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Praise in Oaxaca

May 2008

Grassroots International would like to salute Jesus León Santos, the leader of a democratic, farmer-to-farmer network in Oaxaca, Mexico, for winning the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize – one of the most esteemed awards in the global environmental movement.

Twenty-five years ago, Santos co-founded the Center for Integral Small Farmer Development of the Mixtec (CEDICAM), which encourages farmers to return to traditional agricultural methods in the barren lands of the Mixtec Highlands. Santos was concerned about the region’s severe soil erosion – caused by deforestation – which was preventing rainwater from soaking into the ground. The subsequent lack of adequate groundwater aquifers was leading farmers to either abandon their land for the cities or use pesticides or non-native seeds to try to recapture crop yields.

CEDICAM members began planting trees in the Mixtec Highlands as a way to stop rainwater runoff and provide people of the region with firewood. They learned how to build rainwater storage structures and engage in organic composting, passing along these skills to other farmers. They also started a seed bank where local farmers can find native varieties of corn and other crops. Today, most farmers in the Mixtec Highlands plant native seeds, and the region is nearly free of genetically modified crops.

On April 14, the 42-year-old Santos joined five other activists from around the world to receive a 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. The six recipients, honored as pioneering environmental activists, each received $150,000 to further their work.

Grassroots International has proudly funded CEDICAM over the years, sharing the network’s belief in the power of local solutions arrived at through local knowledge and skills. You can read more about Santos and CEDICAM in the new book “The Other Game: Lessons from How Life is Played in Mexican Villages,” by Phil Dahl-Bredine and Stephen Hicken (Orbis Publishers). In this book, the authors “visit villages that have existed for thousands of years, meet their inhabitants, and talk with them about life, economics, work, and family. We see how their way of life presents concrete alternatives to our Western culture that we must take seriously in order to create a sustainable future for ourselves, our human race, and the other dwellers of the planet. Far from being a romantic throwback to a lost paradise, the indigenous society in this book — so close yet so far — offers us strong contemporary options at a turning point in our own history.”

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