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. Their 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). This is a concept from Mayan culture, of dignified living in harmony with each other and the environment.
There are significant threats to Mayan culture. Free trade agreements such as NAFTA have disrupted Indigenous ways of life, unleashing massive small farm failures and tremendous outmigration from the region; extractive mega-projects have further endangered territories and threatened food sovereignty.
To strengthen community organizing, DESMI is active in more than 200 communities; at their eight centers of agroecology, local families can gain knowledge of agroecological practices such as native seed saving, soil conservation, crop diversification and the use of traditional fertilizers. DESMI promotes a continuous learning process to achieve food sovereignty and resist the corporatization of agriculture. “We recognize that agroecology is a path that we’re constantly walking on, a path that encourages possibilities (big or small) to achieve food sovereignty, including the right to be a small peasant farmer,” said Maria.
Importantly, the communities that DESMI supports have not suffered from hunger during Covid-19 and have been able to feed themselves with healthy produce throughout the pandemic. 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 cooperative commercialisation 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 in maintaining the health of the rural populations. DESMI seeks to systematize and visibilize the ancestral and agroecological knowledge of Indigenous and peasant communities -- as part of their “ongoing struggle to defend the essence of life in Chiapas.”
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