“Sit next to me…” Sara Francisco Apolinar, a young Indigenous activist from Oaxaca and member of Grassroots partner Mixe Peoples’ Services (SERMixe) grabs me and we sit down at the long communal table where we will share our meals for the next few days.
We are in Chiapas, Mexico to participate in an international learning exchange hosted by Grassroots’ allies Thousand Currents and their partner in Chiapas, the Civic Association for Economic and Social Development of Indigenous Mexicans (DESMI). The learning exchange has brought together 120 small farmers and Indigenous Peoples from 11 different countries to share their knowledge and strategies towards advancing food sovereignty and buen vivir, a holistic concept put forward by Indigenous Peoples in Latin America that calls for harmony and respect between humans and nature and the right of all to live a dignified and abundant life.
The aroma of cooked onions, fresh herbs and boiling pots of beans fill the air while more participants wander into the dining room, filling the tables around us. The mood is expectant, warm, and electric. Over heaping plates of food we hear the murmur of conversations in an array of participant languages from Portuguese to Nepalese and more. My other dinner companion, Mariene Pereira de Sousa, a member of Grassroots’ partner Popular Peasant Movement (MCP) from Brazil, remarks how sharing a meal is a great way to start a learning exchange: “Food brings people together and when people get together, change is possible.”
The next three days of the learning exchange are spent sharing on-the-ground political experiences, exchanging and discussing heirloom seeds, and learning new (as well as old) agroecology practices. The languages and lands are different but the stories are the same: small farmers and Indigenous People describing their successful farming practices — as well as the many political, economic and agricultural challenges they face.
Many of the men and women at the exchange, as well as their families and communities, have experienced tremendous hardships, profound human rights abuses and even political assassinations. They talk about being displaced by land grabs, productive lands being destroyed by mining and mega dams, and the voracious march of industrial agriculture and corporate control of our food systems.
The commonality of the struggles is clear, but so is the commonality of the resistance. Speaker after speaker describes the brave acts of everyday people in defense of their communities and their lands. Everyday people who find their strength in the shared visions of social movements and the shared desire for a more just and sustainable world. Some of these brave acts of resistance are bold and very public but some are small daily acts: “Planting a milpa [a traditional Mexican vegetable garden growing corn, beans and squash] is an act of resistance,” Sara from SER Mixe tells me. “It is a way of reclaiming and conserving our traditional practices. We are reclaiming our native seeds and our heritage. We are showing the youth that there is another way to live.”
Grassroots is proud to stand with our partners and others in their acts of resistance (both large and small) towards building a just and sustainable world, with food sovereignty and buen vivir for all!