Red en Defensa del Maíz, GRAIN, ETC Group, Vía Campesina North America, el Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de los Territorios, and more than a thousand communities that appeal to the Peoples Permanent Tribunal-Mexico | 14 June 2012 | Mexico
Being Mexico the centre of origin of maize, one of the four most crucial crops for humanity, any attack on maize and to the peoples that grow it are attacks against the oldest and most potential strategies of humanity. This is a powerful and beautiful text, presented on October 21st in front of the peoples permanent Tribunal that will session in Mexico from now to 2014.
Five theses about violence against maize,
food sovereignty and autonomy
A consensus was reached, and it was decided that there would be purple maize, yellow maize, red maize and white maize, and that is what they used to make our bones, our blood, our flesh.
Maize is not a thing, a product; it is a web of relationships; it is the life of millions of peasants whose ancient civilising centre is community and the life of sowing. Since Mexico is the centre of origin of maize – one of the four foods crucial to mankind – the attacks on maize and the peoples who cultivate it are attacks not only on the most ancient strategies, but on those that offer humanity its best possibilities for the future.
Maize is also a commercial crop that is vital for the sustenance of millions of families of farmers. Its profitability could strengthen the food security and food sovereignty of the country if only suitable public policies existed to achieve this.
The first thesis we propose is that the negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) required the Mexican state to embark upon an interminable legal dismantling of all the laws that promoted collective rights and protected the commons – especially the territories – of the indigenous peoples and peasants: their lands, water, mountains and forests. The NAFTA also required the dismantling of the whole system of programmes, projects and public policies that supported agricultural activity, at the expense of small and medium-scale Mexican farmers and to the gain of US agriculture – especially of the kind that seeks to corner markets, processes and financing; in other words, corporate agriculture. The scope of this dismantling was so extreme that it even gambled on corn imports – despite the fact that this is a basic staple food product for the Mexican population and despite all the asymmetries between US, Canadian and Mexican producers at the level of productivity and subsidies. Although a 15-year term was granted in which to bring about the full liberalisation of foreign trading in corn, the Mexican government unilaterally opted to permit the entry of imports in excess of the quota, without tariffs. This slashed domestic corn prices by 50%, benefiting only the multinational cartels that control grain.1
A second thesis is that the ultimate aim of this legal dismantling and privatisation is to eradicate all independent food production.
In order to achieve this, the big corporations worldwide have set about attacking, eroding and even criminalising one of humanity's most ancient strategies – the keeping, custody and free exchange of ancestral native seeds. It seems not to matter to them that they are attacking all the knowledge intrinsic in traditional peasant farming and agro-ecology in order to promote the cultivation and marketing of laboratory seeds (hybrids, transgenics and new sophisticated design seeds) through laws that expressly pave the way for the big corporations to achieve their ends. The two clearest examples are the Law of Biosecurity for Genetically Modified Organisms, or the “Monsanto Law”, and the Federal Law for the Production, Certification and Trading of Seeds.
A third thesis is that these laws promote a transgenic invasion, which began in 2001, and which will inevitably contaminate the 62 species and thousands of varieties that exist in Mexico. Regimes of intellectual property, registration and certification will ultimately rob the native seeds of their diversity.
A fourth thesis is that the attack on ancestral peasant farming systems and their modern agro-ecological variants, the attack on commons as crucial as native seeds, devastates rural life and weakens communities. It exacerbates emigration and remorseless urbanisation, enabling the invasion of peasant and indigenous territory for mega projects, mining operations, the privatisation of water, monoculture plantations, deforestation and the expropriation of territory via programmes for the mercantilisation of nature – such as REDD (the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) and environmental services.
A fifth thesis is that the entire system that lies behind this legal dismantling, this attempt to eradicate independent food production and monopolise the profitability of this versatile crop – thereby wiping out the whole gamut of non-corporate growers, from indigenous peoples to small- and medium-sized farmers; the entire system that lies behind spiralling food prices and the widespread food crisis is also responsible for much of the climate crisis.
There is abundant proof that the world's agro-food system is responsible for between 45% and 57% of greenhouse gas emissions.2 This is attributable to its vertical integration: its grabbing of land and water; its use of transgenic and hybrid laboratory seeds, and its promotion of soil-eroding chemical fertilisers and pesticides; the deforestation it causes; its use of monoculture farming; the means of transport it uses; the industrial processes; the packaging, storage and refrigeration.
By contrast, we the injured parties – the indigenous and peasant communities, and small-scale farmers – currently produce the bulk of the world's food, despite holding so little land in global terms, and despite the oppressive conditions they are trying to impose on us. 3 And we know that by maintaining our traditional crops, using our native seeds, we could cool the earth if only the political will existed to defend the ways of life that lie at the heart of this agriculture, allowing us to continue growing maize in the community we call the milpa:4 diverse and generous; different foods growing side by side, along with plants that cure, trees that protect and the animals that are also our strength. This is why it is crucial for communities to have territorial control, self-government, autonomy. We must stop the land grabs and the invasion of the territories of the communities.
The defence of maize goes beyond culturalisms. It is, in fact, the defence of an option that will allow people to achieve real material and political independence from the market and its threat of eternal domination. Maize is not only a source of material sustenance but also a sacred force that endows identity. To contaminate it with transgenics, to dismantle the maize-growing economy by way of government policy, to undervalue the milpa is to attack a process that is unique, specific in global terms – the Mesoamerican civilisatory project. The attack on maize and on us, the peoples who have cultivated it, is a crime, then, against one of the pillars of the whole of civilisation. By defending the peoples of the maize, by defending the infinite exchange of peasant seeds, we are defending the survival and possibilities of plenitude of the whole of humanity.
Maize is our blood, our flesh, our mother, our child; maize it is that talks,
laughs, stands on its feet and walks.
This hearing is promoted by more than a thousand communities of indigenous peasants, and small and medium-scale farmers, from across the whole country. The organisations include la Red en Defensa del Maíz, Vía Campesina América del Norte, el Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de los Territorios, and dozens of organisations in Chihuahua, la Huasteca and the Yucatan Península, among many other states.
1 The source of these conclusions is research conducted by the Centre of Studies for Change in Rural Mexico (Ceccam) over the course of more than 15 years. Ver www.ceccam.org.mx
2 See GRAIN, “Earth matters – tackling the climate crisis from the ground up, Seedling, October, 2009, http://www.grain.org/article/entries/735; “Food and climate change: the forgotten link”, 28 September, 2011, http://www.grain.org/es/article/entries/4357
3 ETC Group: “Who will feed us? Questions for the food and climate crisis”, 14 December, 2009, http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/4921
4 In Mexico, milpa is the term we use for a complex system for the association of crops, in which corn, beans, squash and chile grow side by side, complementing one another. The milpa may include many more crops, such as tomatoes, chayotes, medicinal plants and even animals, which, by feeding there, serve as protection against the true predators that could threaten the milpa.