A Development Paradigm for Community Well-being

Purple pujagua variety of maize. (Source: Google Images)

Purple pujagua variety of maize. (Source: Google Images)

Interview with Felipe Montoya Greenheck by Ortixia Dilts

This article blossomed from my continuing delightful conversations with Felipe Montoya Greenheck.  Initiated as an inquiry over the MILPA seed project as presented in Terralinguna’s publication, Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook (Earthscan, 2010), we soon diverged from our original subject and into the intent and thinking behind the MILPA projects, concluding with an inspiring model for community revitalization. 

…..tell me a little about Milpa.

I began MILPA as a project to revitalize the living connection between Costa Rican rural communities and the traditional seeds they cultivated.  Among the most memorable and enduring activities was a simple seed exchange among small farmers. Paying respects to the local seeds, traditional crops, and land races the participants brought to exchange was very important to tear down the ideology of the supremacy of “improved varieties” that had been introduced and officially promoted, displacing the traditional varieties.  Their worth was restored and from that time on (since 1997), traditional seed exchanges have continued to take place in Costa Rica, mostly linked to organic farmers markets.  MILPA also organized a conference on Cultivated Biodiversity which was declared of “national interest”.  So MILPA pushed the issue among peasant farmers, NGOs and the academia, as well. Only recently, MILPA was offered a project to “revitalize agricultural-food traditions” among rural communities (one project with the FAO), as well as among urban and semi-urban marginal communities (the other project with UNESCO).    We have to come up with a “revitalization strategy”.  So the idea is first to understand how these traditions satisfy a number of human fundamental needs (I borrow this concept from Manfred Max-Neef, an economist from Chile). Among these needs are: Subsistence, Protection, Affection, Freedom, Understanding, Participation, Creativity, Identity, Leisure, and Transcendence. Recognizing how preparing or cultivating certain traditional foods contribute to satisfying some of these different needs, will help restore the value of these traditional practices. The science involved here is basic social science: interviews, questionnaires, with a representative sample of the population so that the results are statistically significant.  But in our field work inquiries we also ask about the more empirical science involved in the cultivation and preparation of these traditional foods. …and how does language fit in? Language is probably our most sophisticated instrument not only of communicating, but of actually creating our world.  Each language continue reading–>