“Quetzalcóatl placed corn on the lips of the first people, Oxomoco and Cipactónatl, ancient couple of the human family, cultivators of corn, so that eating it they would become strong.”
In this city of Oaxaca de Juarez, city of resistance, these 27th and 28th days of September of 2019, we, men and women, indigenous farmers of the state of Oaxaca, are gathered together at the statewide Symposium, “Maíz communal para el mundo,” in order to reflect upon the challenges presented by the recent biopiracy of the so-called “Sierra Mixe” corn from a Oaxacan indigenous community by a transnational corporation and a renowned U.S. university, and to analyze public policies of the present government for rural “campesino” Mexico. Furthermore, we gather together, in the face of the attacks on our native varieties of corn, and to the rural campesino and indigenous countryside in general, to discuss and propose alternative solutions.
Under the guise of science and development, from 2005 until 2019, a group of North American scientists conducted a series of offenses against Mesoamerican indigenous communities, culminating in an application to the U.S. Patent office for [intellectual] property rights over germplasm derived from varieties of “oloton” corn taken from the Mixe community of Totontepec de Morelos, Oaxaca, and whose existence [as a landrace] has been documented since the decade of the 1950´s in both Guatemala and Mexico.
We view with concern the international agreements that Mexico has been pressured to ratify, such as the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 1991) which both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the new trade agreement with the United States and Canada (T-MEC) require Mexico to respect. These are instruments that legitimate the theft of genetic resources by, on the one hand, supposedly sharing benefits, and on the other, by criminalizing the free interchange of seeds in order to favor the interests of transnational companies. These agreements ignore the fact that corn is a Mesoamerican creation which took thousands of years to accomplish. Now they seek to appropriate this creation for profit.
We consider the actions of these North American scientists to be an act of biopiracy. We declare that the University of California, Davis and University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the researcher from the Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca (ITVO), at the service of the company Mars, Inc. did not “discover” anything, but rather are only attempting to appropriate our ancestral knowledge and demonstrating an ignorance of and a disdain for the traditional science that is still practiced in our communities and expresses itself in our customs.
Traditional agricultural practices, such as the milpa, have always contributed to the cooling and the sustainability of the planet. Today Western science and technology have learned that Olotón corn feeds upon nitrogen from the air, captured by the bacteria that live in the mucilage secreted by the plant´s aerial roots. Western scientists believe they can manipulate this capacity in order to diminish the use of petroleum-based fertilizers. But what they have learned does not give them the right to appropriate this millennial knowledge which, from the point of view of the indigenous communities, must remain in the hands of those who work the land to produce their food.
Regarding the public policies which are being imposed on Mexican rural communities, we view with displeasure how they are using paternalistic politics under the guise of combating poverty by individualizing the provision of minimal resources to indigenous farmers, thereby promoting the disintegration of the community, while at the same time dealing a blow to the collective rights of indigenous peoples. While these government policies promise to recognize the free, self-determination of the indigenous pueblos or communities, they instead, impose programs, which, in the name of transformation, destroy community.
For example, we view the program “Sembrando Vida” or “Sowing Life” as an attempt to divide lands in common use as the basis for future privatization, thus eroding the social fabric and promoting decision-making by small groups which ignore the existence of communal assemblies. From our perspective, these programs function as a step toward the establishment of commercial plantations which would take over lands for planting the milpa.
The increased importation of transgenic corn serves the purpose of providing feed for the animals in industrial farms that have been transferred from the United States to Mexico. These farms and feedlots have caused serious problems of contamination [from runoff] and are also responsible for the appearance here of illnesses caused by intensive use of antibiotics in the raising of hogs, chicken and cattle in confinement.
Mexico is capable of producing the corn it needs to feed its people, but global policies of so-called “comparative advantages” have the effect of undermining our ability to produce our own food. While we export fruits and vegetables that demand a great deal of water, our scarcest resource, we import the basic grains and legumes that make up the daily diet of the majority of the population.
The germplasm banks which have been built upon the thousands of seed collections that have been made at seed festivals organized by CIMMyT, SNICS, and INIFAP, among other institutions and with the participation of investigators lacking professional ethics, have only served to concentrate the genetic diversity of our country in the hands of transnational businesses.
Biotechnology, digitalized agriculture, and robotization are not the panacea for solving hunger on the planet. They are false solutions which are only intended to concentrate food production in the hands of ever fewer transnational companies whose aim is to control our lives.
For these reasons we sound the following call:
-To the indigenous and farming communities: to continue practicing communal values as a way of life, to plant your own seeds and use ancestral and agro-ecological techniques to produce your food. Free self-determination for our pueblos will only be possible to the extent that we can achieve food sovereignty. Political participation for our pueblos is more than just the exercise of voting in elections: we must put it into practice by planting our own seeds and eating the traditional foods that they provide for us.
-To the scientific community: to act with an ethos of respect for traditional indigenous wisdom and knowledge by putting yourselves at the service of the indigenous pueblos, and, together, helping to find solutions to our problems. When you make use of cutting edge technologies, to respect the natural world in your research and proposals.
-To the teachers of Oaxaca: to make use of corn as an important element in the development of your projects for the education of our girls, boys, and young people.
-To the Mexican government: to cease the pretense that you are supporting campesino agriculture, but rather, leave, in the hands of indigenous and small farmers, the decisions on how to produce our own food.
Communal corn is communal practice, a form of sharing, a way of life. In Oaxaca it is the guelaguetza, the mutual sharing among people: it is not just money or profits.
WE DECLARE OURSELVES TO BE THOSE WHO CONSERVE THE SEEDS THAT THE PLANET NEEDS TO FIND A WAY THROUGH THE PROBLEMS WE ARE ALL FACING; WE ARE THOSE DEDICATED TO THE PRESERVATION OF LIFE.
TODAY we gift our seeds of olotón, corn which is planted in many communities of Oaxaca [and elsewhere], along with seeds of other corn varieties and other plants, to a representative of Via Campesina, the most important small farmer organization in the world, so that through this organization small farmers in their respective countries may plant them without having to buy them from transnational corporations. Our seeds are now under your care, that you may cause them to adapt to other circumstances, to flourish and reproduce.
MAY THE SEEDS BE FREE SO THAT FREE COMMUNITIES MAY FLOURISH!
COMMUNAL CORN, COMMUNAL LANDS!
NATIVE SEEDS ARE NOT COMMODITIES!
GLOBALIZE THE STRUGGLE, GLOBALIZE HOPE!
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico, 27 and 28 of September, 2019
Espacio Estatal en Defensa del Maíz Nativo de Oaxaca