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–>

Traditional Textiles of Cusco: Weaving Heritage

Photo from a group dye day in Accha Alta, in which the weavers are rinsing out a batch of freshly dyed yarn. During one of these events, the CTTC goes to the community with all the materials needed for dyeing and the weavers bring all the yarn they have prepared, to be sorted and dyed depending on the colors they want to weave with.

The Center of Traditional Textiles of the Cusco (CTTC) was founded in 1996, when the textile traditions in the Cusco Region of the Andes, based in the ancient Pre-Columbian cultures of Peru, were in danger of disappearing forever. Younger generations had ceased to learn how to weave as well as the traditions behind it, leaving the fate of Peruvian textiles in the hands of aging generations. The principal objectives of the Center are to recapture the history of, spread information about, and stimulate the production of traditional textiles, as well as provide support and assistance to the communities of weavers with which the Center works. By researching and documenting techniques, styles and designs, the Center works to preserve weaving traditions for future generations. Presently, the Center works with nine communities in the Cusco Region: Chinchero, Chahuaytire, Accha Alta, Patabamba, Mahuaypampa, Sallac, Chumbivilcas, Pitumarca and Acopia; All of which preserve unique ancestral techniques in their textiles. These communities are working to improve their quality of life while reinstituting millennia old practices integral to their cultural history and identity. By promoting the sale of textiles, providing each community with an appropriate place to weave, and, above all else, encouraging younger generations to weave, the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco is accomplishing one of its more desired goals: enabling Cuzqueñan weavers to feel proud of their heritage, traditions, and, most importantly, themselves. continue reading–>

The Kala Vernacular Education and Local Ecological Knowledge Project

Workshop participants developing the Kala garden game.

While Papua New Guinea is widely known as an area with high levels of biolinguistic diversity, Tok Pisin, the creole lingua franca of the country, as well as English, have been edging out indigenous languages across the country. In the Kala speaking region, there is diversity across the villages as to the level of Kala retention, but Tok Pisin is steadily replacing Kala, causing language shift in all villages. The fact that English is the official language of education in Papua New Guinea has also helped to cause language shift here. While there are policies in place across the country that state that children should be taught in their indigenous language for their first three years of schooling, language diversity and limited resources and teachers have not guaranteed the equal implementation of these policies across Papua New Guinea. Noticing the language shift occurring in the Kala communities during his doctoral work, Wagner realized “how fundamental the [Kala language] was to the transmission of entirely basic, never mind more esoteric levels of ecological knowledge and related skills”; this realization sparked the development of the Kala Vernacular Education and Local Ecological Knowledge research project. continue reading–>