Food Sovereignty Takes a Leap Forward
By David Archuleta
On an airy and beautiful Saturday this past November, the first Instituto Agroecologico Latinoamericano (Latin American Institute of Agroecology or IALA) in Central America held a ceremony for its first cohort of graduates in the Chontales department of Nicaragua. The Ixim Ulew IALA, as it is formally named (Ixim Ulew is Maya K’iche for ‘Land of Corn’), is one of many such schools throughout Latin America. The first IALA school was founded in Venezuela as part of an agreement between President Chavez and Vía Campesina to promote agroecology, food sovereignty, and a united political culture in the Freirean style of horizontal education. In this way the divide between student and teacher becomes blurred and is based on the idea that everyone has something to teach and learn. The students in fact spend much of their time in local communities, both learning and teaching with local campesinos.
On school grounds surrounded by forest and the lush Acoyapa River, contingents from several nations arrived throughout the day, highlighting the diverse bonds of solidarity that were both strengthened and created by the school. The graduating class is comprised of students from countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean including Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. These students were chosen by their home organizations, all of which are participants in Via Campesina. Solidarity was again on display with flags for each Latin American country high above the platform, handmade in Ciudad Dario. After brief statements by Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (Farmworkers Union ATC) founder and General Secretary Edgardo Garcia, and Fausto Torrez, director of Ixim Ulew IALA, the round of diploma giving ensued amid joyous applause and smiles. Each student received a technical degree in agroecology.
Hugo Chavez dreamed of seeing a united Latin America and the IALA schools are one method with which to achieve it. Positioning food sovereignty as a top political priority strengthens bonds between nations as well as the class consciousness and unity of campesinos throughout Latin America. Through the campesino to campesino method, nations throughout the region can strengthen ancestral and culturally appropriate methods while still implementing modern techniques for growing food. Campesino unity and force was fully demonstrated last year in Nicaragua during the failed coup attempt.
Thanks to the Sandinista revolution, 80% of Nicaraguan land is now controlled by small and medium scale farmers. Nicaragua’s agricultural sector is so strong that Nicaragua produces 90% of the food it consumes. Moreover, small family business and cooperatives make up 94% of all economic and social entities and the majority of products, including food, circulate in what is known as the popular economy.
Last year’s coup attempt couldn’t make the economy scream in large part due to the resiliency of a decentralized economy and self-sufficiency. This political understanding of the intimate relationship between the struggle for food sovereignty and social movements is a cornerstone of IALA teaching. Along with the historical context, the students also learn the contemporary struggle in each of their home countries, and their final task is to return home to share and put this knowledge into practice.
Although the US flag was not on display, the alliance and historic relationship between US peoples and Latin America has certainly not been forgotten. Among those attending and given special recognition by Edgardo Garcia was Brian Willson, the famed solidarity activist who lost his legs while attempting to stop a train of arms to Central America in the 1980s.
Also in attendance was Pittsburgh-based author Dan Kovalik, who wrote The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela, among many other anti-imperialist works. Besides the detachment from Alliance for Global Justice, myself included, there were also many other US-based activists. All this to say that the school represents a very particular and contemporary manifestation of practical solidarity between peoples and for a better world. The students themselves are the absolute epitome of the fourth political space, a further brick in the still-drying foundation for a multi-polar world, and the apex of centuries of Latin American struggle. If you are interested in learning more about the students and the school you can join the upcoming delegation to Nicaragua in February (more info below), read some of their testimonies, or donate directly to the school through the Friends of the ATC solidarity network.
In conclusion, AFGJ recognizes the relevancy of the first graduating class of the Ixim Ulew IALA in the struggle to create a better world based on new political and economic models. AFGJ formally sends grand congratulations to the premier class of IALA Ixim Ulew students with the warmest feelings of solidarity and hope for the future.