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By Emanuel Gómez
The milpera practice continues to be the most important action of thousands of low-income families who, by selecting corn seeds according to their size, color, race or hardness, reaffirm their roots in the land and give validity to the knowledge inherited by parents and grandparents, Planting the Mesoamerican triad in the same field, corn-beans-squash, is done against the current of agrochemicals, fertilizers and hybrid seeds of the green revolution, a neoliberal technological paradigm that agricultural research centers and rural development institutions repeat which dogma of faith for 40 years.
The milpa is the material, cultural and agro-ecological base that allows peasant social reproduction, food sovereignty and the construction of local alternatives to the climate crisis. This is how the political approach of corn producers for self-consumption in Chiapas and many other regions of Mesoamerica is summarized.
Sowing the Mesoamerican triad in the same field, corn-beans-squash, is done against the current of the agrochemicals, fertilizers and hybrid seeds of the green revolution, a neoliberal technological paradigm that agricultural research centers and rural development institutions repeat which dogma of faith for 40 years.
The milpera practice continues to be the most important action of thousands of low-income families who, by selecting corn seeds according to their size, color, race or hardness, reaffirm their roots in the land and give validity to the knowledge inherited by parents and grandparents.
Milpa production is diverse and work formulas are not applied; For example, in the same community such as Emiliano Zapata, Yajalón, on the limits of Los Altos with the Tzeltal-Chol Forest, there are two milpa systems: in the upper part corn is planted with beans and in the lower part only beans. This is due to the types of soils, so we can affirm that the cornfield is a series of agroecosystems created by humans after centuries of adaptation.
For the traditional milperos, the most important legacy is native, creole or autochthonous seeds, even more valuable than the land, although we speak of an intangible and non-commercial value. This is the case of the descendants of the Mam peoples, who left Guatemala 150 years ago to enter Mexico; they left their lands, but not their seeds. A handful of them in the bag was enough to reproduce varieties that the germplasm bank of the National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research (INIFAP) in Tuxtla Gutiérrez does not have registered, such as jarocho corn.
The debate is open: Néstor Espinosa, from INIFAP, affirms that studies have been presented at the international level that compare the resistance and productivity of native seeds with the hybrid or improved ones patented by laboratories. In times of climatic stability, as it was 40 years ago, when the green revolution began, hybrid seeds were more productive than creole ones, but today, with the change in the rain, drought and hurricane-force winds typical of the climate crisis, the Creoles have a greater resistance capacity because they have taken centuries and even millennia of micro-regional climate adaptation.
An additional factor makes the production of native seeds more viable than hybrid or transgenic ones: financial. The technological packages of the green revolution –chemical fertilizers, herbicides, improved seeds and now even transgenic ones–, accompanied by credits to the producer to promote corn as a monoculture, with the use of tractors, seed machines and irrigation infrastructure and hiring of day laborers, no are viable in Mexico and are the origin of the loss of food sovereignty and the beginning of technological dependence: producers who were fooled by this system, such as those of La Fraylesca, Soconusco and Valle del Grijalva, the regions of “High productivity” in Chiapas, they carry a debt with the rural development bank that is unpayable, and they cannot break dependency so easily, since the soils have become addicted to fertilizers.
Soils with a high load of fertilizers become acidic, and the insects that manage to survive get out of control, becoming pests, such as the Gallina Ciega worm. The rivers carry residues of agrochemicals and the fresh waters become acidic, to the extent that on the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific there are areas without marine life or silted lagoon systems, contaminated, which increases the risk of floods.
Nitrogen acids, sulfur and other derivatives of agrochemicals, such as nitrogen protoxide (N2O) and methane, are gases that cause climate change, as dangerous as CO2, according to the Mexican government's climate action plan. And yet, instead of limiting oil exploitation, supporting the transition to sustainable agriculture and recognizing and investing in the agroecological techniques of self-consumption producers, the production of agrofuels is promoted, which threatens to expand the agricultural frontier against the forests and the forests that survived the colonization of the humid tropics, deforestation, extensive cattle ranching and urbanization of the previous 30 years.
In the design of climate policies that are supposed to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, officials ignore the risks of agrofuels and promote them, and it is offered that 125 thousand hectares of corn will stop being planted to enter a process of productive reconversion to fruit trees. Without corn, what will the population eat? Apples?
A technique that also allows productive reconversion but without abandoning the milpa is the one suggested by researchers from the Postgraduate College and INIFAP: the milpa interspersed with fruit trees (MIAF). If it were invested in training and experimentation processes in the 2,500 municipalities of the country, the effectiveness of the MIAF would be demonstrated in much more than the 125,000 hectares that the government proposes for reconversion, but it would be based on the milpa, and not against the population, its economy and culture.
Long-term goals are required, such as the environmental restoration of communities. Peasant hillside management practices with artisanal irrigation systems, which we call sustainable milpa, are an excellent start. The diversity of crops, the milpa, which is based on corn-beans, and which can include dozens of medicinal plants, vegetables, fruit and timber trees and even ornamental flowers, is the basis for recovering food sovereignty per family.
For monoculture corn producers, the corn growers, to break their financial and technological dependence, they would have to initiate a transition to organic agriculture, based on the milpa system and gradually reduce chemical fertilizers while incorporating more and more organic fertilizers. and bacteria that energize the soil and detoxify it. It is easier to initiate the transition to sustainable agriculture with the producers of self-consumption, the milperos, because their poverty did not allow them to acquire the inputs of the green revolution.
A central demand of the milperos is that the work of selecting native seeds be recognized. In Chiapas, two thousand producers from 50 indigenous communities of the Red Maíz Criollo have managed to transform subsidies such as those of the Maíz Solidario program into a process of transition to sustainable agriculture based on the reproduction of native seeds. On the other hand, the National Commission for Protected Natural Areas (CONANP), instituted the Criollo Corn Program in 2009, with many limitations of geographic coverage, since it is limited to protected areas. We have the challenge of changing the original approach to environmentalism for a new one, which allows us to move from the conservation of biodiversity to its reproduction, based on the agrobiodiversity not only of the milpa, but also of the pasture and other agroecosystems.
Emanuel Gomez "El Pino", Chiapas, Mexico. Social researcher, activist, humanist.