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Biodiversity and Creole Seeds Focus of Global Learning Exchange

December 2014

Peasant groups from around the world joined an international agroecology learning exchange in Goiás, Brazil. The exchange brought together Grassroots partners and allies from India, Mexico, South Africa and Nepal to share information about sustainable farming, organizing and ways to more effectively resist the onslaught of industrial agriculture and mega projects.

The exchange was initiated by the Popular Peasants Movement (MCP, a Grassroots International partner) to coincide with their annual Seminar on Biodiversity and Creole Seeds, held on a university campus in Goiânia. Peasants from all over Brazil traveled to be there, bringing with them creole (native) seeds for trading, food to feed all the participants, and a ton of experience and energy to share and build on. Members of ally movements were also present, including the Landless Workers Movement (MST) and the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), both Grassroots partners.

The seminar happened over three days and it consisted of panels and lectures, cultural celebrations and a seed exchange. Grassroots International staff (myself and Jovanna Garcia Soto, Program Coordinator for Latin America) served as interpreters for Portuguese, English and Spanish and others from our delegation interpreted for languages from Indian.

Every day, young people from the movement led us all in místicas: ceremonies to hold in reverence the struggle, heritage and culture of peasant farmers. And each meeting there began with a sing-along of Brazilian folk songs about peasant life and the struggle for land reform and liberation. Everyone joined in, whether we knew the words (or the language) or not.

The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective and Yakshi (both Grassroots grantees from India) participated in a panel on the role of women in the peasants’ movement. In this panel Ponnuthai, of the Women’s Collective, spoke about the challenges facing women peasants in India and the important role that women play. She spoke about the fight for women to be recognized as farmers and gain access to government subsidies. Pandu, of Yakshi, spoke as an ally about the situation of women in indigenous communities in India.

One of the biggest highlights of the seminar was a talk given by Valdir Misnerovicz, from the MST. He said, “Our society right now has two distinct projects: one project represents life, the other project represents death. The project of death doesn’t care about people, it only cares about capital; it doesn’t want to produce food, it wants to produce products. It plants monocultures on a large scale because this earns big profits. But the drive to earn more money in less time disrespects nature’s timeline. In the project that represents life, all are important. Children are important, and the elderly are crucial. Peasant farmers don’t produce commodities, they produce food. Peasant farming is the farming of hope.”

Tables of seed displays and materials from different groups surrounded the lecture building. People from the international delegation proudly displayed their seeds alongside those of MCP members. On the last day there was a seed exchange – an opportunity to trade familiar seeds for new and different ones.  It was very exciting for everyone to see seeds from faraway regions and to learn about new varieties. People wanted to know what each seed was, how to plant it, whether it was for human or animal consumption, how to cook it, and which ones had medicinal values.

This learning exchange was a wonderful opportunity to share experiences. It was clear that small farmers are facing similar struggles all over the world – access to land, the domination of industrial farming, corporate control of seeds – all of the participants could relate to these struggles. Seeing the commitment and power of hundreds of peasant farmers together standing up to these challenges, in Brazil and internationally, was inspiring and affirming for all. People left feeling excited to bring their experiences and what they’d learned back to their movements at home.

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