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February 2007: News

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In mid- and late-January, Juan Manuel Martinez sent us information about the current political, social and economic situation in Mexico. He reports that the former and current Presidents believe in giving the people handouts rather than helping them learn self-sufficiency. “National demonstrations from peasants are on their way (the first one will take place on January 31) because of these policies that have generated shortages, scarcity, unemployment and a trail of social related problems. Talking about unemployment … in the first 45 days of [the new President’s] administration, 5,500 formal jobs have been lost everyday. … Due to the above mentioned and because of the amount of activities programmed in my agenda, I will temporarily suspend my lobbying work because there’s no balance between the time, resources and effort invested and the results.” [Juan is talking about his position as President of the National Committee for Organic Agriculture.] Instead “I will continue working (as a base) with NGOs, peasants, schools, universities, etc., until conditions are favorable again.”

He sent this in mid-January: “Nobody could have imagined that Mexico would be one of the first victims of biofuel’s boom. A little more than a week ago the price of tortillas—staple food for Mexicans, especially for those who don’t have a lot—started to increase. A kilo of tortillas was 7 pesos … and now it is being sold at the price of 15 pesos. It has been announced that that price is not the limit. … There’s a sense of unease among the society and there have been many demonstrations because it has also been announced that the prices of egg, meat, milk, and cheese will also increase due to the fact that the basic fodder to feed animals is corn too.”

December 27 to 29, Juan gave a workshop for 30 participants in Puebla state. It was a diverse group, including students, researchers and teachers from 2 universities, the directors of NGOs, peasants and producers. Juan later received an email from Eduardo Dubois, one of the participants, who is developing an ecotown for 100 people, each of whom will have a Biointensive garden. The email said in part: “It’s been a great pleasure to find a systematic, original, simple and efficient method. Your way of sharing it motivates individuals to do the job and wakes them up to the knowledge of the process of life.”

Juan Manuel is continuing his trips to Latin American countries that requested follow-up workshops at the Costa Rica 6-Day Workshop in March.


Juan Manuel was in Bolivia from August 17 through September 8. He describes the country as having the lowest rate of development in the continent, after Haiti and Honduras. Most of the population is Quechua, and the Quechuan language is the fourth spoken on the continent, after Spanish, English and Portuguese. When a new political party takes power it fires all its opponents and hires its own people—on the condition that they “donate” 70% of their salary to the party. The current president has been in power only 6 months and already “almost half of the country’s population is against him. [The opposition] organizes community protests, blockades and other civil resistance actions that bring entire regions to a halt.”

While there, Juan gave a course at Gabriel Rene Moreno University in Santa Cruz for 45 people; gave 3 interviews to local media; gave a course in San Juan Yapancani for 44 participants; visited organic agriculture projects; met with the new rector of San Simon University and the head of the Rural Development Section of its Agricultural Science Department in Cochabamba (the Agronomy Department has 3,000 students); met with directors of the agronomic society of Bolivia to form an alliance, and held 2 open conferences under the auspices of the state government, with about 150 people participating.


The main purpose of Juan’s visit to Paraguay in September was to strengthen the role of the San Francisco Agricultural School, established by the Paraguayan Foundation 4 years ago, so that the school can work towards becoming a GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-Ag Center/Soil Test Station. Juan also talked with Martin Burt, Director of the Paraguayan Foundation, and the school directors about a possible collaboration with ECOPOL to inaugurate a GROW BIOINTENSIVE intern program at the school, starting in 2007. Martin Burt and the directors accepted Juan’s proposals. The school agreed to set aside a 3-bedroom house with all amenities, so that interns could be housed there. An agronomic engineer, who is already working with the school, is being trained to be in charge of these programs. Juan also talked with Martin Burt about getting universities in the region involved, and he agreed. This is important, because it would provide alternative options to the teaching of conventional agriculture at the university level.

Jennifer Ungemach, Ecology Action’s Liaison to Latin American projects, is currently at the school giving a 3-month course for four students from the school, as well as 3 interns from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.


The main purpose of Juan’s visit to Chile was to survey and strengthen the Biointensive work already taking place in different regions of the country as a result of workshops given over the years by Fernando Pia of Argentina. Juan was there from October 23 through October 31, and while there he met with the Ministry of Agriculture in the Araucania Region, visited indigenous Mapuche communities and ecological demonstration centers in Malleco and Cautin Provinces, made a presentation to students and teachers at Agricultural Methodist High School in Nueva Imperial Municipality, made a presentation to students and teachers at Santa Cruz High School in Temuco Municipality, gave a 3-day workshop in Temuco for technicians and producers, made a presentation at the Agriecological High School in Pirque, Metropolitan Region. He also visited organic producers in the region and made another presentation. In several of these areas, Juan gave interviews through the media to help raise public consciousness about growing food with Biointensive techniques.


We received a report from Mercedes Torres, Director of ADYS, about its Biointensive work between July 2005 and June 2006. She included the conclusions from a thesis written by a university student about the Biointensive project in the Amazon. The nutritional level of children was improved by adding vegetables to their diet; six months after the project concluded the families are still eating better from their garden; and the families increased their income by almost 13% by the sale of surplus produce from their gardens. Mercedes also tells the story of a grandmother who was caring for her 9 grandchildren. When ADYS first visited, the house was in ruins and full of trash, and the family looked like beggars. Some months later, when they were visited again, the house was clean and the people clean and happy. The grandmother said that the garden had changed their lives.



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