Tuesday, June 28, 2011

El Salvadoran Government & Social Movements Say No to Monsanto | | AlterNet

Exciting steps toward FOOD SOVEREIGNTY and SECURITY in El Salvador! 

Along with other representatives of the Joining Hands Network - El Salvador, I hope to travel to Usulután to meet with members of the Mangrove Association to learn more about their efforts and to discuss ways we might collaborate.

El Salvadoran Government & Social Movements Say No to Monsanto | | AlterNet
 By Carlos Martinez

On the morning of Friday, May 6th President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador’s left-wing FMLN party, arrived at the La Maroma agricultural cooperative in the department of Usulután for a potentially historic meeting with hundreds of small family farmers. Usulután has often been referred to as the country’s bread basket for its fertile soil and capacity for agricultural production, making it one of the most strategic and violent battleground zones during El Salvador’s twelve year civil war between the US-supported government and the FMLN guerrilla movement.
Once again, Usulután has entered the spotlight for its agricultural reputation. The FMLN, which initially formed around an ideology of national liberation from US hegemony, has now adopted the goal of “food sovereignty,” the idea that countries hold the right to define their own agricultural policies, rather than being subject to the whims of international market forces. On Friday, officials representing the Ministry of Agriculture and the local governorship accompanied President Funes in inaugurating a new plan aimed at reactivating the country’s historically ignored rural economy and reversing El Salvador’s growing dependence on imported grains.
The opening ceremony for the new plan was hosted by the Mangrove Association, a non-governmental organization established by members of a grassroots social movement called La Coordinadora del Bajo Lempa y Bahia de Jiquilisco (known locally as La Coordinadora), which has been supporting initiatives for food security and environmental sustainability in Usulután for over 15 years. Over the last three months, the Ministry of Agriculture has been working closely with the Mangrove Association and other campesino organizations to develop what may represent the new program’s greatest break from past governments’ agricultural policies: a goal that by 2014 all corn and bean seed needed for agriculture be produced by Salvadoran farmers, rather than purchased from multinational seed companies, namely Monsanto, as has been the case in recent years.
With ongoing support from the U.S.-based NGO EcoViva, La Coordinadora and the Mangrove Association have been working since the mid-1990s to promote diversified, sustainable agriculture for small family farmers in Usulután as a means for reducing hunger and building a strong rural economy. According to official figures, almost 95% of fruit and vegetables consumed in El Salvador are imported from abroad, along with 30% of all its beans and 40% of corn. Meanwhile, non-commercial small family farmers are said to produce up to 70% of the basic grains that are cultivated domestically, mostly for their own family’s consumption, making them particularly important for El Salvador’s food security...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A lesson in Community

Beautiful views as seen from the trail
Imagine with me if you will, the toughest hike you have ever been on. Now imagine it were twice as long, add in several rocky switchbacks, and envision it twice as steep. This describes the trail leading down into the community of El Cuzuquito. Some of the most breathtaking views of Salvadoran landscape can be glimpsed as you stop to, well, catch your breath. 
If you look closely and you can see the ocean in the distance
El Cuzuquito, made up of about 20 families living in very humble accommodations without electricity or running water, is one of numerous communities in similar conditions in the surrounding area. But there is something that makes this community unique: food sovereignty, that is to say that while 95% of the fruits and vegetables consumed in El Salvador come in from outside the country this community is able to grow and raise what they eat and do not have to depend upon expensive imported food from other sources. It's a good thing too, could you imagine toting groceries down that hill?!?

Ricardo sharing his wisdom
 In this community there is a young man by the name of Ricardo who literally began his schooling below the branches of a mango tree, before the school building was built just 10 years ago. He does not have any advanced degrees, in fact he does not even have a diploma, but Ricardo uses his natural leadership and knowledge of the land to organize his community to the benefit of all. Recognizing the serious food crisis the community was experiencing, he organized folks to approach a local landowner and present him with a plan to cultivate three parcels of land as community gardens. Rather than divide up the land and offer plots to each individual family, the community decided it made more sense to work the land together. What about competition, what about struggles for individual success? When asked, one gentleman responded, “It’s much more beneficial to do it this way, I could never cultivate all this on my own! When we have to water, we water together, when it’s time to harvest, we harvest together, and what I don’t know about growing a certain herb or vegetable I can learn from a neighbor, and he from me.”

Green beans thriving in
one of the community plots
The gardens continue to be a community success, and as Ricardo has continued to educate himself about food and nutrition he realized that their diets were lacking in protein. By assessing the resources in the community he came up with an idea to use water from the natural spring nearby, and labor from the community to dig and fill ponds to raise Tilapia, a very hearty and tasty fish. Families in the community, having benefited from the gardens, agreed to contribute to the purchase of tubing to pipe in the water and to buy the fish and feed needed to start up. They have sought out training from the Ministry of Agriculture, and are now experimenting with native, organically raised fish “[quote] out of concern for the health of the community and prevent their children from ingesting so many harmful chemicals.”

How do we live in community? Do we celebrate only activity, success, profit and progress? Or do we relate to one another in such a way as to identify ourselves with a loving, liberating, welcoming and empowering God, a God who rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep, who feeds and quenches the thirst of even those who are considered enemies? A God who overcame evil through the sacrifice of God’s son, and continues to speak to us through community and provide us with examples of how we might conquer evil with good!
Community members who work together in the gardens

We are made for community. Since the beginning of time people have formed themselves into clans and tribes. Our identity comes from community. We cannot find our identity in isolation. Esteem grows in community, accomplishment occurs through community. The acronym for the word “team” is together everyone accomplishes more. This is why the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans (12:9-21), goes out of his way to lay out in detail how we, who identify ourselves as Christians, are to relate to one another in and beyond our communities. Even if it seems at odds with the gods of this world.

In the face of astonishing economic disparities, and global conflicts of all kinds, solo voices can be inspiring, but ultimately only communities, united by integrity of purpose, can truly incite change as they speak for the marginalized, promote better public policy, and work for justice. My prayers for all of us is that we might live in true community; to bless everybody, to live and serve humbly and joyfully, to go the extra mile for anybody, and to always strive for peace. Amen.