Hands & seeds

Challenges facing Today’s Local Production

This is a contribution of IMAP: -Mesoamerican Institute for Permaculture in Guatemala

During these last weeks, news outlets and social media have been filled with worrisome information, and often, it’s been discouraging. And so, rumors and false news have been spread which contribute to making the current situation worse. Questions about what’s happening around us come up. As IMAP we look to Mother Nature for solutions, as it is one of the main inspirational and informative resources.

When we are out in a farming plot and we observe sickly plants, dependent on pesticides and fungicides, it is because the environment is out of balance and has lost its ability to self-regulate. This happens when there is contamination, single-crop cultivation, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and a reduction in living organisms which help Mother Nature stay balanced.

The same thing happens to people, to us. If we let ourselves believe that our conditions are adequate and allow a virus or bacteria to develop, it’s likely we will get sick. So for this reason it’s important to create ways of social organization which guarantee health integrity for everyone and for the environment. A fundamental piece of this process is producing foodstuffs that support physical health and at the same time are favorable to Mother Nature.

The self-awareness we have about the importance of consuming healthy food is growing as shown by increased consumption of organic products. At first glance this is encouraging, yet, the way these foods are produced and marketed must also be analyzed.

Although the use of agricultural materials free of toxins is a huge contribution to the well-being of Mother Nature, it is necessary to remember that mono-culture damages biodiversity. Dependence on agricultural services, whether organic or not, i.e. having to pay for inspection/certification to qualify as organic, affects small scale producers economically. This supposes that there is a place to plant even though most of the arable land has been taken by the greediness and money of monopolies which devour Mesoamerica through their single-crop agriculture for exports and their own warehouses.

When a cooperative meets the necessary requirements to sell products from harvests with added value, the cost of certification, complying with legalities and sanitary requirements, transportation, overhead and everything else involved in marketing create limited access to these foods.

Due to the economic abuse of most Mesoamericans, especially against the indigenous peoples and rural communities, these first class organic products end up in the hands of industrial food businesses (remember that large industry also owns and distributes organic brands) only to be sold to those who can afford to buy them, either in Mesoamerica or in many cases, in the northern hemisphere.

The way agricultural production, commercialization and food distribution is regulated corresponds to laws approved by congress which we consider adequate with respect to land use and agriculture. They are influenced by university programs and our consumer habits which are conditioned by content coming out of communication outlets.

Everything is a chain of institutions promoting agriculture focused on the bottom line, not on food; intent on the majority of the population consuming imported and/or industrialized foodstuffs which are lower-priced although these products have huge implications with regards to the destruction of the planet and personal health.

Photograph courtesy of IMAP.

Recent events called our attention to and shows that once supermarkets are empty and transportation is paralyzed, our food sources are gravely endangered and even though one might have money, he/she may not be able to eat. The good news is that laws and plans coming out of educational institutions and consumer habit result from human actions which can be modified.

If we take the time to observe Mother Nature, remember the teachings of our grandparents and think about the ethical use of scientific advances certainly, we will be able to direct our societies towards a better future–one of an organized, collaborative community that grows its own food. Such a community can resist any difficulty and meet any challenge.

In Mesoamerica we are lucky to find many plants, easily grown, that are nutritious which help to maintain a healthy environment and our healthy bodies. Indigenous peoples and rural Mesoamericans have come out ahead thanks to their growing technologies, e.g. maize (where corn, beans and squash are planted together), as well as amaranth, chia, sweet potato, chipilín (a relative of spinach), chaya (tree spinach), hierbamora (nightsade), colix, chilies and many more (plants native to Mesoamerica).

Coffee is combined with species such as cuxin, banana, avocado and other fruit trees for their values other than nutrition. On farms spice plants/trees are included in fodder, construction materials, firewood as well as medicinal plants like licorice, ruda, epazote and endless more.

As seemingly insignificant as it may be, this knowledge is applied wherever and so it’s important to recognize the value of diversity of native plants and the efficient use of space and other indispensable local resources. Diversified agriculture ensures a nutritious food source which can generate income through sales of extra produce and savings, thanks to harvests from our small plots contributing to empowerment around food in each community.

Certainly this empowerment requires that in every generation we reconnect with Mother Nature, returning her to a central place in our lives. As human beings we have accepted self-centeredness and excessive consumption as part of our reality including forgetting that food production is a legacy from our grandparents. What are we leaving to the next generations?

Now is the time for reflection and for finding solutions that redirect us towards sustainability. Permaculture and our ancestral knowledge can help us to have healthy, natural nutrition without depending on industrial foods, sale/exportation of our crops, agrichemical products, hybrid and genetically modified seed.

So, it is important that we keep in mind, the ways in which our society is created, can change. For this reason it is necessary that we participate in the formulation and passage of laws that govern us. We must look at, with critical eyes, any information that is put forth as true. And above all, we have to take advantage of the resources Mother Nature offers us.

Moreover, it is obvious that access to farmland must be guaranteed for small-scale growers, not only for production of food for their families, but also to insure widespread nutrition in their communities. When the local family farm in indigenous, rural areas is strong, all of us will have our food guaranteed.

We must produce foodstuff without resorting to toxic agri-chemicals. We must shop in local markets, consume locally and buy the fruits of heirloom planting. We should certify growers based on trust and respect between producer and consumer. We must promote regulations that better the quality of life for the impoverished majority. We must procure harvests/products that are minimally transported. Let’s reclaim the wisdom of our ancestors in order to achieve “the good life”. In this way, we will be able to create healthy and empowered societies.

Cover photo courtesy of IMAP.