Campesino a Campesino

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Discussion

By Eric Holt-Giménez:

" Latin America’s thirty-year farmer-led movement for sustainable agriculture. El Movimiento Campesino a Campesino, the Farmer to Farmer Movement, is made up of hundreds of thousands of peasant-technicians farming and working in over a dozen countries.

Campesino a Campesino began with a series of rural projects among the indigenous smallholders of the ecologically fragile hillsides of the Guatemalan Highlands in the early 1970s. Sponsored by progressive NGOs, Mayan peasants developed a method for agricultural improvement using relatively simple methods of small-scale experimentation combined with farmer-led workshops to share their discoveries. Because they were producing at relatively low levels, they concentrated on overcoming the most commonly limiting factors of production in peasant agriculture, i.e., soil and water. By adding organic matter to soils, and by implementing soil and water conservation techniques, they frequently obtained yield increases of 100-400 percent. Rapid, recognizable results helped build enthusiasm among farmers and led to the realization that they could improve their own agriculture — without running the risks, causing the environmental damage, or developing the financial dependency associated with the Green Revolution. Initial methods of composting, soil and water conservation, and seed selection soon developed into a sophisticated “basket” of sustainable technologies and agroecological management approaches that included green manures, crop diversification, integrated pest management, biological weed control, reforestation, and agrobiodiversity management at farm and watershed scales.

The effective, low-cost methods for farmer-generated technologies and farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer were quickly picked up by NGOs working in agricultural development. The failures of the Green Revolution to improve smallholder livelihoods in Central America, and the region’s revolutionary uprisings and counterrevolutionary conflicts of the 1970s and ’80s combined to create both the need and the means for the growth of what became the Campesino a Campesino movement. As credit, seeds, extension services, and markets continually failed the peasantry, smallholders turned to NGOs rather than governments to meet their agricultural needs. The structural adjustment programs of the 1980s and ’90s exacerbated the conditions of the peasantry. In response, the Campesino a Campesino movement grew, spreading through NGOs to hundreds of thousands of smallholders across the Americas.22 Though the movement was routinely dismissed by the international agricultural research centers for “lacking science” and making unverified claims of sustainability, in Central America following Hurricane Mitch (1998), some 2,000 promotores from Campesino a Campesino carried out scientific research to prove that their farms were significantly more resilient and sustainable than those of their conventional neighbors.

One of Campesino a Campesino’s most dramatic success stories has been in Cuba, where its farmer-driven agroecological practices helped the country transform much of its agriculture from high-external input, large-scale systems to smaller, low-input organic systems. This conversion was instrumental in helping Cuba overcome its food crisis during the Special Period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban Campesino a Campesino Agroecology Movement (MACAC) was implemented through ANAP, the national association of small farmers. The MACAC grew in a structural environment in which Cuba’s numerous agricultural research stations and agricultural universities worked to develop bio-fertilizers, integrated pest management, and other techniques for low external-input agriculture. Reforms were enacted to scale down collectives and cooperatives, placing greater control over farming and marketing directly into the hands of smallholders. Rural and urban farmers were provided easy access to land, credit, and markets.24 In eight years, the Campesino a Campesino movement of Cuba grew to over 100,000 smallholders. It had taken the movement nearly twenty years in Mexico and Central America to grow to that size.

The farmer-to-farmer approach has been fairly universalized among NGOs working in agroecological development, leading to highly successful farmer-generated agroecological practices worldwide (as well as a fair amount of methodological co-optation on the part of international agricultural research centers). The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) developed in Madagascar has raised yields to as high as eight metric tons per hectare and spread to a million farmers in over two dozen countries.26 A survey of forty-five sustainable agriculture projects in seventeen African countries covering some 730,000 households revealed that agroecological approaches substantially improved food production and household food security. In 95 percent of these projects, cereal yields improved by 50-100 percent.27 A study of organic agriculture on the continent showed that small-scale, modern, organic agriculture was widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, contributing significantly to improved yields, incomes, and environmental services.28 Over 170 African organizations from nine countries in East and Southern Africa belong to the Participatory Land Use Management (PELUM) a network that has been sharing agroecological knowledge in East and South Africa for thirteen years. For twenty years, the Center for Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) has documented hundreds of agroecological alternatives that successfully overcome many of the limiting factors in African agriculture and elsewhere in the global South." (http://monthlyreview.org/090831holt-gimenez.php)


More Information

  1. Essay in the Monthly Review: From Food Crisis to Food Sovereignty. The Challenge of Social Movements. By Eric Holt-Giménez
  2. Food Sovereignity Movement
  3. Via Campesina