Chiapas, Mexico burst into the world’s headlines
New Year’s Day 1994 - the day that The North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect - when an uprising led by the
Zapatista movement reminded the world that indigenous people are
still struggling for their rights 500 years after the European
conquest. Today, the struggle for indigenous autonomy to create
peaceful communities free from poverty and oppression continues
as a growing and troublesome presence of profit-driven corporations
in Chiapas encourages
migration toward urban sweatshops.
Those who remain in the countryside are systematically being robbed
of their natural resources while the wealth of regional biodiversity
is increasingly becoming endangered.
|Since the price of
coffee has hit a 100 year low, the majority of the 500,000
Chiapanecos who work in the coffee
sector are struggling to feed their families while multinational
corporations continue to prosper as a result of the low prices.
Recently, an estimated 500 coffee producing families a week
migrated north from their parcels of land in Chiapas,
At the same time, Starbucks
was celebrating a 41% increase in profits.
As a result of such injustices, thousands of indigenous
peoples have begun a transition back to organics as a means of
obtaining food self-sufficiency and to create sustainability for
their communities. From the formation and certification of fair
trade and organic coffee cooperatives to traditional farming
methods used to grow and harvest organic wheat, the people of
Chiapas are turning
to organic farming techniques to improve the quality of life and
level of nutrition in their communities.
is one of the most marginalized states in all of Mexico,
cursed with one of the highest malnutrition rates in the country.
The state is characterized by having one of the highest
rural populations, the least developed health
infrastructure, and the lowest levels of income and education
In addition, Chiapanecos have
one of the lowest life expectancy rates and the highest birth
and infant mortality rates in the nation. There is approximately
one doctor for every 1,000 inhabitants, a figure that is 20% less
than the national average. In this climate of extreme poverty,
it is important that rural communities have access to a healthy
diet in order to prevent diseases and development disorders related
to malnutrition. However, while the local daily diet relies upon
maize, which provides what little nutrition the indigenous of
Chiapas consume, last year it was found that Southern Mexico is
quickly becoming contaminated with genetically
Scientists have recently discovered gene-altered
corn growing in 15 rural communities in the southern state of
Oaxaca. Given that Mexico is the origin of maize, with approximately
25,000 varieties, the ecological, economic, and health implications
of genetic pollution are disastrous for local farmers and consumers.
The spread of GE corn in the place where maize was first cultivated
over 5,000 years ago is leading to the contamination of wild and
domesticated varieties and will forever alter the traditional
crop interwoven throughout the culture of the Mayan people. Because
many varieties of genetically engineered seeds have to be purchased
every year, farmers who use the seed enter into a cycle of debt.
Rarely do the farmers earn enough money from an annual maize crop
to pay their debts and purchase new seeds. Just as important are
the health risks associated with genetically engineered foods,
which include allergies, antibiotic resistance, and likely damage
to the human digestive system.
As a result of the imposition of corporate globalization,
small farmers in Mexico are finding it increasingly difficult
to achieve food self-sufficiency and access to a nutritious diet.
To help deal with this crisis, the OCA has created the Sustainable
Chiapas project. By educating consumers in North America about
producer issues in Southern Mexico while directly supporting organic
grassroots movements in Chiapas, the Sustainable Chiapas project
will create a closer internationally focused consumer-to-producer
relationship highlighting international food issues.
The OCA seeks to demonstrate that indigenous cooperatives
and community groups can obtain Fair Trade and organic certification
for their coffee, cacao, and other crops so as to guarantee a
living wage to producers.
Acting as an informational portal for journalists,
students, and concerned consumers who want to know the latest
information on these issues, the Sustainable Chiapas project offers
materials in both English and Spanish and leads organic eco-tours
to the region.
|Finally, in order to prevent
dependence on genetically engineered seeds and protect Mexico's
natural biodiversity, OCA's Sustainable Chiapas project is
assisting indigenous community groups in the creation of community
gardens and seed banks to grow food and medicinal plants.
To learn more about these issues please visit our news headlines
section or visit
Chiapas on an OCA organic eco-tour. If you have special
group eco-tour requests or questions about the Sustainable
Chiapas program, contact the OCA office at 218-226-4164.
To take action, participate in one of our related campaigns.