SEEDS from Chiapas, Mexico: A Lesson of Sustainability for Ecologists

Sustainability� sometimes it sounds like an ideal. However, on our SEEDS field trip to Chiapas, Mexico, students from the United States, Puerto Rico and Mexico were able to witness small cooperatives of indigenous agricultural workers working together with scientists to make sustainability a reality.� In Chiapas, we saw indigenous organizations developing, learning, and teaching sustainable agriculture techniques to researchers and other farmers. Researchers are working to recover the much valuable local knowledge and sharing their expertise to develop agricultural practices that are efficient, simple, and culturally appropriate.� With a holistic approach to ecologic problems, farmers and scientist are conducting experiments to test planting, harvesting, and soil fertilization methods that are healthy for the workers and the environment, as well as economically profitable.� The achievements of their work are improving the indigenous people’s quality of life and minimizing the ecologic impact of the agricultural production that sustains their families and the regional economy.

The work that is taking place in Chiapas is a huge lesson for Ecology. Where pristine conservation is impossible, where people are living off the land and altering the natural environment, conservation or restoration ecologists cannot work against or in spite of the people: We must work in cooperation with them.� Ultimately, as one of our assisting faculty pointed out, it is not the researchers at the universities that will be doing the sustainable agriculture; it is the farmers in the fields.� I think Chiapas taught us that the future of environment conservation lies in our capacity to realize that is our goal.

Contributed by Jessica A. Fong-Cisneros, University of Texas at El Paso