Sembrando Vida and its Negative Effects on Peasant Communities in Mexico

By: Jordyn Moreno

Sembrando Vida, also known as “Sowing Life” in English, is a reforestation project that was launched in 2019 by Mexican President Andres Manuel López.  The project’s goal is to address rural poverty and environmental degradation through the planting of a million hectares of fruit and timber trees in agroforestry systems meant to be supported by trained technicians, state-supervised nurseries and “peasant learning communities”. Researchers from the Poverty Research Network and Food Sovereignty Network have partnered with various peasant leaders, defenders of territory, activists, and researchers in Mexico in order to examine the impacts of Sembrando Vida on the grounds, as well as the implications of this state-led “agroecology from above”, in a project that is still ongoing today.

As part of this ongoing project I have had the pleasure of going through and analyzing a variety of interviews done with various peasant leaders, activists and researchers in Mexico. Due to the fact that this is an ongoing project the names of the sources behind the oral histories used are unable to be revealed at this point in time. The information gained from analyzing the interviews has been able to unveil some of the potential negative affects and hidden objectives behind the project, which the government did not reveal when presenting their grand reforestation program to the world, one which they hope to be able to spread across South America.

Some of the hidden objectives of the Sembrando Vida project that have been uncovered through speaking with members of the communities being most affected include efforts to put a stop to the peasant productive systems which include the practice of shifting agriculture. It is believed that the Sembrando Vida project is part of the governments ongoing war against shifting cultivators in Mexico. The government has plans to change the generational structure of land tenancy by paying people to reduce their land as part of the project and removing plots from communal management in order to privatize the land and have it come under the authority of the government. This plan, which entails the privatization of land within the community and ejidos, which are tracts of land farmed cooperatively by multiple inhabitants of a village, is being carried out with the intention of fragmenting communities and traditional agrarian structures. This sedentarization and breaking of traditional peasant production systems has had a great effect on the Milpa, which is the system of rotating slash and burn agriculture in order to plant important crops such as maize, beans, squash, chiles and potatoes. In some places, some technical advisors from the program have been stopping peasants from carrying out the Milpa, leading to villagers being less successful with their harvests which forces them to have to rely on store bought foods. Through the destruction of Indigenous modes of production and ways of life the government is eliminating villagers’ food sovereignty since they are unable to plant their traditional crops, as they do not want ancestral caretakers of the territory and environment, but rather they want to create wage earners.

The dismissal of Indigenous knowledge is another large issue with the Sembrando Vida project. Much of the community knowledge in regards to agroecology, including what species of trees might be best in which areas, is not being taken into account by those who are in charge of the program. There is an institutionalization of Indigenous knowledge occurring while the government is resisting from implementing any traditional Indigenous techniques. This has resulted in Mayan Agroecology being threatened by this agroecology from above. The Sembrando Vida project even disregards traditional ways of working in communities, as peasants are made to work Monday to Sunday, which breaks with traditional community dynamics and further individualizes community members and their plots of land. It has also been reported that the Sembrando Vida project is allegedly causing deforestation rather than reforestation as people cut down trees in order to clear plots and try to qualify for the program. Due to the hidden objectives and negative effects of the Sembrando Vida project, the fragmentation that will occur in peasant communities could be tremendous.