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Community Empowerment in Southern Mexico

2016 May 10

Indigenous farmers are protecting both a
way of life and a vital resource for the future…

My wife, Emily, and I recently had the opportunity to visit a number of indigenous farming communities in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico, as part of a delegation from Grassroots International, GRI-3a small foundation that supports these and other projects in a number of countries around the world, “advancing the human right to land, water and food.” The photos in this post were taken during that trip.

I hope that readers of this post won’t be put off by this deviation from my usual topics – the issues of torture and related human rights violations worldwide. I could probably make a legitimate argument that the stress imposed on these communities by their government – in collaboration with international (mostly U.S.) agri-business – amounts to torture, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Anyway, it’s my blog and I can write what I want.

A central focus of the trip was on the maintenancGRI-1e by these communities of native varieties of corn, a vital food crop which originated in Mexico, and was refined over almost 10,000 years by their ancestors. Indigenous Mesoamerican communities also developed the milpa system of planting maize (corn), squash, and beans together, which minimizes the need for fertilizer and pesticides. Today, as the research organization CGIAR notes, Maize is a major staple in developing countries around the world, “providing food for 900 million people earning less than US $2 per day.”

GRI-2Yet the survival of the crucial genetic information encoded in these corn species – along with the indigenous communities themselves – is now threatened by the growing dominance of commercially promoted varieties (especially those marketed by the U.S. company, Monsanto) which have been genetically modified so that they do not self-reproduce. As a result, new seed corn must be purchased every year. (See this excellent NY Times article on the development of corn in Mexico. There are some other links on the subject below.)

Grassroots International works around the world to help small farmers and other small producers, indigenous peoples and women win resource rights: the human rights to land, water and food. In addition to Mexico, GRI is currently funding projects in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Middle East, and West Africa, A video introduction to the organization’s work can be found on its YouTube page.

GrGRI-4Aassroots International: “We are a funder that supports community-led initiatives and movements worldwide, with special focus in Brazil, Haiti, Mesoamerica and the Middle East. We also partner with global networks like the Via Campesina, which includes more than 250 million small farmers and farm workers organizing in 71 nations.”

Some additional articles on the history and genetics of corn:
Learn Genetics: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/selection/corn/
The Maize Project: http://maize.uga.edu/index.php?loc=ancestors
The Milpa Project: http://www.themilpaproject.com/the_story.html
Risking Corn, Risking Culture: http://www.worldwatch.org

And in a (slightly) related story: Political cartoonist Rick Friday was recently fired fGRI-5rom Iowa’s Farm News after working there for 21 years. His offense − a series of cartoons that “called out Monsanto and Big Agriculture” for excessive profits at the expense of U.S. farmers. Monsanto is the major supplier of the genetically “modified” and non-reproducing corn varieties that threaten the lives and livelihoods of indigenous Mexican farmers. Could there be a potential alliance brewing here?

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