Carol Hernández is from Mexico City, Mexico, and has a PhD in Sociology from Portland State University (PSU), Oregon. The title of her dissertation is “The Dispute Over the Commons: Seed and Food Sovereignty as Decommodification in Chiapas, Mexico.” Her dissertation research focused on the analysis of the emerging seed sovereignty movement in Chiapas and its intersections with the Zapatista movement for indigenous autonomy. Her research interests are focused on agrarian social movements, mainly on the topics of seed sovereignty, agrobiodiversity conservation, and adaptation of peasant agriculture to climate change.
Contesting Seed Sovereignty in the Global South: Seed Certification Laws, GMOs, Subsistence Agriculture, and Indigenous Struggles for Seed Sovereignty in Chiapas, Mexico
When analyzing threats to native seeds, most of the seed sovereignty literature focuses on the issues of enclosure through the imposition of intellectual property rights and seed laws, increased concentration of corporate power in the seed sector, and potential genetic contamination caused by exposure to GMOs. However, little attention has been placed on the risks that ongoing deterioration of subsistence agriculture, the primary mechanism through which peasants reproduce native seeds, poses to the preservation of agrobiodiversity in the global South. Drawing on ethnographic research in the indigenous central region of Chiapas, Mexico, where the insurgent Zapatista movement controls substantial autonomous territory and seed sovereignty initiatives are spreading, this paper examines some of the factors underlying such deterioration and how communities have responded to them. It also analyzes how those factors intersect with the threats to native seeds identified by scholars and activists of the local and international seed sovereignty movements. The study includes 51 communities: 25 non-Zapatista communities and 26 EZLN autonomous communities; from these, 47 have a predominantly indigenous population and three have a majority mestizo population. As expected, native seeds continue to be a vital component of local subsistence agriculture, and these communities largely retain sovereignty over their seeds. Our findings suggest that the deterioration of subsistence agriculture—mainly due to environmental factors such as resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and climate change—is the most immediate threat to these communities’ seed sovereignty. Certification, enclosure, and genetic contamination are only potential risks so far. The political discourses around these potential external risks, nonetheless, have attracted a broad constituency among indigenous communities in the region around more structural issues such as agrobiodiversity conservation, strengthening of subsistence agriculture, and adaptation to climate change. From this study, it is possible to identify two interconnected dimensions of the local seed sovereignty movement. First, an external and political dimension—common to other national and international seed sovereignty movements—focused on organizing communities against such potential external threats. Second, a more internal and pragmatic dimension focused on enhancing subsistence agriculture and improving the environmental conditions for its sustainable reproduction.
Affiliation: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México