Resistance And Subsistence:
Food Production Alternatives


Ilustration: Katt Aguirre

Cultivation is one of the community processes that has been the basis for humanity, but today cultivation is threatened by industrialization, violence and dispossession. Those who struggle for food sovereignty in Latin America share obstacles, but also roots and resistance.

Rosa Lema, an elderly woman agroproducer and food distributor who grows her products on a rented plot of land near her home, works in a small place surrounded by vegetables. She belongs to the San Joaquín Agroproducers Association along with dozens of other women. This association has its headquarters in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, in a market where the green of the leaves, the scent of the fruits and the conversations with which they win over their customers form a vast space abundant in characteristics that help to understand the concept of food sovereignty.

Rosa pays between eight hundred and a thousand dollars a year for the land where she plants. She is not sure if every month her production is enough to make ends meet, but the habit of working for the land keeps her constant in a task she learned empirically while working for a family when she was just a child.

Her sowing process begins with the purchase of seeds in a store where she is already known and where she feels confident about the products she acquires. This is evident when, smiling, she shows a huge broccoli that came from her garden and assures that no chemical is responsible for its size. In addition, other products such as beets, garlic, carrots, spinach and purple cabbages make her small stand an intermingling of shapes, colors and flavors. They also create connections between Rosa, as the root of the food process, and their clients, as economic drivers to promote agro-cultivation.

Rosa Lema, like other women in the region, shows how producers work daily to achieve food sovereignty.

The International Committee for Food Sovereignty-Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Coordination 2012 (CIP-ALC by its Spanish acronym) defines food sovereignty as «the right of peoples to control their own seeds, land, water and food production […] through local, autonomous (participatory, communal and shared) and culturally appropriate production, in harmony and complementarity with Mother Earth». Similarly, the 2007 Forum for Food Sovereignty in Sélingué, Mali, set out six key pillars for understanding food sovereignty: valuing food providers, localizing food systems, promoting local control, prioritizing food for people, developing knowledge and skills, and working with nature.

Based on the principles set out at the Mali Conference, food sovereignty symbolizes a concept that embraces producers as protagonists in the genesis of the food process. Their knowledge acquired from ancestral knowledge is key to ensure that the food that reaches people’s homes is healthy and profitable, respecting nature and obtaining the necessary guarantees and recognition so that agricultural crops are prioritized over processed food and the work of agro-producers is valued.

Agroecological production in the Latin American context

The agroecological production process has similar problems in the Latin American region. Inequity in land distribution, the lack of laws that support small producers, the inexperience of empirical agro-producers and the few places where products can be marketed are problems that affect the growth of agroecology. But, at the same time, the union of producing communities, ancestral knowledge and concern for people’s health by avoiding the use of chemicals show that, despite external difficulties, the region is united to resist in a process of healthy production for and by its people.

In Mexico, Rarámuri communities in the Sierra Tarahumara are threatened by the violence of drug cartels and commercial interests for their land, which has forced them to abandon the place where they have coexisted for generations and where agriculture was their main source of income. In Cuenca, Ecuador, according to Tatiana Rodríguez, an Andean gastronome and agriculturalist, the problem is land distribution and production costs, which do not allow them to compete with agribusiness. She also points out that 20% of what is marketed is the work of local farmers; the remaining 80% comes from the central highlands of the country or from Peru, which reduces opportunities for local workers. In addition, in countries such as Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, and the aforementioned countries, there is almost no space for the trade of their products. For this reason, and in order to be able to commercialize, farmers’ associations have created their own associations in order to have spaces where their food can be exhibited and thus obtain monetary retribution for their work.
In Argentina, the Unión Pequeños Productores Organizados Punta Indio (UPPOPI) was born from the need to create marketplaces to market the products of small agro-producers and the Red Nacional de Municipios y Comunidades que fomentan la Agroecología (RENAMA) to confront the harmful forms of local agro-industry. In Venezuela, Yackeline Coromoto Pérez belongs to the Unión Campesina Huerto Familiar, in Sanare, Lara state, and the organization helps her with seeds, organic fertilizer and animal manure to prepare the land for planting and harvesting food. In Ecuador, if Rosa Lema has a space in one of the largest wholesale markets in the south of the country, it is thanks to the fact that she belongs to the Association of Agroproducers of San Joaquin.

Pesticides, another challenge for agroecology

Another challenge that producers face is the validation and denial of the use of pesticides on agroecological foods.

In Peru, Ana Maria Farfán, former president of the Regional Association of Agricultural Producers of the Cusco region (ARPAC), mentions that many times she has had to use pesticides, due to climate change that generates new pests and diseases that damage products and only pesticides are effective in eliminating them.

In Ecuador, Miguel Domínguez, president of the San Joaquín Agroproducers Association, says he is against chemicals even though they improve production. He is aware that the health of his clients and his family is more important. In Argentina, Clara Alberdi of RENAMA states that the water problem is so great because the harmful salts from indiscriminate fumigation run down with the rain to the groundwater, damaging people’s health and quality of life.

Faced with the use of chemicals, the farmers interviewed in this research are aware that it is not the right way to produce more and better. Their testimonies are amalgamated into one when they ask authorities and experts to guide them to a healthy, efficient and responsible farming experience that benefits them and their customers.

The damage produced by the use of chemicals in plantations directly or indirectly affects consumers as well as the people who live near the contaminated sites. An example of this is shown in the study Effects on neurodevelopment associated with an environment at risk of exposure to pesticides, developed by Cuadernos de Neuropsicología. This study shows that forty children of an average of four years of age in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, belonging to preschools near contaminated crops, were indirectly affected, presenting a greater number of developmental delay indicators. What this study concludes is that these results would imply considering preventive measures not only for people who directly handle pesticides, such as producers, but also for those who are in nearby areas.

Inequity in land distribution

To the web of problems affecting food sovereignty, such as the lack of commercialization spaces, the abuse of pesticides and the lack of knowledge about efficient crops without chemicals, we must add the inequity in access to land and water. Although in many Latin American countries it is enshrined in their constitutions, food sovereignty remains on paper.

In Ecuador, one of the first countries to incorporate food sovereignty in its constitution, Article 281 of the Constitution enacted in 2008 devotes fourteen points to the responsibilities of the State in this regard, among which are «promoting production, agrifood transformation, community and social and solidarity economy; […] promoting policies that allow peasants access to land, water and other productive resources; […] generating fair and solidarity-based systems of distribution and marketing of food».

However, the Constitution continues to be disregarded due to other regulations and discourses in force. In fact, according to the chapter «Agrarian dispossession» in the book Tierra Urgente by Jorge Núñez: «a few families of the oligarchy, which constitute 2% of the population, own half of the country’s arable land; at the other extreme are the peasants, who are 64% of the owners, but own only 6% of the agricultural land». Apart from this, some producers lease plots of land to grow their crops, pay large amounts for access to water and have to buy their own seeds, since there is no free distribution.

This is repeated in several countries of the region, where agroecological producers told of their experiences, needs and the difficulties they face in order to be able to continue with a millenary work passed down for generations, which is part of their roots and serves as the engine that feeds and nourishes the people.

Women and LGBTIQ+ representation: challenges faced in production

A large part of the planting and production work is done by women and is rarely valued. An internal study carried out by the organization Acción Campesina de Venezuela indicates that of the 100% of those in charge of family gardens, 63% are women, compared to 37% who are men.

On the other hand, the article «Food sovereignty, gender power and the right to decide» points out that, worldwide, «on the productive side of the food system, women constitute 43% of the agricultural labor force […] They are discriminated against in matters ranging from land tenure to wages, from government aid to access to technology».

Many women organize themselves to carry out agricultural projects and to provide training that will benefit the development of their work. In Peru, Ana María Farfán Castilla, one of the founders of the Regional Association of Agricultural Producers of Cusco (ARPAC) and a leader of rural women producers, does this. She assures that «more than half of the labor» falls on women. However, she states that they are regularly discriminated against and lack opportunities to work in agricultural institutions.

This work in many countries is not so masculinized for various reasons. In this regard, Tatiana Rodríguez, an Andean gastronomist and agriculturalist in Ecuador, comments that in the network to which she belongs, men «have migrated to the city to work in other jobs such as construction,» while women have decided to continue producing in order to take care of their families and support them through agriculture.

-The fact that they can be part of a board of directors, participate or trade, means that they have a process of empowerment in gender issues.

Along the same lines, women in production work also face various challenges such as stigmas, machismo, harassment and sexual abuse. Clara Alberdi, from RENAMA, to which many women belong, explains that:

-Most of the fields that are starting to do agroecology have to do with spaces where there are women-. She is very optimistic about the future. The rural environment is a patriarchal environment, it is very hard, it is tiring, but we will not be defeated.

In Venezuela, women producers must overcome the lack of public transportation, lack of money and the scarcity of basic services such as water and domestic gas. On this point, Yelmi Urrutia Domínguez, agronomist and project assistant for Acción Campesina, comments:

-Normally women and children are the ones who have to carry the water, many times it is very long distances, distances that can be dangerous for them […] it has been very hard and I especially think that the issue of domestic gas hits women, the crisis has been very strong, they have returned to cooking with firewood with the implications it has on deforestation and on the health of women who are the ones who mostly prepare the food.

Regarding the representation of the LGBTIQ+ community, Urrutia Domínguez also mentions that in Venezuela, although there is a diverse population, there are few who openly show their sexual orientation for different reasons, taboos and reprisals.

Resisting in a collective and sovereign manner

The industrialization of the production process has not only generated dynamics of inequality and violence, but also dispersed a process that is fundamentally communitarian. Resistance is also in the recovery of organization: there are times when women and LGBTIQ+ people look for each other for support and to transmit their knowledge. An example of this is seen in the group Colectiva Chamanas, a group of lesbian women with a presence in several communities in Chiapas, in southeastern Mexico, who meet for the preparation of the land, from planting, to harvesting, to the production of handicrafts. They also learn collectively about various subjects, including land treaties and daily trades.

For the lesbian women of the Shaman Collective, sharing spaces with indigenous women from Chiapas has also allowed them to learn more about their own food, especially because it is a space where they feel safe, without the stigma of being rejected for being lesbians.

Despite the adversity, producers insist and resist. Continuing with the case of Mexico, the Rarámuri community of Mogótavo, in the Sierra Tarahumara, has been displaced by tourism and other commercial interests and this has led to the loss of their traditions, including traditional food, and it is the older women who are the main advocates for continuing to plant.

Perla Silvestre Lara, project manager for the Awé Tibúame organization, an association that works with the Rarámuri community of Mogótavo, a small town in the municipality of Urique, Chihuahua, near the tourist area of Barrancas del Cobre, tells us of her concern about what is happening in this area:

-The region is characterized by being rocky, with shallow soils, with a lot of erosion by wind and water, so the areas for planting are small and yet the community continues to make its efforts to have its corn, beans, squash, and in these plots where polyculture is done, which are a fundamental part of the community’s food supply.

As for the monetary gain obtained by the producers, most of the countries in the region do not sell to third parties, they use techniques of self-consumption and barter of products among neighbors, others donate food to canteens that have emerged to alleviate food poverty.

In Argentina they know this very well. Carla Gandulfo, founding member of Unión Pequeños Productores Organizados Punta Indio, (UPPOPI) explains that the producers have formed a kind of barter club, in which:

-Each one produces for one, and for their different neighboring producers, including. So the one who makes honey exchanges with the one who makes soap, exchanges with the one who makes wine, and we all have everything, knowing where it comes from, who makes it, the history of the family, that is much more enriching than any big industry.

The self-perception study of small agricultural producers. The case of Huichapan Hidalgo, Mexico, has as one of the reflections that «working in the field is about more than just producing, for them it is about preserving the traditions of the field through practice and the application of acquired knowledge».

Like these, there are more cases in the region that show the need for women and communities of sexual diversity to empower themselves in different spaces in order to continue with healthy and sustainable production over time, which will continue to contribute to food sovereignty.

Faced with the power of agribusiness in the region and despite external difficulties, from northern Mexico to Argentina, there are communities in which LGBTIQ+ people, women and other inhabitants unite to resist (in small or large groups). They show us that landscapes, production and growing conditions may be different, but collective work is a constant to achieve healthy food, with ecological processes and respect for ancestral knowledge. They know that each action of resistance is also aimed at the subsistence of themselves, their families and their communities.

Reporting and Writing: Pierina Sora & Daniel Pachari  •  Reporting and Transcription: David Adrián García & Johanna Gallegos  •  Reporting and Curating: Agustina Verdi  •  Editing: Marisol Ciriano  •  Coordinator: Katia Rejón Márquez

cooperativa puntos verdes

Cooperativa Puntos Verdes: Agencia de desarrollo humano local

Ubicada en el municipio de Tixméhuac en Yucatán, México, la cooperativa Puntos Verdes tiene como objetivo impulsar una red de comercialización, consumo y producción locales para crear una alianza e intercambio entre los diferentes municipios y comisarías del estado.

This investigation was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Coalición LATAM 2022. All Rights Reserved.