Hope for a Beleaguered Planet....

Our book Milpa: From Seed to Salsa - Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future explores through a blend of essays, recipes and documentary photography how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1000 year-old seeds and planting practices still in use among the Mixtec peoples of southern Mexico can help us to meet the ecological and food crises of today.

The essays, written in conjunction with campesino farmers, serve as a warning about the complicated dangerous effects inherent in the rapidly expanding distribution of GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds in Mexico, the birthplace of corn. Our documentary cookbook discusses alternatives for campesino farmers across the world and gardeners and consumers who care about food safety. Using the example of the Milpa planting system in the Mixteca Alta region of Southern Mexico just north of Oazaxa City, the book supports recent studies by UN investigators that show that small plots of land, heritage seeds and sustainable practices can in fact feed the world while enriching the soils on which we all depend for life…….

Milpa contains the traditional recipes lovingly shared by the local indigenous Mixtec women, allowing readers to re-create the culinary magic that flows from this ancient agricultural system. Recipes are painstakingly tested and photographed in traditional indigenous kitchens as well as in a professional modern test kitchen. Please purchase the book, below.....

All Rights Reserved: © Phil-Dahl Bredine, © Kathy Dahl-Bredine © Judith Cooper Haden Photography, © Susana Trilling SOMH.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


As the struggle heightened across the U.S. to require labeling of genetically modified foods, with victories in Connecticut and Main, French researchers found cancerous tumors in rats fed GM corn, while Japan and Russia shut the door on U.S. rice and wheat imports after discovering GM contamination. Here the native peoples of Mexico rallied in Oaxaca to protest GM contamination of their native corns. With your help, we of the Collective for the Defense of Indigenous Territories and 10 other organizations sponsored the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal here in Oaxaca. The People’s Tribunal is a world-wide organization begun by Bertrand Russell, which hears the protests of peoples who are the victims of governmental and corporate abuse of power.

Native corn seeds, saved from year to year.

Almost 600 campesinos from across Mexico, representing most of the indigenous peoples of the country, gathered with international figures such as Drs. Ignacio Chapela and Vandana Shiva to demand redress for contamination of their native corn varieties before a panel of international and local “judges”. The two day event in late April began with colorful processions led by a village brass band, indigenous women in traditional dress, and a Mayan priestess who led a special rite of blessing of the four directions and of an altar prepared on the ground of the myriad colors of native corn arranged in a
special pattern in the center of the gathering. Sacredness and fiesta illustrated how deep the culture of corn, of community, and of celebration is embedded in the indigenous pueblos, even in time of struggle and protest.

Declaring that “it is the sacred corn that takes care of our communities and is the one who has permitted us to live and resist during thousands of years”, speaker after speaker, all campesino women and men, denounced the efforts of governments to reduce corn to a thing, into merchandise, an object which is merely bought and sold to the highest bidder. They recounted how patented genes of GM corn have caused deformations in their native corn varieties and how these corns threatened not only to destroy the biodiversity represented by native corn, but to displace native corn from the market.

Pedro and Catalina at the CEDICAM experimental
 gardens, Nochixtlan, Oaxaca 
Scientists such as Chapela and Elena Alvarez-Buylla recounted how their research into the effects of genetically modified crops led to funding cuts, academic censorship, and threats to their academic careers. Meanwhile Indian physicist Vandana Shiva recounted how Monsanto in coordination with the origin of cotton, occasioning, in the process, the suicides of 100,00 small farmers of India. Though this court has no legal standing, the moral authority of its decisions has been part of what has delayed the Mexican government’s approval for planting of millions of acres of genetically modified corn in the northern states of Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, the distribution points for most commercial Mexican corn. 

Your financial assistance fed most of these 600 people during the two days of the tribunal.

Augustin, planting heritage corn in Tilantongo, Oaxaca.

PHOTOS: © Judith Cooper Haden
TEXT: © Phil and Kathy Dahl-Bredine

If you wish to contribute to this work, you can send a much-appreciated tax-deductible donation to:Instituto Paz en las Americas, 2645 Mountain View Rd. Silver City, NM 88061. Please write onthe memo of the check: “for Dahl-Bredine projects”.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


© Phil Dahl-Bredine

A few months ago my friend Pedro called me over to his computer to see a video. To my surprise I saw Mixtec campesino farmers thanking a regional foundation and the “Fundacion Monsanto” for gifts of vegetable seeds, dip irrigation systems and chickens. As the video extolled the work of these foundations in assisting poor indigenous farmers, it displayed signs from the Monsanto Foundation in the background and at the end of the video simply the well known “Monsanto” logo.

I have spent the last 11 years working with Pedro and an organization of Mixtec campesinos on sustainable agriculture projects, the promotion and protection of the vast native seed heritage of this center of origin of corn, and the revival and promotion of traditional Mixtec farming techniques such as the Milpa. I found the video surprising given the rather isolated character of the Mixteca Alta of Oaxaca, Mexico where we work. But in the busyness of more pressing work I passed over the disturbing character of the video until a neighbor in our small village announced one day that she had found a foundation willing to help villagers with vegetable growing and small animal production. Indeed, it was the foundation in the video.

“What would have attracted the largest seed and agricultural chemical company of the world to the isolated mountains of the Mixteca Alta and to our little village? And what did they have in mind by being here?”, I wondered. I remembered the recent scandal caused by the revelation that the Walmart Corporation, now with one of every five of its international stores in Mexico, had bribed officials throughout the country to get permits and environmental impact studies. Even more striking for me were its techniques of bribing local community leaders to undercut community opposition to new stores in environmentally, historically or commercially sensitive sites.

A few months ago the Mexican government approved planting of genetically modified corn varieties on a pre-marketing basis on thousands of acres in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora. Part of the process that led up to these approvals after years of moratoria on GE corn in this center of origin of the world´s most popular grain involved a scientific mapping of the areas in the country that still possessed native corn varieties. In these areas planting of GE corn would be “restricted”.  Oddly enough, the mapping claimed that two small areas of this state of Oaxaca no longer used native corn. Friends from these communities expressed great surprise that the studies inaccurately claimed they no longer planted native varieties.

Not known for its philanthropic concerns, the Monsanto Corporation has reaped large profits from collecting on crops contaminated by its modified genes and even by the “illegal” introduction of its modified seeds across the Americas. The illegal or “unintended” spread of its genes has become both a marketing and a patent revenue strategy in places like Brazil and Paraguay. Could the open doors of the Oaxacan communities Mexican government studies claim no longer use native corn varieties be part of a contamination strategy? Recent discoveries of ancient corn remains indicate that the state of Oaxaca is the center of origin of corn. Hundreds of native corn varieties resistant to drought, flooding, wind, insect pests and poor soils still flourish in the communities of the Mixteca Alta. Is Monsanto looking for such rich biodiversity to modify and patent , a practice for which the government of India is presently suing the company?
And is the company buying friends, a la Walmart, in the campesino communities of the Mixteca Alta so that when the contamination and/or biopiracy of native varieties becomes a scandal it can divide and undermine the opposition?

Here in the village we asked ourselves what we could do in the face of much needed free handouts given by a corporation whose expressed aim is nothing less than to control the agricultural systems of the world for its corporate profit. We speeded up our own non-profit efforts to create small, integrated, diverse, sustainable, family farms to head off the Monsanto attraction in our small village. But we can only do that on a very limited scale. And what is at stake is vast.

According to U.N. special rapportuer, Oliver De Schutter, there are still 1.6 billion people on the planet who live by being subsistence farmers producing, above all, the majority of their own food needs. Here in Oaxaca most of our subsistence farmers own most of their input needs to keep farming. They use animal traction, make their own plows, access natural fertilizers from animal manure, collectively own a richly biodiverse native seed heritage, and possess an agricultural tradition and collective know-how that serves them well. Enterprising international and national businesses such as Monsanto naturally long to replace these independent tools and techniques owned by indigenous farming communities with commodities that they can supply at a profit. Where possible they would also like to create new “necessities” for this subsistent farmer sector; new machines, new pest control products…new patented genetically modified seeds that can only be planted once before having to be purchased once again. In short, they would like to turn all of these collective needs into commodities which farmers would need to buy to continue planting.

But here in the Mixteca Alta and around the world 1.6 billion subsistence farmers succeed because they practice a low-input farming which needs very little cash input to yield food for the family. “Commodify” this subsistence sector and you will unleash, among other drastic results, a wave of migration as we have never before witnessed.

Doing this with genetically modified seeds here in the center of origin of corn will, in addition, threaten the future existence of corn for us all.

That´s why a few weeks ago 300 campesino men and women from across Oaxaca met in the beautiful  ethno-botanical gardens of Oaxaca city to strategize about promoting and defending the incredibly rich biodiversity of native corn varieties in this state where more than 36 of the original 56-60 land races of native corn are still planted along with hundreds of varieties of each race, each adapted to the challenges of the growing conditions of its specific region. With this incredible biodiversity and these rich genetic resistances we hold the future of corn on the planet in our hands.

In addition to developing plans to promote the planting and improvement of native seeds and to strengthen the custom of planting in milpa in Oaxacan communities, these 300 farmers put together a defense plan with coordinating committees in the various regions of the state. Educational “brigades” will bring information to indigenous communities and coordinate the use of traditional governance structures and appropriate formats to assist agrarian communities and cooperative landholding ejidos to declare themselves GMO free territories and pueblos independently of the federal processes that favor corporations such as Monsanto.

Meanwhile, what do we say to our neighboring communities about the Fundacion Monsanto? Perhaps, pragmatically, “Accept the gift, but don’t for a minute trust the giver?”