Permaculture vs. Gold Mining in Guatemala

Indigenous seed saving in Tuixcajchis (Photo by KJ Dakin)

Indigenous seed saving in Tuixcajchis (Photo by KJ Dakin)

In the arid mountain village of Tuixcajchis, Aurelia Jimenez Zacories is always growing something on her small but productive tract of land. She spends her days coaxing vegetables and the staples of corn, wheat and potatoes from the soil, raising livestock, building organic soil, planting trees and saving her seeds for the next harvest. Aurelia is a Maya-Mam woman, mother, wife and farmer.

For 2,000 years, Maya-Mam farmers of northwestern Guatemala, descendants of the Maya civilization, which flourished from 2000 BC to AD 900, have been planting and harvesting criolla (indigenous) maize, beans and ayote (pumpkin) on small plots of land scattered along the sides of the sun-baked Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountains.

Today, many Maya-Mam farmers are integrating aspects of permaculture, agroecology and agroforestry into the way they grow food – not only with the intention of feeding their families – but with the larger goal of resisting and struggling against the social and environmental changes caused by gold, silver and nickel mining on their indigenous territories.

Environmental & Social Impact of Gold Mining

In 2003, the Guatemalan government leased the land from underneath the Maya-Mam’s homes and gardens to a Canadian-incorporated company, Glamis Gold – without conducting public consultation, or receiving community consent. It wasn’t agricultural land the government was after; it was what lay beneath the soil on which people planted: mass reserves of gold, silver and nickel for large-scale mineral extraction.

After signing the lease with the Guatemalan government, Glamis Gold set forth developing Marlin Mine in the province of San Marcos with a major helping hand from the World Bank’s International Financing Corporation who lent the company $45 million dollars.

When local Maya-Mam communities learnt of the mine being constructed on their indigenous land, they began to protest that their government had broken the International Labor Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which ensures indigenous people’s land rights and rights to self-determination.

Read full story published in Permaculture Magazine.

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