Source: Kurtural / The Dawn News / November 22, 2017
In the municipality of Repatriación, in the heart of Paraguay, there’s a house made of mud. The outside of the walls are painted with protest art, and inside there are crop seeds. This is one of the more than thousand banks around the world which contain a type of wealth that is not monetary. They don’t extend credit and they don’t protect offshore accounts. They are seed banks, protectors of the beginning of the human food chain.
The work of the men and women of this house, called Semilla Róga, opposes a powerful system of patents under which seeds have owners and one must pay in order to grow them. Nowadays, an oligopoly of companies—Syngenta, Bayer, Basf, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont—controls 60% of the seed market around the world. And whoever controls seeds, controls food.
This regime means a loss of agricultural diversity and freedom. Rural workers are forced to go into debt in order to buy the seeds they need to produce. The 2017 peasant march was joined by food producers that are trapped in this oppressive cycle of dependence. In India, this takes extreme forms where forced indebtedness pushes thousands of farmers to suicide every year.
But in places like Repatriación, men and women carefully store in plastic bottles on wooden shelves seeds of peanut, bean, lettuce, cabbage. They also preserve varieties of corn: tupi, moroti, mbya , pororó, pichica. By doing so, they are guaranteeing the perduration of these autochthonous seeds, and therefore the local food, medicine, rites and even the livelihood of entire communities.
The Repatriación municipality is located 200 km away from the city of Asunción—capital of Paraguay—, in the Caaguazú department. It is the home of the “house of the seeds”, or Semilla Róga, a collective project that has the goal of promoting the diversity of peasant family agriculture through the preservation of autochthonous seeds. The project is promoted by the Organization of Peasant and Indigenous Women (Conamuri). Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
The seed bank is located between patches of vegetables, legumes, fruits and medicinal plants. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas
Marina Díaz Melgarejo is one of the guardians of the seed bank. Together with her family, she’s in charge of managing and preserving dozens of native and creole seeds. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Marina also uses roots to make homemade therapeutic compounds. She assures that coughs, chest pains and sore throat can be combated with these ancestral concoctions. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Marina is a member of Conamuri, one of Paraguay’s most important peasant organizations, which is made up of peasant and indigenous women. Organizations like this one provide legal, political and social support to peasant families. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
The economy of the community that lives in Repatriación is largely based on familiar peasant agriculture. The Semilla Rogá allows them to cultivate many varieties of vegetables and fruits. These products and foods are a part of their daily lives. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
María Benjamina Leiva is 87 years old and is one of the oldest inhabitants of Repatriación. Her life story is marked by expoliation, but she still resists, along with her family, and fights for the right to land and to life. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Eloísa González lives in Repatriación. The people of this municipality are descendants of families that came from Argentina, Brazil and other countries in search of a piece of land of their own, in the 60s. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
In Repatriación, there are still pieces of land dedicated to family agriculture. However, many were taken away from peasants during Stroessner’s dictatorship and nowadays they are vestiges of a way of life that refuses to disappear. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Alicia Amarilla Leiva is an inhabitant of Repatriación. She is a journalist and a member of the Conamuri. At an early age she became involved in peasant movements after her family suffered persecution and evictions by the state. Alicia is one of the most well-known promoters of Semilla Róga. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Paulina Leiva is Alicia’s aunt. She’s a lifelong member of Conamuri and left Repatriación in search of better economic conditions. She now lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There she works making clothes with a Brazilian family, her two sons and her daughter-in-law. Paulina is one of the many women of Repatriación who migrated in order to have more opportunities. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Emilio Arce Leiva is a promoter of health and worker of the land. In 2008 he donated part of his land in order to build the food bank. Along with his family, he is responsible for taking care of the seeds that are used by the community and peasant families. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Don Emilio wakes up every morning to manage, care for and preserve the seeds of Semilla Rogá. This initiative doesn’t intend to monopolize the production of seeds but to become an alternative in an area where monoculture threatens to eliminate a sustainable way of life.
Semilla Rogá doesn’t extend credit nor does it demand overpriced interests like private companies do. The bank is a space for cultural exchange that only asks farmers to give back some seeds in order to make it sustainable. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Seeds destined to consumption and green manure fill up the repurposed bottles that rest on the wooden shelves of the Semilla Rogá bank. Photo credit: Cecilia Rojas.
Between August and September 2017, thousands of farmers left their lands and went to Asunción in order to protest the unfair agricultural policies of the government and for over a month demanded a solution to their demand. Photo credit: Marcelo Encina.
During their month-long protest, farmers settled in the Square of Arms, a historic place for social and political protests of the country. There, they resisted the cold and the long wait. Photo credit: Marcelo Encina.
Farmers demanded the condoning of debts contracted with the state, technical assistance and the application of a peasant emergency law to help thousands of families that were starving and losing their crops in the most vulnerable areas of the country. Photo credit: Nathalia Aguilar.
Since they arrived in the capital, farmers organized and made different actions of protest in various points of the city. Many of them went back to their communities after several days, only to return and join their comrades in the struggle once again. Photo credit: Juanjo Ivaldi.
The stick, a symbol of the struggle and resistance of the peasant community, was forbidden by the National Police during the marches in the city. Furthermore, they applied the “Marchódromo Law”, which only allows protests from 7 pm on, and in specific areas of the city. Photo credit: Marcelo Encina.
The Farmer’s March marked the country’s social agenda in August and media generated a division between farmers and a large part of society. In Asunción, many citizens protested due to the closure of streets on behalf of farmworkers, generating an environment of much tension in the city. Photo: Marcelo Encina.
During the national holidays of the month of August, farmers decided to hold their own march, separate from the one organized by the government. This event gathered thousands of rural workers who used this opportunity to protest against the indifference of the state and a city that turned its back against them. Photo credit: Juanjo Ivaldi.
The National Police forbade the peasant parade, which was set to begin in Asunción’s Cathedral. Due to this restriction, farmers decided to dance to the tune of a band outside the church, while authorities, religious leaders and part of the civil society celebrated mass. Photo credit: Juanjo Ivaldi.
After a month of resistance in Asunción, farmers went back to their communities. However, the struggle continues in each of their homes, for the defense of their livelihoods. Photo credit: Natalia Aguilar.