The People of Chiapas Fight for Food Sovereignty

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The people of Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas, continue to reject Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds and are backing Food Sovereignty.

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The eastern lowlands of Chiapas is one of the poorest of the 31 states of Mexico; it has one of the highest rural populations, the least developed health infrastructure and the lowest levels of income and education in the whole of the country. However the Chiapanecos are very proud of their people and their roots, which are steeped in pre-Hispanic history and out of which were borne the nationalist Zapatista Movement in the early 20th century.  Not only is Chiapas reminded of its Mayan ancestry through the impressive pyramids and the ruins of pre-classical cities that surround its jungle terrain, but also through its agriculture and cultivation of its staple food: maize.  Mexico is the historic birthplace of corn and home to thousands of varieties of the crop; but being much more than an essential in the Chiapaneco diet it remains of high significance to the lives of the people of Chiapas as well as throughout Mexico.  This then explains why they will not be giving it up without a fight.

On Saturday 25th May 2013, the International Day of Action against Monsanto and its genetically modified (GM) seed was held in over 50 different countries, including Mexico; the streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas, cultural hub of the state of Chiapas, were crowded with peaceful protestors rejecting the planting of Monsanto seeds in Mexico.  Marches were conducted in favour of Food Sovereignty where banners proudly stated ‘sin maiz no hay pais’: without maize there is no country.  For the people of Mexico the crop is nutrition and daily sustenance but also still has a pre-Hispanic, even spiritual significance as a symbol of fertility as well as part of ritual and religion.

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The biodiversity of corn has come under threat in Chiapas as well as all throughout Mexico. Worldwide leading producer of genetically modified seeds, Monsanto, is trying to take over the take over the global seed market with genetically modified (GM) seeds and has its eye firmly set on the south of Mexico as its next target.  Monsanto is an input-intensive, chemical dependent multinational corporation located in the US which dominates 27% of the international market in seeds and now 86% of the GM seed market. In 2009 Monsanto was granted an initial project to plant GM corn in test sites in Mexico and, although the corporation has not undergone thorough tests on the hygiene and safety nor the consequences of the mass planting of the patented crop, Monsanto have since moved in on the northern Mexico and are now proposing to bring genetically modified and patented seeds into Chiapas.  If the corporation is successful Mexicans will have to buy their seeds from Monsanto afresh every year: it will make seed sharing illegal and will make it much harder for farmers to maintain non-GM contaminated varieties of corn.

The Mexican government first legalised GM test sites in 2005 under Calderón through what has come to be known as the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ which granted permits for experimental plantings. After that Monsanto began requesting approval to begin commercial production all throughout the country.  From the demonstrations in Mexico on the 25th May, it is obvious that many local communities are relentlessly opposed to the move, however fears have been raised that through the extensive requests by Monsanto and with support from the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, Peña Nieto’s government will approve the commercial planting of GM corn and the peoples’ voices will not be heard.

On their website Monsanto claims to address rural hunger by raising ‘farmers…from poverty to prosperity, many more people will also prosper, through healthier diets, greater educational opportunities, and brighter futures fueled by more robust local economies.’  However, as international seed activist Vandana Shiva so rightly states, ‘Monsanto’s use of GM seeds is an attempt to establish a dictatorship over our food system and our seed system…We need to think very deeply about reclaiming our seed sovereignty and reestablishing food democracy.’  Although the people of Chiapas continue fighting for Food Sovereignty, for the right to define their own food systems and to grow, distribute and consume their own produce, it seems to be ever more clear that the demands of the people and the local economy is not enough to stop the greedy hands of the multinational corporation from taking over the biodiversity of Chiapas.

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