Water, GM crops and forest monocultures

Water, GM crops and forest monocultures

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By Carlos Santos

In Mexico, environmental services have turned out to be the new strategy to displace peasant communities from their territories. From the new “faces” of the privatization of water and the transgenic contamination of corn to the imposition of forest monocultures of exotic species, “environmental services” do nothing but expel people from the communities.

Environmental services as a displacement strategy

In Mexico, environmental services have turned out to be the new strategy to displace peasant communities from their territories. From the new "faces" of the privatization of water and the GM contamination of corn to the imposition of forest monocultures of exotic species, "environmental services" do nothing but hide "one more strategy of capital to expel people from indigenous communities ”according to Aldo González. Biodiversidad interviewed the Mexican indigenous from Oaxaca, who spoke about water, land and seeds as well as the traditional practices of indigenous people and peasants, which continue to form a strong resistance to the commodification of common goods.

What is the current situation regarding the privatization of water in the Guerrero mountains in Oaxaca?

Initially, we were asked for our support by our colleagues from a community called San Antonino, Castillo Velazco, in the Ococlán district. They wanted us to accompany them to give them some information about the water problem in other areas, because in July 2005 they began to receive some letters from the National Water Commission in which they asked them to go to pay for the excessive consumption that they used to make water with the concession they were given 10 years ago, approximately.

The peasants were surprised because when they were given the concessions they were not told that they had to pay for water. When we asked the National Water Commission they told us that our concession was, for example, for a quarter of a hectare, but since we irrigate a quarter of a hectare plus some neighboring areas, from the same well, we are using more than a quarter to irrigate hectare. The Commission realized this, as we were informed, because they reviewed the receipts of the Federal Electricity Company, so it multiplied the electricity consumption per hour by the pump's extraction capacity and that gives a certain volume of cubic meters. Then, indirectly, they realized that they were extracting more water than they had authorized in the concession.

That is a problem. People say they are not willing to pay for water, because there are many factors behind it. A long time ago these places were very humid, there were even communities that are called "La Ciénega", today only the name remains, because there is no more water, it is no longer a swamp. And this is so because at the end of the 70s the Secretariat of Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources of that time started a program to tell the peasants of those areas that their lands were flooded and that they needed to make canals to extract the water. And what they did was to open channels to drain those lands and today the level of the water table has dropped enormously. They tell us: "fifty years ago the water we needed to irrigate our vegetables we drew with a pitcher from the springs or we dug a hole in the swamp and the water came out." Thirty years ago the wells were 6 meters. Now they are between 25 meters to 40 meters deep. There has been a huge loss of the water tables. The government somehow caused this situation, because they did not know that they were going to direct the water from the lands, they irresponsibly made those channels to dry out the lands.

Not only did they make the canals in small streams, but there is a river that runs through practically the entire territory of Oaxaca, to the North -the Salado River- and in the central part and to the South -where it is called the Atoyac- River. This river sometimes flooded the City of Oaxaca or the peripheral colonies, then it was seen as a problem and what was done was to deepen the channel, which now makes it a channel instead of a river, by drawing the water through the canal is drying up the lands. The peasants add "when we dug the wells, we dug them with our own resources, the federal government never supported us with economic resources to make an investment of that nature." For example, there is a subsidy that is basically given to producers of corn and beans, which is Procampo and they state “we do not receive Procampo because we do not plant corn or beans, we plant vegetables. And since the vegetables are not subsidized, we in our community do not receive any subsidy. We are the ones who have made the investment, we have never received government support and today they come to tell us that we owe them the water ”. On the other hand, there is another situation in some communities where concessions are expiring. The concessions were granted approximately ten years ago, right now they are expiring and they have to renew the concessions in order to continue extracting the water. If they do not renew those concessions, the Federal Electricity Company -which is the one that supplies them with electricity to activate their pumps- cannot give them the service or it can take them off for lack of the concession. So they need the concession to continue drawing water from the ground. And the National Water Commission tells them "if you want me to renew your concession, you have to place a meter in your water well, so that we know with full certainty how many cubic meters of water you are extracting." And people say: "we are not willing to put meters in our water wells because the water is not given to us by the government."

They have done many actions so that the water leaves our lands and now they want to charge us for the water. In the region of the southern part of the Valley of Oaxaca, initially it was the community of San Antonino that started this fight, then the number of communities that were in this situation rose to eight, and now there are fourteen communities.

At the moment they are making more publicity about the problem they have with water to invite farmers from other areas to join their ventures.

There are people who are eager for a protest mobilization to be made so that the government listens and solves the problem. We see that there is a Water Law in Mexico that is practically making peasants criminals.

Unfortunately in the case of the State of Oaxaca we are seeing that every time there is a mobilization, there are police, there is repression, so we have recommended to the peasants that before making a mobilization they have to do what they are doing now: summon more people so that when it is necessary to mobilize, it is not just a community or a small group of peasants mobilizing, but rather a great movement of the entire community of the Valley of Oaxaca that can initiate all the protest and dissemination of this problem. They say "we already realized that the problem was not set by the law, so now another of our demands is that the National Water Law be changed."

How has this system of water “concessions” progressed?

What we have seen in relation to water and land is that, on the one hand, they are concessioning water, be it from wells, rivers or streams, no one can draw water without authorization from the National Water Commission, and This commission can authorize the concession to peasants who live in those places or to individuals, even if they do not live in that place. Even if they don't own a piece of land around the river.

There are mining companies that do not own the soil from which they are extracting from the subsoil and they need water for their activities and they give it to them, to the detriment of local communities. There is a river, for example, which is the Rio Grande, which when it comes down from the mountain has a significant flow, when it reaches the height of the mine that water is used for mining activities and after the mining facilities the channel of the river. river decreases considerably. Because the mine has a lot of seepage, then the surface water is leaking through the mine seepage. The people in these communities are also very unhappy, because the mining company continues to deepen its tunnels and one of those tunnels is reaching the bottom of the water springs that supply the community. If the mining company arrives with its tunnels below our spring, the spring will dry up. The mining company says no, but the communities know from experience of other places where springs previously existed and currently no longer exist because they leaked into the mine's tunnels.

There are cases like these that are occurring in Mexico, in which the problem with water is already seen. Not so much that they are going to take the land from the peasants, but they are causing problems for the concession of water in the communities. The land problem is more related to another government program that is Procede, the Ejido Rights Certification Program, which is related to the ejidos, land endowments that they gave to the communities, some indigenous and others mestizo. Due to the low prices of indigenous crops, people want to sell the land to have money and be able to emigrate to work (to the United States, for example). So the land of the ejidos is being lost, particularly, because the land of the communities cannot be sold.

How are these problems you mentioned in connection with the concession of water for indigenous or peasant communities with the organizations that work on this at the urban level?

There is little articulation. The problem is common, but there is little articulation. In the case of the Valley of Oaxaca, we see that there is a need for a peasant and urban movement to be articulated, because the City of Oaxaca, which is - let's say - above the basin where these peasants are, is extracting a lot of water from them. There are some water bottling companies that are around the city that are located in the places where the water tables are higher and housing units are being built for the poor people, which is leaving the popular neighborhoods that are around without water. of these housing units. As it is in the highest part of the basin and the farmers are in the lower part, they are going to run out of water. That is why it is important that they are articulated between the peasants and the inhabitants of the cities so that policies can be established on the use of water that are managed by the people. Because the National Water Commission, the construction companies, the bottlers, are making irrational use of this vital liquid.

And what is the relationship of the water problem with the payment for environmental services?

In relation to the water in the forested areas there is a difference with the Valley of Oaxaca, that is an area where it does not rain much, so right now they have to extract the water from the subsoil. But in the forested areas there are places where there is up to six thousand millimeters of annual precipitation, without exceptions, but there are those places where there is impressive vegetation, trees that are endemic to that place. that they are prehistoric and that their existence is now being discovered.

In these places there are some government programs of the Ministry of the Environment, such as Prodefor, Program for Forest Development, and other programs related to the environment and to the payment of environmental services. We see the payment of environmental services as a problem for the communities because many times, together with the offer of payment for services, they have to sign a contract. By these contracts, the community is practically giving up the opportunity to make decisions about what to do on those lands, because the counterpart of the contract is the one who sets the conditions for the use of the land. There is a loss of determination about land use, a loss of autonomy. Along with these payment programs for environmental services, especially water environmental services, they are also promoting reforestation, but with only one species. So they are promoting the establishment of monoculture plantations, which can be native trees or outside trees, but they are monocultures. There is also an additional component: sometimes they are motivating people to plant those trees in the fields where they used to grow corn. If you plant those trees, you will no longer be able to plant corn and you will have to abandon that land. So we see that environmental services function as one more strategy of capital to expel people from indigenous communities.

And with regard to the “type” of environmental service, you were referring to “water services”: is there a differentiation in the payment for those services with respect to the others or are these contracts general, where all the forest services are paid? or from the jungle?

What they say is "we are going to pay for all water services but this will be per hectare", that is, you agree not to touch a certain number of hectares and I am going to pay you 400 pesos per hectare per year, for example . That's the kind of pay-for-service they're pushing. It is rude, because people can get much more than 400 pesos per hectare in a year from their forest without having to misuse it. They are forcing people to leave their forest.

And with that leave the place where they live.

Yes, and their culture. The relationship with the environment will change because they will not be able to use medicinal plants or wood.

You have also carried out an important process that you are carrying out to decontaminate native corn -contaminated with transgenics-, what happened to the last harvest?

In the last harvest, which is 2005, a sampling was made in the Valley of Oaxaca, in follow-up to a sampling that we had done in 2003, deciding now to only sample the plants with morphological deformations. Of all the plants with deformations that were sampled, around 10% tested positive for the presence of some type of transgenic, which is a very low percentage. However, we consider that this percentage can be misleading, in the first place because as they are contaminated plants, this contamination could have occurred four, five or more generations ago, so the systems that were designed by the same companies to detect them may not be working what they were designed for. We think that the appearance of so many deformations in native plants may be an indicator of contamination, but it is no longer pure contamination, but it could have had some genetic change inside the plant. And this is causing, on the one hand, the malformations but, on the other, that the presence of transgenics cannot be detected by the methods that were arranged to detect transgenics in the first generation.

And how are they carrying out this process? They are identifying varieties with malformations, but what about the vindication of indigenous culture as a defense mechanism against transgenics?

One of the things that we have been raising with the colleagues of the communities with which we have had to work is to say that they have to continue growing corn, monitoring their milpas, but now they have to take greater care to detect the presence of any malformation and that if they detect any malformation they have to remove the spike so that the pollen does not continue to spread. This is not something new. This has been practiced in some communities for hundreds of years.

Corn is a plant that can pollinate many more plants so it is not necessary that all plants have the ear. Removing the smallest plants, with malformations, or the weakest, can also help the characteristics of the plants to be what people want. It is a traditional practice of some communities that right now we are sharing it with others that did not carry it out to mitigate the process that we know is not everywhere.

In some communities it has practically wiped out some crops, but in others it is very rare that malformations can be found. So the contamination process is not homogeneous, it is different in each community and in each region of the State of Oaxaca and in the country. But the most important thing is that people continue to grow corn, conserving their native varieties, and that they take care of them in this way, without the need for government support, because generally when there is government support they are oriented to something else and end in failure. Here it is about promoting an alternative that comes from below, from the communities.

For the exchange of seeds between the communities, are you taking any kind of special precautions? Has this also been affected by pollution?

The exchange continues, basically between communities that are in the same ecosystem. The exchange of seeds is carried out between communities with similar ecological characteristics, but little by little people are becoming aware that it is no longer so reliable to exchange seeds, due to contamination. They keep doing it but now they do it with more care.

Biodiversity Magazine of October 2006, joint project of REDES-AT (Uruguay) and GRAIN (Spain)

Video: Earth Talk: Agroecology: Who will feed us in a planet in crisis with Miguel A. Altieri (July 2022).


  1. Otoahhastis

    Actually, it will be soon

  2. Lorne

    Drain, And how !!!

  3. Faerisar

    Bravo, what phrase..., a remarkable idea

  4. Dacage

    It is removed

  5. Mitilar

    I have repeatedly read similar posts on English-language blogs, but it does not come out that I did not like your post

  6. Zdenek

    It agree, this amusing opinion

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