Interview with Jesús León Santos, Winner of Goldman Prize*
MEXICO CITY, Apr 24 (Tierramérica) - Biotech corporations that developed genetically modified seeds are bribing authorities and carrying out costly advertising campaigns "plagued with lies in order to create monsters that attack life," says Jesús León Santos, an indigenous man who is one of this year's winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
"We showed them that the cultivation techniques of our ancestors are the best and that they represent life. We are on the right path," León Santos said in an interview with Tierramérica correspondent Diego Cevallos.
The 42-year-old Mexican farmer, who has led land recovery projects since he was 18, inspired by traditional indigenous knowledge, was awarded the annual prize given by the U.S.-based Goldman Environmental Foundation, known widely as the "Green Nobel", on Apr. 14.
León Santos's programme is active in an impoverished Mixteca indigenous region of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, one of the most badly eroded areas of the world, according to the United Nations. The region also spews out large numbers of migrants.
The Mixteca Small Farmer Integral Development Centre, headed by León Santos, has planted about four million trees in the area, while developing rainwater collection systems and promoting traditional crops. Some 400 indigenous families have benefited directly from the projects, in which many local residents actively participate.
Most important, they have revived the tradition of the "milpa", a style of agriculture developed by the pre-Hispanic cultures of southern Mexico and Central America, which helps keep soils fertile.
The Mixteca region covers parts of the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla, in southern Mexico, and is home to Mixteca or Ñuu savi Indians ("people of the rains" or clouds). In Oaxaca it extends across 16,000 square kilometres.
León Santos, who received an award of 150,000 dollars with the Goldman Prize, was this year's representative for the North American region. The other regional winners were Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza of Ecuador, Feliciano dos Santos of Mozambique, Rosa Hilda Ramos of Puerto Rico, Marina Rikhvanova of Russia and Ignace Schops of Belgium.
TA: The companies that produce genetically modified (GM) seeds are asking Mexico to allow its maize varieties to be planted here because they say they are much more productive. What do you think?
JLS: GM seeds can be monsters in comparison to what nature has created. We can't fool around with what is natural, and those companies are truly creating monsters that attack life, not just the native seeds but also ourselves. What I'd tell the seed companies is that they carry out campaigns that are not ethical, because they lie and bribe governments.
TA: But each year there are more and more GM crops in the world and their promoters argue that this technology has come to stay.
JLS: To everyone who thinks that our ancient systems are just a matter of romantic ideals, we say that we are on the right path. What they are proposing is a disaster. When those modified seeds can no longer be controlled, they could cause a global catastrophe.
TA: How should this danger that you see be dealt with?
JLS: We have to do what they do: carry out campaigns. They have an incredible amount of money and can make their million-dollar propaganda, and at times even buy off the authorities to allow them to plant their crops. We have to work in a different way: convince the public and show them that what we are doing is producing and protecting life itself.
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(*Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)