Three months ago, with the technical guidance and scientific knowledge of Mixtec Biologist Donato Ramírez José, we launched his project to bring new agricultural practices to the Mixteca Alta communities by incorporating a few innovations to the traditional terrace system. The useful technique for the hillside land consists of planting rows of fruit trees alternated with maize plants along with beans or other edible legumes. This technology meets the expectations of small producers in this microregion since it considers the cultivation of basic grains for auto consumption thus increasing food security and on the other hand, considers the production of fruit for the market which can provide additional income for families. At the same time, the arrangement of the system and the sustainable practices of management of sediment filters seeks the conservation of soil and water resources.
Additionally, we will continue hosting our yearly summer camp for high school students which is focused on gaining an understanding of their role in protecting the environment, preserving their culture, and improving the indigenous education system.
SLASA believes that it is through education and the development of agricultural practices that people won’t be pushed to migrate from their land to the cities. A phenomenon that, it must be said has dramatically decreased since more than five years ago.
Since 2013, SLASA has supported the rural community of Santo Tomás Ocotepec in Southern Mexico on various community-driven initiatives. These initiatives, described in further detail below, include a bike sharing club (Biciclub) and extracurricular summer courses for local students. The Biciclub reduced students’ commute times to school from an average of three hours to 45 minutes. The courses focus on exploring the region and its history by teaching local students historical and scientific analysis tools. In this way, students are encouraged to develop their own understandings of their community, their history, and their potential roles in environmental conservation practices. The success of these projects hinges entirely on the active participation, cooperation, and support of locals at the individual, societal, and governmental levels.
For the past year, we’ve continued developing these projects and broadened them to tackle issues that have taken priority in the community: food security, economic independence, migration, and environmental conservation. Our role in these projects is one of linking and supporting. By using SLASA’s organizational platform in Canada and our social media presence to raise funds, we're able to provide economic support and link key local actors, community members, government institutions, and field specialists. Since these projects are created and developed by local community members and field experts, they are likely to succeed in the long term.
The environmental summer course uses math, biology, and chemistry to solve real-life problems and tasks, while the history summer course provides the students with historical investigation methods. They encourage students to value both traditional education and the environment while cultivating students’ ability to think critically about their relationship to their land. What is most important about these courses is showing students that they are capable of critical thinking and that their ideas and conclusions are both valuable and important, regardless of them reflecting what is in history textbooks or not. One of the main issues in Indigenous education is that students are taught versions of their history that is foreign to them or their cultural history is simply ignored and replaced with Mexican history since the arrival of the Spaniards.
Therefore, the history course focuses on developing a local history based on local community members' oral and written knowledge.
The focus of this summer, however, will be the agricultural terraces project in the neighboring community of Cuquila in the same Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, which has already been underway for two months.
In this region, families mainly rely on the cultivation of basic grains (milpa) to feed themselves. Given the deterioration of natural resources, most notably of the quality of the soil, the yields from traditional production systems have become insufficient to sustain the communities, resulting in food shortages. These shortages have pushed the community to seek ways to improve their conditions. According to the Cuquila community members, it is possible to improve their conditions by obtaining productive and training assets.
Here is where SLASA played a role in linking key local actors (community members and farming families) to pertinent national institutions and field specialists: The National Institute of History and Anthropology, INAH, represented by renowned Anthropologist Ethelia Ruiz and Donato Ramirez José, a Biologist from Santo Domingo Tonaltepec, Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca.
Two months ago, Donato began by training the community members of the new Milpa technology (MIAF) and they have already begun cultivating the land with this new system. This is a very exciting project since the Cuquila community is empowered to act on their food security and health of their environment.
We are using our platform to raise the necessary funds to carry out this project. So far, we’ve obtained funding through university grants like the McBurney Fellowship, Churro Sales, and now with this social media crowdfunding campaign. So far, our budget allows us to hire biologist Donato for twelve months so he can oversee the project and work alongside five local families to teach the technique and modify it when necessary. We’re trying to maximize the use of Donato’s expertise by incorporating as many families into the project as possible − each additional $450 we raise one more family that can participate in the project. The impact of this cannot be emphasized enough, given that this directly alleviates food shortages in a sustainable and empowering way. Local protagonism ensures the project will endure over the long-term and the unique adaptation to the local community ensures its applicability. It allows families to take charge of their land, their economic situation, and their nutrition. Currently, families can produce food for only three months for their consumption. By learning the MIAF technique and implementing it on their land, they can feasibly produce food for themselves for eight months and works towards producing additional income year-round (from fruit yields).