Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vicente Guerrero: Campesinos Planting Seeds of Hope in Mexico

    In this small, rural community, about two hours east of Mexico City, in the mountainous highlands, indigenous farmers have been growing corn and other crops for thousands of years. In 1980, faced with poverty and nutrition problems caused by eating too much processed foods, they formed the organization Grupo Vicente Guerrero (GVG) to revive traditional agricultural practices and cultivate a healthier lifestyle.

    Visiting Vicente Guerrero, located in the state of Tlaxcala, was a clear high point of the Social Action Study Tour we took through the Casa de los amigos a Quaker center in Mexico City.  Jill and I were deeply moved and inspired by what we witnessed here.

    Creating a vast network of Empowered Campesinos

    The small farmers (campesinos) of Vicente Guerrero were so successful they began teaching sustainable agricultural practices to others through a program called Campesino a Campesino that is reaching small farmers throughout Latin America and beyond. January 13, 2011, GVG helped pass a law in Tlaxcala that “protects local, native corn from unfair competition and contamination with genetically-modified and imported varieties.” This law prevents Monsanto from introducing Genetically Modified (GMO) corn into their area. Inspired by GVG’s success, groups in other parts of Mexico are working to pressure their state governments to pass similar laws to protect corn and other agricultural products through lobbying and through a class action law suit. 

    Corn is so central to Mexican identity and livelihood that many Mexicans feel very passionate about preserving indigenous varieties. There’s a banner at GVC with the famous saying of Nobel Prize winning poet Octavio Paz: “The invention of corn for Mexicans is comparable only to the invention of fire by man.”

    “The corn that we inherited from our forefathers that fed our families for the last nine thousand years,” says Adrian Pérez Conteras one of the organizers of GVG’s campaign. “We feel that just as our grandparents left us this rich heritage, we should continue preserving it.”

    Early Quaker Support

    Casa de los Amigos has been a key supporter of GVG since its inception. In 1973, Rogelio Cova Juárez, the director of the Casa at the time, helped start the process leading to the formation of GVG in 1980. During a period of around four years, Erick Holt and Kaky Ruthmore, two members of the Casa team, helped various Vicente Guerrero residents learn to cultivate gardens using a bio-intensive method, and began promoting this through volunteers in three other communities in the municipality of Españita. 

    The Casa has supported GVG at various times and in various ways throughout its history. We felt privileged to be part of a Casa-sponsored tour consisting of around eleven Quakers from all over the USA.

    After a pleasant drive through beautiful mountainous Mexican countryside filled with maguey and burros and terraced fields, we reached the peaceful little town of Vicente Guerrero—a welcome change from the urban sprawl of Mexico City, with a population of 21 million. In this town of fewer than 1,000 people we were greeted by two local leaders, Clara Sanchez and a man named Gabriel Franco Sánchez. Gabriel proudly introduced himself as “100% campesino.”

    Restoring Dignity and Community and Culture

    This was remarkable since many campesinos are ashamed of their identity, seeing 
    their lifestyle as a dead end and wanting to migrate to the city or to the USA.  As GVG organizer Pánfilo Hernández notes, “I’ve seen some small scale farmers who don’t value their identity as campesinos, even in front of their own children sometimes. They say, ‘I don’t want you to end up like me becausecampesinos always have the same problem: we never get anywhere.’”

    Gabriel, however, made it clear he had reason to proud as he explained to us the traditional practices that have made Vicente Guerrero a model of sustainable agriculture.

    He showed us how terraced farming made it possible to grow corn without irrigation. He and Clara explained how their seed banks include a wide variety of seeds adapted to changes in the growing season caused, in part, by climate change.

    By not using insecticide, they are learning to harvest insects like grasshoppers and worms that used to be part of the traditional Mexican diet and now are becoming fashionable once again. See http://www.puertovallarta.net/fast_facts/mexicos-edible-insects-3.php. The residents of Vicente Guerrero have also become adept in using local plants in a variety of ways. We were shown how to make a salve using calendula, otherwise known as pot marigold, which is highly favored for its skin healing properties. It is also excellent for sensitive skin, making it perfect for using with babies and children. Products such as this salve and edible insects are sold in local farmers’ markets.

    Restoring Food Diversity and Sovereignty 

    Clara, who was just chosen as the leader of the organization GVC, showed us twelve different varieties of corn—red, yellow, white, purple— that have been developed at Vicente Guerrero. We are told that there are at least 62 varieties of corn in their state of Tlaxcala, perhaps as many as 200, in Mexico, each type especially suited to various micro-climates. If the mono-cropping methods of Monsanto and other GMO seed companies have their way, the bio diversity essential to create healthy bodies and healthy soil and sustainable agriculture will be greatly diminished. These varieties are At Vicente Guerrero, seeds are preserved and shared with farmers who are given the seeds and then “return” them after the harvest, with “pay it foward” (i.e. if they borrow a pound of seeds, they return, say, two pounds). In contrast, Monsanto seeds have been genetically engineered so that they must be purchased anew each year. This has creates impossible costs and dependency and has led to bankruptcies and suicides among small farmers. In India a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in the last 16 years because of economic distress caused by Monsanto’s “suicide seeds.” Furthermore, Monsanto seeds, insecticides and herbicides alter the soil so that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to use for natural farming. The campesinos at Vicente Guerrero and in many other parts of Mexico are determined to make sure that what is happening in India doesn’t happen in Mexico. They want what they call “food sovereignty.”

    Seeds of Hope for the World

    Born out of the GVG network, Small farmers throughout Mexico have formed an 
    alliance to fight against the invasion of 

    Monsanto and GMO corn: “On July 5, 2013, the alliance filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the Mexican government from granting permits to plant GMO maize. Later that fall, a judge ruled that both experimental and commercial plantings would have to wait until a final verdict is reached, which could take many more months or even years.”

    This is good news indeed, but the struggle is far from over, and the suit is not yet settled. And, we North Americans need to do our part.

    Witness for Peace recommends three ways you can help small farmers in Mexico:

  •  Travel to Tlaxcala or other agricultural states with a WFP (or Casa de los Amigos) delegation to learn how you can change US policies that threaten food scarcity.
  • Ask your congressional representative to support the TRADE Act, which would renegotiate NAFTA to protect small farmers and the environment.
  •  Learn more about the impacts of GMO’s and unfair trade policies through Witness for Peace, Bread for the World, or Sin Maiz No Hay Pais.Hay Pais.

No comments:

Post a Comment