The Women of Chiapas Protectors of the Milpa
22 Oct 2020
The women of Chiapas have preserved for centuries the ancestral knowledge of La Milpa, a valuable pillar of agriculture that has provided the community with food and cultural sovereignty.
The Presidium of La Milpa celebrates their invaluable contribution to this tradition, fostering seed preservation, soil health, and environmental well-being as a foundation for their community.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Yolotzin Bravo, local coordinator of the Baluarte de la milpa in Chiapas about the impact of the project on the food sovereignty of the women who protect this valuable ancestral resource.
What is the agricultural situation in the project area?
The highlands of Chiapas are characterized by subsistence agriculture, however, currently, dependence on pesticides is still present, including pesticides that are prohibited in other countries, but that in Mexico and Chiapas impoverish the fields day by day.
What has been the impact of the project on the community?
The collaboration of Slow Food has reinforced the formal formation of the cooperative of artisanal tostada-makers Tostixim, renewing the processes in front of the Ministry of Finance.
On the one hand, a significant contribution to this cooperative has been the development of the brand, label, and packaging, as well as expanding the sales spaces, allying ourselves with restaurants that share our philosophy.
Collaboration has not only boosted the cooperative’s commercialization practices, it has been a fundamental pillar in building dignified lives. Together with the local organizations CAMMADS and CLAN Sur that accompany the cooperative and the Seed Bank, it has also sought to strengthen the women’s personal transformation, in workshops in which they recognized the importance of their contributions to the milpa and other spaces where they are usually visible.
In this sense, this project promoted the construction of two houses as spaces for women who work with corn and seeds. These spaces are very important to promote collective and empowerment processes for them, since in many spaces in Chiapas women do not have the right to land, and important decisions are usually made by men. For this reason, these spaces claim their work and importance as guardians of seeds and flavors that preserve the identity of their region.
How has this project supported women?
It has helped them to have more autonomy, respect, and dignity for their work.
During the process of planting the foundations of the Presidium, the women who are part of the Tostixim cooperative, in addition to being part of formations, participated in different events and radio programs. This process has strengthened their personal skills and identity, they have been panelists in Forums such as the Máiz that promotes UNICACH and international Congresses such as the Agroecology in ECOSUR, with this they are now sure that their word and their work are essential. This project has also bet on the strengthening of young women as main actors, training them to be the spokespersons of the project.
Apart from toast, what other products do they sell?
In addition to Tostadas, the women make various foods from corn, mainly pozol blanco or with cacao (a drink made from corn, which varies according to the region), as well as chalupas, memelas, and tortillas, atoles (derived from corn that are mixed with beans or other plants). Herbs and other products from the milpa are used mainly for personal consumption.
Where do they sell the products?
The main distribution points before the project were individual spaces in local markets and the San Cristóbal agroecological market. Currently, they have increased their sales through orders to some restaurants in the republic and Tuxtla Gutiérrez, as well as in some other alternative tianguis and solidarity economy networks.
What are the future plans for the community?
I believe that a key axis is to continue strengthening the capacities of women as individuals and as a collective so that they continue to transform their reality and defend their culture and gastronomy. One way to do this is through the use of appropriate technologies in the kitchen promoting healthy kitchens. On the other hand, to continue betting on the production of healthy food and cornfields without agrochemicals, as well as highlighting the importance of rescuing local seeds as a strategy to have cornfields without agrochemicals or transgenics. Strengthening this fabric of women is to strengthen the fabric of the earth, its seeds, plants, culture, and territory.
The La Milpa Presidium
This Presidium was established in 2019 as part of the Slow Yucatán and Chiapas project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It is active in five municipalities in the central block of Chiapas.
The local organizations Camadds, Clan Sur (consisting of Ciserp A.C., Cofemo A.C., and Idesmac A.C.) and Ecosur have been working here for over a decade to boost food security, safeguard agricultural and gastronomic traditions, ensure the transmission of knowledge and promote agroecology.
Slow Food and its partners have created the Presidium with the aim of increasing the availability of locally and agroecologically grown corn and strengthening the tostada production chain, making the role and knowledge of the women visible and creating awareness in society about the importance of supporting these processes.
One of the main activities will be the creation in the municipality of Mitontic of a group of seed guardians and a seed bank for the preservation of local corn varieties, encouraging their consumption and processing. In other municipalities, the Presidium’s objective will be to strengthen a number of existing virtuous experiences, like the production of tostadas by the Artesanas de Tostadas de Maíz de Chiapas cooperative and the Mujeres y Maíz group, increasing production, improving the tostada production process and finding new markets for this product.
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