education, live in some of the most marginalized areas of the country, and produce right on the side of their homes. It is important for the industry to meet demand in a way that preserves the quality and culture of the drink. The hope is that by continuing to support the development of small producers, Oaxaca can use the mezcal boom to improve the economic livelihoods of these rural farmers and producers.

Forum for local maguey and mezcal producers.

I highly value this unique opportunity to work in the Mexican government, and it has already helped better define my desired career path after SAIS. Not only do I love the topic (Mezcal is really delicious!), but also this internship has solidified my interest in continuing a career path in rural employment and agricultural development.

Katey Finnegan 
LASP M.A. Student; 2017 LASP Summer Intern