Zapatista Seed Saving Project Puts Its First
Collection of Traditional Corn Seeds Into Deep Freeze Storage in Highlands
of Chiapas, Mexico
Mexico, Sept. 12 (AScribe Newswire) -- The prayers of the kneeling school
board members and education promoters were sung softly in Tzotzil. Eventually
they floated above the burning candles and escaped through the metal door
smiling as they gently caressing the fog-shrouded mural newly painted
on the front of the massive concrete library.
praying for survival of the mother seeds of corn and the success of our
students who have just graduated," murmured the president of the school
board. "With our wives and the new teachers we ask the creator to allow
this school to continue and to give us the strength to continue our resistance."
weeks before offering prayers at the school library were a blur of frenzy
at the First of January autonomous secondary school in the Zapatista civilian
center of Oventik, Aguascalientes II located in the highlands of Chiapas
near the municipal center of San Andres Sacamch'en de los Pobres. Two
years after opening the first autonomous, indigenous secondary school
there was plenty to do. Dozens of varieties of corn seed had to be readied
for final storage, students had to practice for their first-ever graduation
day, dances had to be finalized, poems had to be memorized, and a feast
had to be prepared for graduation day. The prayers would only come after
all the work was completed.
scientist supports young teachers
certainly had plenty to do, but attending classes in seed saving techniques
from a visiting scientist topped the agenda for every single education
promoter at this civilian Zapatista center know as Oventik, Aguascalientes
just wanted to tell you how exciting it is to study about preserving our
original corn." Juan and Pedro, young teachers - as young as the students
themselves - told a workshop organizer during the first week of study.
"We want to thank you for these talks and discussions. It's good to talk
about these things in Tzotzil because it is our own language."
Seeds in Resistance from the Lands of Chiapas is a popular seed bank established
on Jan. 1, 2002 by the autonomous, indigenous school system in the highlands
of Chiapas, Mexico. "The big companies like Monsanto are sending their
genetically modified corn everywhere," commented one education promoter
during a January 2002 interview in Oventik, Aguascalientes II. "We have
to save our original corn from infections by these dangerous new forms
Houses for the Mother Corn
sheets of butcher paper covered the walls of the new second story classroom.
One sheet boldly described in Spanish and Tzotzil two types of "safe houses"
for Mother Corn.
have to protect these little seeds because they are under attack just
like our communities," softly explained one young, education promoter.
"My grandfather was killed because he defended the traditions of our community
and he believed in justice and democracy. Now even if I am an indigenous
woman I have to defend our corn so that our traditions can continue."
There were drawings of the safe house for the seed itself and there were
drawings of "safe houses" for the indigenous knowledge that surrounds
and gives the seed and the Maya people their eternal cycle of life. "You
see the seed that cannot survive without its' people, and we cannot survive
without our corn."
sort of a camp is this?" demanded the city dweller who had driven three
hours into the mountains from the state capital of Tuxtula Gutierrez.
"Where do all these people come from and what are they doing?" The indigenous
community leader's only comment was that the hospital was taking care
of patients, the school had students, and some people were visiting to
help with some project.
drivers' jaw dropped open farther as he saw the sprawling hillside complex
beside a tiny Maya village included brand new school buildings, a massive
auditorium, an Olympic sized basketball court facing a large plaza, metal
and woodworking workshops, a beautiful church, and rough wooden dormitories
with dozens of Mexican and foreign visitors on school construction teams
or attending language classes. The delivery man's questions continued
as the freezer was connected to the new electrical service and a silent
and dark Virgin of Guadalupe complete with Zapatista mask took her place
on the wooden wall above the humming white machine.
the seed can sleep for many years in the freezer," explained the visiting
scientist, "our laboratory techniques must prove that the moisture content
of the see is below 6 percent; otherwise when the water inside the corn
seed freezes it will expand and burst the cell membranes killing the seed."
promoters set up their own production line in one of the new two story
classrooms as the day dawned and light streamed into the room still waiting
for chalkboards and electricity. One team sifted the seed out of the lime
where they were stored temporarily to keep them dry and safe from insects.
Their red bandana masks that usually protect their identities and identify
them as Zapatistas had the more practical purpose of filtering out lime
teams of indigenous youth shuttled pots full of corn out to the sifters
and another team wrote registration numbers and collection data on the
foil and plastic bags and labels and entered each collection into a central
registry. The seed teams poured the corn seed into the marked bags and
took them to the drying team. There the education promoters carefully
placed open bags on pans of a gypsum-drying agent inside a waterproof
environment created by two large plastic bags tied with bright colored
thread. Several days later found the entire group of education promoters
bashing dozens of multicolored corn seeds that balanced precariously on
rocks placed on the classroom floor.
the seed mashes it proves that the water content is above the six percent
we need," explained one teacher who happily waved a large steel hammer
in one hand while balancing a baby on her hip with the other hand. "When
the seed shatters it is dry enough to be sealed in these foil bags and
placed in the freezer where it will be safe for many years from infections
by genetically modified pollen."
in the day students switched to one hundred percent Tzotzil as they explored
the uses of corn in their communities. "I'll write it for everyone," exclaimed
the enthusiastic education promoter leaping forward. Everyone shouted
out names and spoke excitedly, all laughing and debating and talking at
the same time over the finer points and the many variations among their
far-flung communities. "You really are men and women of corn," joked a
visiting teacher trainer as the list of Tzotzil nouns grew longer and
the students walked the muddy pathways returning to their homes, a tiny
red spot glowed brightly outside the freezer's building signaling that
the high tech machine was functioning. And as the moonlight streamed brightly
above, light from the large candles still burning in the school's library
seemed to accept and welcome the weaker illumination from the safely sleeping
seeds. Let us all pray that these people and their corn can survive this
brave new world.
Seed Saving as an Educational Program
Seeds in Resistance from the Lands of Chiapas is both educational and
practical. The project encourages indigenous students to assume responsibility
for continuing the science and culture of corn passed on from their Maya
ancestors, for thousands of years.
to collecting and preserving these vital original seeds, students are
researching, recording, and studying a vast amount of agricultural and
cultural information from these farmers. This data includes the types
of soils and mini-climate most suited to each seed type, recipes for preparing
each type of corn, as well as ceremonies and stories associated with each
variety of corn.
Zapatista Education System's seed bank management is integrated as a continual
relationship between the farming families and the schools; between the
high-tech freezer and the traditional milpa. Collecting, learning and
guarding their heritage is a learning process for all students. The entire
community of adults and elders who plant and harvest corn to live, are
therefore the principal teachers of the students and the education promoters
who have replaced the government's teachers in the autonomous schools.
Seeds in Resistance from the Lands of Chiapas is also a response to the
threat posed by the contamination and displacement of indigenous corn
varieties by the genetically engineered and high input varieties from
the industrialized north that are flooding rural Mexico in the wake of
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
which is the center of origin of corn and carries the world's greatest
diversity of corn, banned cultivation of transgenic corn in 1998. However,
the ban is only on the cultivation not on the import of corn seed. Five
million tons of North American corn, almost all transgenic, is imported
every year. Transgenic corn was found growing in Oaxaca in 2001. Then
in 2002 Mexican scientists reported that 12 percent of the plants they
sampled from Oaxaca and Puebla were contaminated or were transgenic varieties.
The alarming situation forced the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico City to check all of its corn stocks for contamination.
the National Forum in Defense of Mexican Corn in January of 2002, Zapatista
representatives Ricardo and Genaro noted that "We are people who are made
of corn and earth" and declared their fear that "agro-chemical companies
have patented our natural corn so that we will then have to buy trans-genetic
corn." At the forum they announced their intention to start their own
seed-banks to preserve and protect their "mother seeds" safe from contamination
and annihilation by the invasion of foreign corn strains.
collected sixty-one local varieties of corn from communities throughout
the highlands, earlier in the year. In a series of educational and practical
workshops during August, these collections were dried to a low moisture
content, sealed in special seed storage bags and placed into long term
storage in a freezer in the Schools for Chiapas office in Oventic.
was established as Aguascalientes II, after the destruction of the original
Aguascalientes in the community of Guadalupe Tepeyac by the Mexican Army
in the failed 1995 offensive to arrest the EZLN leadership.
five Aguascalientes are regional civilian cultural centers with schools,
clinics, meeting places, businesses and workshops to serve and support
the Zapatista communities and to promote the Zapatista culture and spirit.
The Zapatista spirit is made visible in Oventic. It is a spirit of autonomy.
It is a spirit of resistance to the global system that sneers at them
and wants them gone. It is a spirit of dignity as they resist, and as
they walk, creating their own path before them.
of Zapatista Delegates to Forum in Defense of Mexican Corn," Jan 2002
group to study transgenic corn in Mexico," ENN. June 21, 2002
Transgenic corn invaded Mexico?" Food First, March 2002 Transgenic Corn
Found Growing in Mexico. Nature Sept 2001
additional information, contact Libby Navarro, School for Chiapas at 619-232-2841,