There are significant threats to Mayan culture. Rampant development has disrupted Indigenous ways of life, endangering Indigenous territories, threatening food sovereignty, and driving many small farm failures and outmigration from the region.
DESMI (Desarrollo Económico y Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas) is an organization committed to the economic and social development of Indigenous Mexicans. Formed in Chiapas in 1969, it works to improve the livelihoods of rural populations and defend the rights of smallholder farmers. Its vision is to be an organization of women and men devoted to the construction of Lekil Kuxlejal-Ich’el ta muk’ (“Living well and with great respect.”) From Mayan culture, this is a concept of dignified living in harmony with each other and the environment.
Importantly, the communities that DESMI supports have not suffered from hunger during COVID-19 and have been able to feed themselves with healthy produce from nearby farms. This is a significant achievement for the organization, as it demonstrates the potential of agroecology to sustain entire communities in times of vulnerability.
DESMI continues to adopt new strategies to help farming families maintain access to healthy and diverse foods, and deepen their production, commercialization and distribution practices. Communities receive peer-to-peer training in the cooperative commercialization of small enterprises such as bakeries, beekeeping, canning, etc. The COVID-19 crisis has increased interest in local medicinal plants and their uses, as they have been central to maintaining the health of rural populations.
To strengthen community organizing, DESMI is active in more than 200 communities. At their eight centers of agroecology, local families gain knowledge of agroecological practices such as native seed saving, soil conservation, crop diversification and the use of traditional fertilizers. DESMI seeks to put into practice the ancestral and agroecological knowledge of Indigenous and peasant communities as part of their ongoing struggle to defend the essence of life in Chiapas.