Magazine article New Internationalist

Because the River Told Me

Magazine article New Internationalist

Because the River Told Me

Article excerpt

In the pre-dawn hours of 3 March, assassins burst into the home of Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza, Honduras, and shot dead the indigenous Lenca leader. A founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) of Honduras, Berta was the 2015 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's leading environmental award, for her work organizing opposition to a hydro-electric dam project on the sacred Gualcarque R iver.

The Agua Zarca dam project is located on land that the Honduran de facto government conceded to foreign interests in the months after the 2009 military coup that deposed reformist President Manuel Zelaya. FMO, the Dutch development bank financing the project, expressed its regret first for the 'passing away' of Cáceres in a carefully worded online statement, a term which it later amended to 'violent death'. It maintained that the dam project was necessary for guaranteeing electricity to Hondurans, while promising to compensate local communities and even 'train a group of farmers to improve their farming techniques'. However, on 16 March it was forced to suspend its funding following the murder of another COPINH member, Nelson García.1

The 'right' to technology is a troublesome concept, because technologies contain all the flaws of the culture that creates them. Technology that we insist must reach people through markets will bear the blood of capitalist accumulation on a militarized planet. Conversely, the diverse kinds of knowledge that help family farmers continue to provide most of the world's food cannot be easily reduced to 'technologies' to be bought and sold. Indigenous, peasant and rural producers' intricate empirical knowledge, oral traditions, rituals and relationships of harmony with nature, like their cyclical, integrated view of life and the cosmos, go far beyond development buzzwords such as 'technology' or 'innovation'.

'We are people of the land, who live with the land,' said Lola Esquivel, a Nicaraguan peasant at a recent seed-sharing meeting of the Rural Workers' Association (ATC). 'Our struggle is in part to defend our identity, to teach our children how to plant with the moon's cycles... But more than anything, it is about defending our right to live with and on the land.'

The wrong revolution

The accumulation of knowledge in traditional farming systems, which have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to sustain communities, cities and ecosystems down the ages, was threatened and often lost in the decades after the Second World War, as Green Revolution technologies proliferated. The reductionist vision of the Green Revolution made invisible the complex knowledge systems of traditional farmers, fisherfolk, herders and forest dwellers, as well as the diverse goods and services provided by traditional land use. Under the banner of development, transnational corporations have used technologies for half a century to destroy tens of thousands of years' worth of indigenous seeds by replacing them with a few 'high-yield' commercial varieties, substitute living soil fertility cycles with poisonous synthetic inputs, replace human labour with chemicals and machinery, and remake the world's many agricultures in a single, simplified, profit-focused image.

Here's one example of the fallout, in the words of a member of Mali's National Confederation of Peasant Organizations (CNOP): 'In Mali, 85 per cent of the population works the land. Peasants and small producers have collective rights, common ownership of the land through recognition of customary law. People can work in the fields. Women can pick fruit and nuts. However, World Bank-backed land titling programmes have led to unprecedented land sales. The problem is that multinationals wanted to work on land that was being cultivated and send the peasants elsewhere. It is cheaper for these companies to work on land that is already being cultivated. This simple fact has led to repression, violence and death. …

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