Eyes of the Milpa
= "las ojos de la milpa", project in Oaxaca, Mexico
URL = http://ojosdelamilpa.net
"A milpa is a traditional Mesoamerican crop-growing system, composed of maize, beans and squash), and it can be thought of as a "community memory" created by the farmers using smartphones. During an entire year, they documented their daily lives by recording their views and opinions and publishing them on a website. And now here it is, in three languages: Spanish, Mixe (Ayuujk) and English."
"Los ojos de la milpa (The eyes of the milpa) is a community memory that captures, through images and voice recordings, a moment of transition in these complex times. It all takes place somewhere in the mountains of the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, Mexico, in a community where the elders tell stories to the youth about how maize was planted many years ago: without fertilizers or sophisticated technology. The young ones listen as they witness how maize can no longer grow without chemical fertilizers, nor survive without synthetic pesticides. This is a place where the precious pace of the passing seasons coexists with a growing pressure to produce more, to extract from the earth not only nourishment, but also more and more profit.
But there are newcomers in the milpa: in the community of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec Mixe, Oaxaca, peach trees have recently made their appearance. This is thanks to the MIAF system (Milpa Intercropped with Fruit Trees), an agroforestry project developed by researchers from the Postgraduate College of Agronomy of the Chapingo University in Mexico. In addition to traditional crops such as maize, beans and squash, the MIAF system introduces fruit trees in the milpa to satisfy a number of needs. By forming a live barrier, they help to protect the soil from erosion caused by runoffs, a major problem in Tlahuitoltepec, where arable land is mostly found on hillsides. The trees contribute to carbon sequestration, an important strategy in the context of climate change. Finally, they also strengthen the livelihoods of farmers and their families, who eat or sell the fruits, in this case peaches. However, new knowledge, skills and technologies come together with these benefits, involving a tough learning process, an increase in the amount of required labor, and the danger of a greater dependency on external inputs.
In this scenario, Los ojos de la milpa seeks to reveal the tense interweaving of the old and the new. Throughout a crop-growing cycle, families from the Juquila and Santa Ana ranches use smartphones to capture images and record sounds of whatever happens in their milpas, and to post them on this website. By doing this, they share their knowledge, their concerns, their ways of doing and their ways of thinking. They make themselves present by presenting their stories to us, by showing us how they live and work in a community which resists as it transforms. Through their own words and points of view, they leave a testimony of a crucial moment in which the urgency of finding a balance between nature and technology, between culture and productivity, can be felt."