Maize and life in the sowing, indigenous testimonies of maize and autonomy in Mexico

Maize and life in the sowing, indigenous testimonies of maize and autonomy in Mexico

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By Biodiversity

To defend corn is to defend life and the peasant-indigenous worldview. Meanwhile, despite violence and criminalization, despite all the attacks on indigenous peoples and peasants, hope and corn are still alive.

One of the oldest traits of native peoples is that our life is sowing. Being peasants is not just another activity. All our millennial vision and our way of relating to the world comes from there. Being sowers, always producing our own food, taking care of the family and the community, makes us see work, social relationships, space and time, in a particular way. We peasants value the community and collectively we relate to the land. The conversation with which the corn was raised is also collective. To a large extent, those who sow to eat do not need to work for money for those who exploit their work. Our meticulous and detailed relationship with planting creates life on a daily basis and makes us pay attention to many signs. In each one of our cultivation tasks, tiny cycles are fulfilled that give order, meaning, to the passage of other larger cycles such as the sun during the year, in a true fabric of seasons, climates, humidity. We peasants see details that people in the cities do not see. Being sowers, farmers, is a complete, collective, community spirituality that immediately confronts us with the systems that want to impose so many ways of relating to us. This makes us aware of being different, of resisting the impositions, it makes us see clearly the attacks by governments and companies. Thinking that corn is just a "cultural trait" that must be "understood", "tolerated", in a time of "multiculturalism"; To propose that the culture or rural way is an aspect of the past to which a niche must be saved (if it could be in a museum, better) is to not understand that our life without corn, without sowing, is not life. Being sowers is not folklore, it is our entire existence.

Mutual nurturing

Corn is not a thing, nor just a commodity or a crop: corn is a fabric of relationships. It originated about 10,000 years ago from mutual nurturing, from the conversation between the original peoples of Mesoamerica and some pastures that, with cultivation, were made in a human way. Little by little we learned that corn is a community with beans, squash, chili and other plants, some medicinal. The peoples of Mexico call this coexistence a cornfield and in other places they call it a farm. This mutual breeding between peasants (especially women) and corn made it depend on people to fulfill its life cycle and it no longer grows wild. It is a mutual nurture that many different peoples have exercised, that is why corn is so varied and peoples flourished so much in history: their cultural diversity and that of corn feed each other.

Its versatility

Corn has its wild relatives, inedible grasses that are still found in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and its permanence gives hope that the corn is still alive. Today's corn is very versatile: it yields a lot, is very nutritious and adapts to various environments: it is so noble that it has spread throughout Mesoamerica and much of South and North America. When corn became known in the Old World, everyone was shocked by how easy it is to prepare, how much it yields from just a few seeds, how little is wasted because it has “its own wrapper”, how long it lasts well. stored, the amount of nutrients it provides. It can be grown in many climates and humidities, from the semi desert to the jungles, in the temperate highlands and the tropical lowlands. Maturing takes four to thirteen months. It grows on plains, in ravines, on fertile or stony ground.

They say that there are more than 40 races of corn in Mexico, and more than 250 in all of America. There are more than 16 thousand varieties. Among the hundreds of traditional corn used every day by the peasants and indigenous people of Mexico there are white, red, yellow, blue, black, pinto, with small ears or that measure more than thirty centimeters, with toothy or finite grains, with thick cane or thin, harder or softer.

The leaves and roots are used as medicine (the hair of young corn is used as a diuretic and to dissolve kidney stones; combined with other plants it cures liver and biliary diseases; the pistils of the flower are used as tranquilizers). Corn drinks are used as a substitute for children who cannot tolerate milk, the dough is used to cover wounds; the roasted ears to ripen abscesses.

Today many peoples of European, African and Asian countries depend on it to survive. It is one of the four cereals that provide more than 50 percent of all humanity's nutrition. In 18 countries (12 in Latin America and 6 in Africa), it is the main food. Traditional varieties, especially from Mexico, are the most important reserve for growing corn in the world.

Caring for the world

The peasant way in the world is still thriving and today a large part of the world's population is peasant and it is we, precisely those vilified caretakers of the world, who feed the rest of humanity.

If the indigenous communities that have cared for maize were to succumb to listening to their millennial voice, the future of humanity would be threatened.

There are collectives that we do not ask anyone for permission to be, just because we have a crop from which we feed as a result of community work, without depending on the outside almost at all. This allows us to take care of our community, our territory, the forest, the water, the material and spiritual living beings, the biodiversity and our traditional and contemporary knowledge that are a whole way of assuming life. The vital impulse that exists between the milpa (which is also a community) and the human community has an inexhaustible political and social heart, therefore, after 10 thousand years in which our seeds are still alive, today we plant corn with our own seeds. it is a political issue.

The war against the peasants.

Stripped of vast tracts of our ancestral territory, indigenous peoples continue to plant corn on the slopes and on the terraces, sometimes under very difficult conditions. Corn has withstood everything.

Large companies and governments decided that those of us who sow native corn — with so much knowledge that gives it life — should leave the field because we only produced for the community without entering the market. They want the people we plant to go to the city to the factories or large agricultural companies to work semi-enslaved, and thus be able to keep our territory and all the wealth that is there.

Since the 1950s, governments and companies, accomplices, hooked the peasants to buy seeds called hybrids, which at first yielded more but later only with a lot of fertilizers and industrial pesticides only very little. Soils eroded and became dependent on these drugs, which many buy year after year to make the land yield.

Today, the peasants who have the least chance of surviving are those who changed their seeds for hybrids and started to pay year after year for packages of these pesticides, wearing down their soils. It became very difficult to live off corn and people emptied many communities and lost their oldest being: being sowers. With the technologies of the Green Revolution, the enormous wisdom that sustains native maize was disregarded, closely matched forms of cultivation and consumption were imposed, many ways that communities had to maintain, improve and share seeds were destroyed.

The privatization of the land reopened land speculation, invasions and expropriations, and gave way to mega-projects that today threaten any rural community whose livelihood is agriculture. Thus the growing social marginalization in the countryside was exacerbated. It caused the expulsion of labor to the cities or the fields of day laborers, the emptying of the territories, also promoted by the official school, which instills in children and young people that studying serves to receive a salary, stop being peasants and leave. These ideas ruin the relationship with the land and the pride of producing one's own food.

GMO contamination is the most alarming sign because it is intentional. GMOs disfigure corn, deplete the variety that has been cared for for centuries, its richness and meaning. They promote total dependence on industries, they deprive agriculture of all its vital meaning. But many of us keep our old job and are in resistance. Perhaps the key is the detailed care that peasants and peasants put into the matter, through a web of knowledge that today seems mysterious.

1. Only those who are directly involved in the sowing can do something. The solution to the problem of contamination of transgenic corn can only be solved in the long term, and it is the peasant and indigenous peoples who can achieve it, as a community. We must promote a natural prevention and cure, typical of the millenary relationship between corn and humans, and in cases of deformed corn or seeds that seem strange to the communities, a laboratory diagnosis can be made.

Collectively rethink that culture is a political, economic, social and ecological force, and is sustained by our being peasants, sowing our own together with the community, whose heart is the assembly.

2. Regain confidence in the seed we sow. Detect harmful corns with the wisdom of the old, abandon hybrids (and any other foreign seeds) returning to the trusted channels of exchange and seed care. As it is a critical moment, it is not enough to do what has always been done. We must reflect on it and sharpen our attention on our corn, physically, spiritually, on what happens in its environment, to identify transgenics and isolate them (pointing the spike of an unreliable plant is one of the many precautions). We have to know what seed we are sowing, to purify our seed each cycle, thus we will discard the contaminated corn.

3. The challenge is to remember. Understand what the old people did to preserve life. Encourage the defense, recognition and exchange of our traditional cultivation techniques (agronomic, ecological, medicinal and others) including new knowledge of "organic" cultivation, agroecology, permaculture and other reliable techniques. Bringing together traditional techniques and alternative farming methods gives us a powerful tool if we also reinforce diversity in the fields and backyard cultivation.

4. To defend corn you have to keep growing it. The biggest threat to native corn is that it is hardly grown anymore. It is necessary to diversify the varieties, sow all the possible ones in each cycle, as this guarantees against variations in climate, heat and humidity. It is important to sow early and late corn. If we diversify varieties, we must also diversify plantings and manage pollen ages, thereby reducing the possibility of unreliable seeds entering our fields.

5. It is central to maintain our identity as peoples. The defense of corn goes through recovering and strengthening our sacred ceremonies, customs, traditions and rituals of care and permission as always. Today there is all that wealth because each town knew how to maintain its tradition, because there was respect for the history and the will of each community and family, a respect for the sacred. If we want to keep all this wealth we have to respect what has been ours and sacred throughout history.

6. You have to keep the seed and the soil. Someone who loses the seed is much more likely to have to migrate than someone who still has it. Keeping the seed means having good seed for oneself, for the community, for the land to which one has access. A seed that responds to the needs and tastes of each town. If tastes are standardized or needs are tried to match, the quality of the seeds is lost: their diversity.

Today there is an attack on biodiversity. The people that do not have diversity become dependent. Laws are being changed to force peasants and indigenous people to become dependent. To conserve diversity we have to ask ourselves how to conserve life, what the law allows and what we need, with or without the permission of the law. We must deny the laws that criminalize our savings and our ancient exchange of seeds of trust.

7. Recover collective knowledge. Corn can never be left to one group, no matter how chosen or committed. It is impossible that there is a person, company or institute of the State that is capable of creating seeds that are good for everyone.

The diversity and quality of the seed comes from the fact that there are thousands and thousands of farmers producing it. We not only exchange seeds but we exchange knowledge. Seeds can be different because we all know different things. For there to be diverse seeds, there must be diverse knowledge. But we know in bits and pieces, and only among many a great knowledge is made. The wealth of varieties never ends. Each person, family or community that a variety passes through adds or changes something. Never forget that we all know. When we accept that someone treats us as ignorant, that we do not know, that we have no ideas, we are accepting that knowledge about seeds is lost.

8. Recover the soils. Not just at the plot level, but in micro-regions or broader regions. We have to abandon agrochemicals and return to many of the ancient knowledge to fertilize, and to the systems that controlled pests without pesticides or herbicides.

For the corn peoples in Mexico, the Green Revolution was when the crops and the land became addicted to a drug that is increasingly needed more and more and serves less and less. We are not only facing transgenic contamination, but also chemical contamination, super weeds and the resistance of pests that have broken the balance within the cornfields. The land is intoxicated, but also the water and the fish have been lost and poisoned. In the milpa, you also have to leave food for the animals that can become a plague. They also eat and want to survive, a community-milpa also includes what is not eaten or apparently hinders or is not useful in principle. It is very important to live with the diversity of the animals.

Soil erosion must also be stopped. Harvest the water and strengthen the land to avoid subsidence and landslides. We cannot think only of the plot, it has to be community, regional. Territorial. Feeding the land, planting tree curtains, making stone blocks on the slopes of the hills to gather the earth that comes down with the rains, we can only do it as a community.

9. Sovereign crops. Instead of talking about self-consumption, let's talk about sovereign crops. It is essential to try to get out, as much as possible, of the money economy. Producing to sell and buying to eat make us lose the food and labor sovereignty of the corn peoples. A people that buys seed and that buys food is a people that cannot command itself.

We have to be proud of planting corn for the family and the community to eat, strengthening the knowledge of the elderly and the new integral techniques that match and complement those knowledge.

As there are neither subsidies nor promotion nor guarantee prices that underpin the peasant economy, it is vital to combine autonomous subsidies and own (regional) guarantee prices, perhaps by calling on migrants and their organizations. Dare to stop spending on industrialized products that are not essential. Think about how to return to smaller markets, to ways of bartering, to local exchanges, so that we can find a manageable way of life, with respect for the whole. That is why it is important that everything that the communities produce is consumed, so that the community understands that we can produce our own livelihood.

10. GMO contamination is intentional. By the way. And the government claims that since it has already been contaminated, it is time to allow the planting of transgenics. Or it can propose the extermination of "contaminated" native varieties, in a discourse of eradicating the contamination of corn. But do not trust the government. We cannot allow outsiders to the community (laboratories, armed forces, companies, government programs) to reach our communities saying that they are going to help us.

11. Prevent the entry of seeds of which we do not know their history. Close our regional and national borders to seeds from outside, be they hybrid or forage from industries, or from government stores. Let's stop buying them and let's look for the exchange and our own commercialization, where possible. Let us promote and carry out a sabotage of food aid packages of which we do not know their origin or the intentions of those who want to grant them to us. Let us demand that agricultural imports be suspended.

12. Let us reject the unjust biosafety, genetic access and industrial property laws, and demand that the moratorium on the planting of transgenic corn be maintained, establishing alliances to strengthen it. Let us also reject land certification and individualization programs. They are a strategy to exterminate corn and its peoples. That is why we must defend our territory and the community, collective, unattachable, inalienable nature of our lands.

13. It is a priority to reinforce autonomy, community organization. The fight for the defense of corn goes with the fight for territory and self-government. When the assembly is the highest authority, we can promote our own agricultural and environmental tactics. In our communal statutes and ejidal regulations, the planting of transgenics can be prohibited, and a de facto moratorium decreed by the Indian and peasant peoples can be established on the consumption, planting and transfer of transgenic corn. It is essential to seek the integrity of the indigenous territory through the balance that has maintained it as a territory.

Corn and autonomy

Defending our corn (the sacred area where it is venerated, the ancestral knowledge that made it possible, and the margin of autonomy granted by planting it for our own consumption), allows us to strengthen the fight for our collective rights, our community government and our history while We defend the water, the forest, the territory and our own projects of careful and self-managed well-being.

Only with their own native corn (not its disfigured transgenic version), planted for the community to eat depending on as little as possible, can we live the areas of us: collective work, self-righteousness, self-government, the assembly, in a lifetime against the grain of planetary systems.

One of the purposes of GMOs is to make all farmers have to buy seeds every year, and to ensure that, companies are inventing a variety that is only harvested once and its seeds are sterile, known as the Terminator. If the Terminator contaminated any other variety, it would render it sterile, and it would mean total dependence on the designer and seed production companies, which are patenting more and more varieties.

It is therefore urgent that we begin a process of reflection that gives us a horizon of how planners and world powers, agro-industries and governments attack us.

From the cornfield you can see the whole world. We must vindicate what we peasants mean in a "globalized" world that wants to turn even agriculture into industry. Corn and other sovereign crops are the heart of community resistance against capitalism and its mega-projects. Maintaining our loving relationship with corn allows us enough loophole not to ask anyone for permission to be, promoting a real resistance, political, social, economic, of knowledge, dignity and justice. It allows us self-government with a system of charges as a service, that which the Zapatistas call "command obeying." It allows the necessary gap to rebuild our own path. It makes us understand the fabric of relationships that make possible the existence of this food-trade-relationship that is sacred.

The Wixárika people of the Sierra de Jalisco in Mexico put it this way:

- Okay: defend the corn ...

- To defend it we have to heal the soils ...

- Then you have to stop using the agrochemicals that have worn it down. Let's go back to sowing the old way.

- But then we must ensure that there are no landslides or erosion ...

- For that, the water has to be rebalanced ...

- For that we have to take care of the forests, so that they stop erosion, bring the rains, refresh the region with good air ...

- But for that we must defend our territory and take action in pursuit of our agrarian and people's rights ...

- So we have to have a real community organization, where those who are representatives really obey the community's mandate.

- In other words, reinforcing the role of community assemblies, no longer just communal ones, bringing traditional and agrarian authorities closer together - since governments have always tried to separate them.

- Then we have to have corn, so that those who assume a position do not see the need to work, but that they continue to be anchored to the land, as peasants in the same circumstances as the rest of the community members.

So there is a kind of magic circle: a proposal of integrality where nothing can be unrelated. It is about the integral reconstitution of communities, of community organization. It is the cultivation of corn as the heart of resistance and the possibility of autonomy, fully exercising its territory on all levels: from the most geographical to the sacred, in the richness of human relationships and with everything, because everything is alive .


To defend corn is to defend life and the peasant-indigenous worldview. This process of resistance to the agro-industries and the world planning bodies and their incarnate administrators in the governments, culminates in reinforcing the vision with a horizon that the peoples released just a few years ago. The horizon seems black, since corn and many other strategic crops are at risk, and as such the viability of rural areas, but also that of cities. If the people of the big cities empathize with the peasants their reflections and their sharp criticism, they will begin to understand the importance of growing their own food. In the countryside, but inescapably also in the cities, although now not everyone recognizes it as urgent.

Biodiversity, Grain magazine.

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