| Food first: The Campesino a Campeslno movement: Farmer-Led, Sustainable Agriculture in Central America and Mexico |
What can campesino a Campesino teach us that might be useful in promoting sustainable agriculture?
First of all it seems highly important to note that campesinos have succeeded where agricultural science has failed: by developing the basic agroecological and methodological tenets for the development of sustainable agriculture in the tropics. This is no easy point for many to admit, but it is critical in establishing the importance of campesinos culture in the future paradigms for sustainable development. Without returning to any romanticized notion of the peasantry or idyllic village life, it is essential that scientists and development agencies recognize that campesinos are not just "clients" or "target "groups." Nor are they simply a disadvantaged social class in need of resources to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps," thereby solving the "campesino problem." In fact, modern day campesino culture holds the crucial keys for the development of sustainable agriculture. Campesinos -the oldest social class on the planet- are not a "problem" to be "solved." The world needs campesinos in order to solve the present agroecological crisis affecting all of us. Campesinos, in this sense are a socially desirable sector and a legitimate partner in development.
The task then becomes not how do we change campesinos into capital-intensive farmers or third world yeomen in order to develop agriculture, but rather: how can we help make campesino culture stronger and more dynamic?
Short of suggesting that every country or region have a farmer-to-farmer movement, the first major orientation might be to insure that -farmers and campesinos be genuinely involved in the entire process of agricultural development- from analysis of the problems to generation of alternatives, including their validation, diffusion, evaluation and back again.
There are no quick fixes. The bottom line is: sharing the development process with farmers, means sharing power with them: power to set experimental agendas, use extension resources, determine diffusion strategies, plan and execute production and conservation plans. The question then is not whether farmers are capable of developing sustainable agriculture, hut are the rest of us capable of letting them?
If we accept the notion that today's campesinos have more social, scientific and intellectual resources at their disposal than they did a generation ago (illiteracy notwithstanding), and if we accept the legitimacy of farmers' endogenous development processes, then we may be able to honestly conceive of participating in a partnership rather than a patronship for agricultural development.
Participation, in this context means our participation in their process. Can we help? Can we open lines of communication? Clear up conceptual voids? Provide methods for discovery, generation and sharing of knowledge? Can we support farmer organization for developing and sharing innovations? Can we stand back and allow campesinos to become the protagonists in agricultural development?
If we are interested in a partnership with farmers, what does this mean, institutionally, programmatically or politically? The Campesino a Campesino experience suggests the following guidelines may be helpful:
• 1. Promote small-scale experimentation and farmer to farmer training and exchanges through local development and farmers' organizations.
• 2. Provide local, regional and national opportunities for farmer gatherings, symposia and conferences.
• 3. Actively promote the development of sustainable, low-external input agriculture.
• 4. Provide direct and indirect technical and financial support for groups of farmer promotores.
• 5. Train and orient professionals technically and methodologically in their new support roles.
• 6. Provide formal and informal opportunities for farmers and promoters to share their experiences, their doubts and express their demands to formal research and extension facilities.
• 7. Document and make available videos, radio spots and pictorial articles based on direct farmer experiences and testimony in sustainable agriculture.
Clearly, some of us are already capable of supporting farmer-led development of sustainable agriculture. It has implied fundamental changes in our development paradigms. But as agricultural development turns toward sustainable agriculture for solutions to the agroecological crisis, and as peasants continue to exert their influence in the countryside, one wonders what will happen to those institutions not capable of making the change. The sustainability of agriculture itself may depend not on whether the state ministries, the agricultural universities, the technical training schools and the agricultural centers can convince farmers to adopt technologies, but rather, whether these institutions can change their traditional role of provider to that of facilitator. This will be no easy task, and institutions will probably resort to a myriad of new "participatory" approaches before they concede any real power sharing with their former "clients." But then, "wresting" subsidized power from these institutions may not be the best strategy anyway. Rather, it may be more important to do just what promotores have been doing: developing sustainable alternatives from the ground up. Campesinos have proven it can be one. We hope the rest of the development community catches on.