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One Empire Over Seed: Control Over the World’s Seed Banks

Since the onset of the Neolithic Revolution some 10.000 years ago, farmers and communities have worked to improve yield, taste, nutritional and other qualities of seeds. They have expanded and passed on knowledge about health impacts and healing properties of plants as well as about the peculiar growing habits of plants and interaction with other plants and animals, soil and water. The free exchange of seed among farmers has been the basis to maintaining biodiversity and food security.

A great seed and biodiversity piracy is underway, not just by corporations — which through mergers are becoming fewer and larger— but also by super rich billionaires whose wealth and power open doors to their every whim. Leading the way is Microsoft mogul, Bill Gates.

When the Green Revolution was brought into India and Mexico, farmers’ seeds were “rounded-up” from their fields and locked in international institutions, to be used to breed green revolution varieties engineered to respond to chemical inputs.1

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), were the first to roundup the diversity from farmers’ fields and replace it with chemical monocultures of rice, wheat, and corn. Others quickly followed.

This hijacking of farmers’ seeds is best highlighted with the shameful removal of India’s pre-eminent rice research scientist Dr. R.H. Richaria, as the head of India’s Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) in Cuttack, Orissa, which housed the largest collection of rice diversity in the world, for refusing to allow the IRRI in the Philippines to pirate the collection out of India. With his removal at the behest of the World Bank, Indian peasant intellectual property was hijacked to the IRRI in the Philippines which later became part of the newly created Consultative Group of International Agriculture Research (CGIAR).2

Farmers’ seed heritage was held in the private seed banks of CGIAR, a consortium of 15 international agricultural research centers, controlled by the World Bank, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, as well as of course the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which since 2003, has poured more than $720 million into the CGIAR centres. CGIAR gene banks presently manage 768,576 accessions of farmer’ seeds. Taken together, CGIAR gene banks represent the largest and most widely used collections of crop diversity in the world.3

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation operates a bit like the World Bank, using its financial power and prowess to take control of agriculture and influence government and institutional agricultural policies. By far the largest funder of the CGIAR, Gates has successfully accelerated the transfer of research and seeds from scientific research institutions to commodity-based corporations, centralizing and facilitating the pirating of intellectual property and seed monopolies through intellectual property laws and seed regulations.

The urgency with which this restructuring of CGIAR and centralization of control is being done is reflected in the IPES Food open letter of 21 July 2020 as follows: “The process now underway to reform the CGIAR is therefore imperative and of major public interest. The ‘One CGIAR’ process seeks to merge the CGIAR’s 15 legally independent but cooperating centres, headquartered in 15 countries, into one legal entity. The impetus has come from some of its biggest funders, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and the US and UK governments.”4

The aim of “One CGIAR”, overseen by “One CGIAR Common Board’ is to merge it to become part of “One Agriculture”, aka “Gates Ag One” – Gates’ latest move in controlling the world’s seed supply.5 Gates has indicated he will more than double the CGIAR present budget, from $850 million to $2 billion a year.

Despite the long-recognized failure of the Green Revolution in India and Mexico, in 2006 Gates launched AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The folly of imposing this failed technology in Africa is well documented in the two following articles by Nicoletta Dentico and Tim Wise.

The Seed Freedom movement has been calling for the CGIAR gene banks to return these stolen farmers varieties back to the farmers. The lessons of the Green Revolution since the 1960’s have shown us that the chemical path of monocultures has undermined Earth’s capacity to support life and food production by destroying biodiversity, soil and water67 as well as contributing to climate change.8 It has dispossessed small farmers through debt for external inputs. And it has undermined food and nutritional security.9 The experience of the last half century has made clear that Seed Sovereignty, Food Sovereignty and Knowledge Sovereignty is the only viable future of food and farming.

Besides taking control of the seeds of farmers in the CGIAR seed banks, Gates (along with the Rockefeller Foundation) is investing heavily in collecting seeds from across the world and storing them in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic archipelago – aka the Doomsday Vault – created to collect and hold a global collection of the world’s seeds. It is in association with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Crop Trust.10

The Crop Trust, based in Germany, funds and coordinates the Svalbard Seed Vault. In addition to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, its funders include the Poison Cartel adherents CropLife Dupont/ Pioneer Hi-bred, KWS SAAT AG, and Syngent AG.

The largest numbers of accessions stored in the Seed Vault are varieties of rice, wheat, and barley crops; more than 150,000 samples of wheat and rice, and close to 80,000 samples of Barley. Other well represented crops are sorghum, phaseolus bean species, maize, cowpea, soybean, kikuyu grass and chickpea.

Crops such as potatoes, peanuts, cajanus beans, oats and rye, alfalfa, the cereal hybrid Triticosecale and Brassica’s are represented by between 10,000 and 20,000 seed samples.11

CROP TRUST DONORS

DONORS RECEIVED US$
Australia 20,165,706
Bundesverband Deutscher Planzenzuechter 25,735
CropLife International 43,726
Czech Republic 40,000
Dupont/ Pioneer  Hi-bred 2,000,000
Egypt 25,000
Ethiopia 25,000
Gates Foundation/UN Foundation 8,003,118
Germany 50,726,348
India 456,391
International Seed Federation 80,785
Ireland 4,144,250
KWS SAAT AG 35,589
Norway 31,491,161
Netherlands 489,000
New Zealand 1,453,800
Republic of Korea 442,556
Slovak Republic 20,000
Spain 2,629,650
Sweden 11,886,620
Switzerland 10,992,704
Syngenta AG 1,000,000
United Kingdom 19,468,582
United States – before Farm Bill 42,825,073
United States – US Farm Bill* 11,585,120
Sub Total 220,055,915
Concessional Loan ** 59,055,611
Sub Total 59,055,611
Grand Total 279,105,526

Source: ‘Our Donors’. Crop Trust, https://www.croptrust.org/about-us/donors/.

It should come as no surprise that Gates is also funding Diversity Seek (DivSeek), a global project launched in 2015 to map the genetic data of the peasant diversity of seeds held in gene banks to then take patents on these seeds through genomic mapping.12 Seven million crop accessions are in public seed banks.

Biopiracy is carried out through the convergence of information technology and biotechnology where patents are taken on seeds through “mapping” their genomes and genome sequences.

While living seed needs to evolve “in situ”, patents on seed genomes can be taken from seed “ex situ. DivSeek is designed to “mine” and extract the data in the seed to “censor” out the commons. In effect it robs the peasants of their seeds and knowledge, it robs the seed of its integrity and diversity, it erases evolutionary history and the seed’s link to the soil, reducing it to a simple “code”. This ‘genetic colonialism’ is an enclosure of the genetic commons.13

The participating institutions in DivSeek are the CGIAR nodes and ‘public’ universities like Cornell and Iowa State, which are being increasingly privatized by the biotechnology industry as well as the Gates Foundation. BMGF funds Cornell’s Alliance for Science, the corporate worlds’ pseudo-science propaganda outlet while Iowa State is the institution promoting the unethical human feeding trials of GMO bananas. Other Gates-funded DivSeek partners are the African Agricultural Technology Foundation and Africa-Brazil Agricultural Innovation Marketplace developed by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa).14

Through a new ‘front’ corporation, Editas Medicine,15 BMGF is investing in a one-year-old experimental genetic engineering tool for gene editing, CRISPR-Cas9. Though the technology itself is immature and inaccurate, it has become a gold rush for new patents. The language of “gene editing” and “educated guesses” is creeping into scientific discourse.

Piracy of common genomic data of millions of plants bred by peasants is termed “big data”. Big data however is not knowledge, it is not even information. It is ‘privateered’ data, pirated and privatised.

Seeds are not just germplasm. They are living, self-organizing entities, subjects of evolution, history, culture, and relationships.

In the 1980s, Monsanto led the push for GMOs and patents on seed and life. Today the flag bearer is Bill Gates. In a nutshell: one billionaire given free access to use his wealth to bypass all international treaties and multilateral governance structures to help global corporations highjack the biodiversity and wealth of peasants by financing unscientific and undemocratic processes such as DivSeek, and to unleash untested technologies such as the CRISPR technology on humanity.

Over the last two decades, thousands of concerned citizens and organizations have taken action and written laws to protect the biodiversity of the planet and the rights of farmers to seed, and the rights of consumers to safety, among them, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to the CBD; and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources Treaty for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

This article is extracted from Navdanya International Global Citizens’ Report “Gates to a Global Empire“, which was presented on October 14th, 2020, through an online event with the authors. The report gathers evidence and throws light on the dangers of philanthrocapitalism, which is boosting the corporate takeover of our seed, agriculture, food, knowledge and global health systems, manipulating information and eroding our democracies. Contributors to the Seed and Biopiracy sections  outline how Bill Gates and his foundation routinely undermine international treaties created to protect biodiversity, farmers rights, and the sovereignty of countries and communities of their seed and biodiversity wealth.


1 Shiva, V. (1991). The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics. Other India Press. https://books.google.it/books?id=jPNRPgAACAAJ

2 Alvares, Claude. “The Great Gene Robbery.” Vijayvaani.Com, January 13, 2012. https://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=2137

3 “CGIAR Genebank Platform.” CGIAR. https://www.cgiar.org/the-genebank-platform/

4 IPES food. “OPEN LETTER | ‘One CGIAR’ with Two Tiers of Influence?”, July 21, 2020. http://www.ipes-food.org/pages/OneGGIAR

5 Shiva, V., Anilkumar, P., & Ahluwalia, U. (2020). Ag one: Recolonisation of agriculture. Navdanya/RFSTE. https://navdanyainternational.org/publications/ag-one-recolonisation-of-agriculture/

6 IPBES. “UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating.’” UN | Sustainable Development, May 6, 2019. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report

7 FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. “The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture 2019,” 2019. http://www.fao.org/state-of-biodiversity-for-food-agriculture/en

8 “Land Is a Critical Resource, IPCC Report Says”. IPCC, August 8, 2019. https://www.ipcc.ch/2019/08/08/land-is-a-critical-resource_srccl/

9 El Hage Scialabba, Nadia. “Feeding the Word: Delusion, False Promises and Attacks of Industrial Agriculture.” Navdanya International, December 7, 2019. https://navdanyainternational.org/publications/feeding-the-word-delusion-false-promises-and-attacks-of-industrial-agriculture/

10 “India Deposit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.” Crop Trust, May 15, 2014. https://www.croptrust.org/blog/india-deposit-svalbard-global-seed-vault/

11 Mooney, Chris. “Why the World Is Storing so Many Seeds in a ‘Doomsday’ Vault.” Washington Post, April 15, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/04/15/why-the-world-is-spending-half-a-billion-dollars-to-protect-humble-seeds/

12 “Two contributions to an integrated, global, accession-level information system for ex situ conservation” | Input Paper to the ITPGRFA Consultation on the Global Information System on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (COGIS-PGRFA) Provided by: The Global Crop Diversity Trust. January 2015. IT/COGIS-1/15/Inf.4.a5. http://www.fao.org/3/a-be678e.pdf

13 “‘DivSeek Initiative’ Loses Support of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.” International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), February 28, 2017. https://www.foodsovereignty.org/divseek-initiative-loses-support-international-treaty-plant-genetic-resources-food-agriculture/

14 Shiva, V., & Shiva, K. (2020). Oneness Vs. The 1 Percent: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom. CHELSEA GREEN PUB. https://books.google.it/books?id=4TmTzQEACAAJ

15 Herper, Matthew. “Bill Gates And 13 Other Investors Pour $120 Million Into Revolutionary Gene-Editing Startup.” Forbes, August 10, 2015. Accessed September 8, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2015/08/10/bill-gates-and-13-other-investors-pour-120-million-into-revolutionary-gene-editing-startup/

How Colombia’s Small Farmers Contribute to Resilience and Food Sovereignty in Post-Conflict and COVID-19 Pandemic Times

By Ana Prada

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – In his book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed“, Jared Diamond analyzes why certain societies prevail and others collapse, and explains how the decline of some, such as the Mayan and the Easter Island civilizations, resulted from the  mismanagement of nature. 

Indeed, the way societies manage their natural resources largely defines their future, according to Diamond.  The abundance of resources and successful adaptation to climate change, together with the correct decision-making by a society’s leaders, are some of the factors that determine a society’s ability to survive over time.

Conversely, the abuse of environmental resources and exploitative agricultural production systems can lead a society to collapse.

Socio-environmental conflicts are not foreign to the Colombian reality. The unequal distribution of land and territory has given rise to Colombian armed conflict. The socio-environmental confrontations in Colombia date back to the time of the Spanish conquest.  However, the trigger for the armed conflict occurred in 1948, with the assassination of political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. 

In 1948, the country was ruled by conservatives and landowners, and was totally polarized between extreme poverty and wealth. Thus, one of the longest-running armed conflicts in recent world history was born. It was not until 2016 that the Peace Agreements were signed between the National Government and the extinct guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Initially, the guerrillas were driven by political ideals. But later, toward the end of the 1970s, with the arrival and subsequent consolidation of drug trafficking, the conflict became a business matter. The search for concentration of land by the various sides left the Colombian small farmers in the middle, and on the losing end. 

Yet despite being politically marginalized, culturally undervalued and economically excluded, and despite experiencing greater difficulty accessing land than any other social group in the country, small farmers, who represent 30 percent of the country’s total population, produce 70 percent of the food consumed in the country. 

In addition, this disadvantaged but industrious population reminds those of us who live in cities of the value of having roots in our land and territory, and cherishing our identity.

Small-scale agriculture has taught Colombians about resilience and innovation. On less than one hectare, small farmers manage to feed themselves, create surpluses to sell and learn about the diverse Colombian soils and ecosystems through trial and error.  And despite being displaced because of the armed conflict, it has been small farmers who have opened the agricultural border in the country, and started their lives from scratch, in the country with the greatest internal displacement in the world—worse even than Syria.

In the value chains of the drug trafficking industry, small farmers have become the first link. Indeed, it is the most vulnerable link in a chain characterized by the predominance of activities that leave Colombia with nothing but social burdens: land concentration, idle lands ownership, diminished productivity and at-risk national food sovereignty and autonomy.

In the Peace Agreements, small farmers are recognized as victims of the armed conflict. A political framework to reduce the gaps between the countryside and the city was designed, guaranteeing the small farmers the right to political and economic participation and decision-making regarding the future of their territories. 

In points 1 and 4 of the Peace Agreements, Comprehensive Rural Reform and Comprehensive Solution to the Drug Problem respectively, multiple political and legal instruments were created. These include the land fund for Comprehensive Rural Reform, the multipurpose cadaster; Development Plans with a Territorial Approach; and Comprehensive Nations Plans for Substitution, among others. 

Although the implementation of these political and legal instruments has been slow, they have become novel tools to rethink small farmers as a strategic actor in the territorial planning to restore peace, the conservation of the territories and the guarantee of security, sovereignty and food autonomy.

In 2013, there was a national agrarian strike in Colombia, supported by the main farmers’ organizations, as well as workers from other areas, which over time managed to get the recognition of the citizens. Since then, Colombians who live in cities have shown growing empathy towards the small farmers’ movement, appreciating the producers of the food they have on their plates daily, as well as the need to rethink and re-territorialize cities to stop the growing trend of food deserts, which put at risk the right to food, especially for the most vulnerable. These transformations have become more necessary than ever in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

This is a country whose rulers have lacked the gallantry to guarantee its citizens the right to food, and to preserve the country’s rich biocultural diversity. They have succumbed to globalization and progress in the short term, at the expense of resources that give us life. 

In these days of covid-19, we ​​have witnessed two trends that are two sides of the same coin.

On the one hand, we see citizens who increasingly demand healthy, local and sustainable food, and who are more willing to consume food from small farmers, family and community agriculture. 

On the other hand, small farmers continue to face the traditional challenges of the agricultural Colombia: the appalling road and telecommunications infrastructure, the persistence of the armed conflict, the murder of social leaders, insufficient healthcare system that increases the risk of infection and death due to the epidemic, price speculation and misinformation, among many other challenges.

Despite these challenges, there are reasons to be hopeful. For instance, the creation and strengthening of collaborative networks between the territories, the building of close relationships between producers and consumers, the possibility of resuming peace dialogues between the National Government and the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate food distribution and the consolidation of small farmers and/or agro-ecological markets as viable and secure supply alternatives, even in times of epidemic.

The reader may be wondering, how can I put my grain of sand? It is very simple, buy local! Buy from small farmers, family and community agriculture! Go back to the farmers markets, go to meet the producer so you give him your vote of confidence to stay in the territory feeding hope to the country.

In Colombia, The National Network of Family Farming (RENAF) leads the national campaign “Yo llevo el campo Colombiano (I carry the Colombian countryside) that seeks to make visible the farmers markets that exist throughout the country.

By eating local and seasonal food lime the uchuva or the curuba, and supporting the small farmers, Colombians can put their grain of sand in the construction of peace in Colombia.

About 3Colibrís

We are an organization that contributes to the strengthening of marketing and logistics of products from small farmers, family and community and/or agroecological agriculture in Latin America. We work for the construction of sustainable farming that’s connected to the cities in Colombia and Latin America. We seek out and involve producers of healthy food and agro-ecological products so consumers have easier access to these foods. We visit and guide food producers to improve their marketing channels and ensure that we work with ethical and responsible organizations.

Ana Prada is the founder of 3Colibrís and a business administrator and sociologist from the Javeriana University of Bogotá, apprentice for the International Training in Dialogue and Mediation at the University of Uppsala and the International Course on Food Systems at the University of Wageningen. She has worked for Colombian Caritas in the implementation of “Article One” of the Peace Agreements, and on projects for UNDP, UNFAO, EU and the Suyusama Foundation. 

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No cultivamos porque está de moda: Cultivamos como resistencia, para la curación y la soberanía

Durante más de 150 años, desde las zonas rurales del sur hasta las ciudades del norte, las personas Negras han utilizado la agricultura para construir comunidades autodeterminadas y resistir las estructuras opresivas que las destruyen.

Hoy en día, la agricultura sigue desempeñando un papel importante en la vida de las personas Negras, por lo que vemos proyectos y programas de agricultura urbana en Filadelfia, Detroit y Washington D.C. y otras ciudades de los Estados Unidos. En todas estas ciudades, hay organizaciones lideradas por personas Negras que cultivan soberanía alimentaria y de la tierra ayudando a individuos y comunidades a recuperar su agencia y posesión sobre sus sistemas alimentarios.

Mi camino dedicado a la lucha de defensa y recuperación del territorio para la sobrebania alimentaria comenzó mucho antes de que yo naciera. Mis antepasados eran africanos esclavizados, obligados a cultivar en condiciones abominables en Carolina del Sur, Texas y Georgia. En 2012, comencé mi primer trabajo profesional trabajando en una organización sin fines de lucro dedicada a la justicia alimentaria e educación nutricional en Filadelfia.

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We don’t farm because it’s trendy; we farm as resistance, for healing and sovereignty

For more than 150 years, from the rural South to northern cities, Black people have used farming to build self-determined communities and resist oppressive structures that tear them down.

Today, agriculture still serves an important role in the lives of Black people, which is why we see urban agriculture projects and programs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington D.C. and other cities across the United States. In all of these cities, there are Black-led organizations cultivating food and land sovereignty by helping individuals and communities regain agency and ownership over their food system.

My journey in food and land work began long before I was born. My ancestors were enslaved Africans forced to farm under abhorrent conditions in South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. In 2012, I started my first professional job working at a food justice and nutrition education non-profit in Philadelphia. I worked with youth from across West Philly to explore connections between food, agriculture, culture, sustainability, and leadership.

KEEP READING ON ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NEWS

The Moment for Food Sovereignty is Now

Last weekend, Kristin Davey received an unexpected shock upon entering her local nursery in Sebastopol, California, north of San Francisco. “The shelves were picked over. The vegetable starts were almost gone. And the seed racks were completely bare,” she said, “I’ve been going to nurseries for 15 years and I have never seen them so empty.”

Davey went home empty-handed that day, and she is far from alone. Just as panic buying is emptying grocery shelves around the country, “panic planting” has overrun nurseries and seed companies alike as people flock to stock up on seeds and seedlings to grow food at home. Nurseries, which are considered essential businesses in some states, are scrambling to keep up with demand, and some have begun to offer curbside pickup and delivery to respect social distancing guidelines.

Seed companies are also inundated. Late last month, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds closed their website to catch up on a record number of orders, while Johnny’s Seed Company co-CEO Gretchen Kruysman reported that the company has seen a 300 percent increase in orders since early March.

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How Fake Food Accelerates the Collapse of the Planet and Our Health

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it is grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food”. Good and real food are the basis of health. Bad, industrial, fake food is the basis of disease. Hippocrates said “Let food be the medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha”: the medicine that cures all disease. Industrial food systems have reduced food to a commodity, to “stuff” that can then be constituted in the lab. In the process both the planet’s health and our health has been nearly destroyed.

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Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

The ontology and ecology of food

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it was grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food. “

Good Food and Real Food are the basis of health .

Bad food, industrial food, fake food is the basis of disease.

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha” the medicine that cures all disease.

KEEP READING ON INDEPENDENT SCIENCE NEWS

Elige FAO a México para impulsar agroecología y erradicar el hambre

El Gobierno de México debe contemplar en los programas que forman parte de su Plan Nacional de Desarrollo, el impulsar un modelo de producción agroecológico sustentable, que permita alcanzar los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible, planteados en la agenda 2030 de la ONU para erradicar la pobreza y hambre cero, y mejorar la calidad de vida de las familias campesinas.

Crispin Moreira, representante de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y Agricultura en México (FAO), informó que para lograrlo se requiere de un marco legal, un mayor presupuesto, control social, intrumentos operativos y políticas públicas que favorezcan el fortalecimiento de este modelo agroecológico.

Anunció que México junto con Senegal y la Indía, fueron elegidos durante el II Simposium que realizó la FAO en Roma,  para impulsar una agenda más concreta, sobre producción agroecológica que permitan alcanzar los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible de la ONU, en la erradicación de la extrema pobreza y hambre cero.

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Cooperative Agroforestry Empowers Indigenous Women in Honduras

Author: Monica Pelliccia | Published: April 16, 2018

GUALCINCE, Honduras — The Lenca call it a sacrificial stone, where their indigenous  ancestors went to make offerings to deities. A triangle of rock with different circles inscribed on its surface, it has remained intact despite the passage of time.

The woods that surround the village of Gualcince, almost at the border with El Salvador, bear marks of their past, too. It was here on Congolón Mountain that Indio Lempira, the famed Lenca leader of Honduran indigenous resistance, died. Lenca culture flourished here in the pre-Columbian epoch, and people still find ancient artifacts.

Despite the great depth of history, there are new traditions starting here as well. Amanda Abrego, a 36-year-old mother of four who lives near the sacred stone, is a board member of the Cosagual Lenca cooperative of women coffee growers. Like 21 other female cafetaleras, she is now cropping organic coffee under the shadow of timber- and fruit-yielding trees, following the traditional agroforestry system that the Lenca indigenous group — to which the famous environmental activist Berta Cáceres belonged before she was assassinated two years ago — developed before the arrival of Spanish conquerors, and they are selling it in a new way. In 2014, the women launched an all-female growers’ cooperative as a part of the Cosagual coffee growers’ organization.

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Josefa Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Published: March 28, 2018

Though life in Chunox may seem idyllic to some (birds chirping in the morning, exuberant kids playing marbles on the quiet dirt roads, no one walking around with their eyes stuck to their cell phones), it’s getting harder and harder to make a living here. The conventional sugarcane industry, where many have made their living, is crumbling. Due to overfishing, the daily catch is no longer as lucrative as it once was. No doubt about it, life in Chunox is tough.

For Josefa, adversity is nothing new. At age five, Josefa’s father died, leaving her mother to raise their six children alone. When her mother fell ill, Josefa was forced to leave school to take care of her. After third grade, she never went back. She speaks Mayan, Spanish, and some English, but she never learned to read or write. Though Josefa was twice married to capable, loving men, she’s also twice widowed, both of her husbands having succumbed to sickness. Now she has eight grown children, many of whom have children of their own. While Josefa has been able to support her family, it hasn’t come easily.

While Josefa’s mind may be at peace when a ranchera comes drifting through in the afternoon breeze or when she’s meditatively making corn tortillas so that all eleven members of her household have something to eat, these moments are fleeting. Before long, concerns about how to sustain herself and her family creep back in. Josefa seeks permanent solutions to food insecurity and poverty, not just temporary answers.

Despite these hardships, Josefa’s home has remained an atmospheric place full of joy and mirth. Hugs and laughter are available in mass quantities. Good quality food, however, is not always as abundant.

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