A better world is possible



In this episode we will deal with the following questions: What are biodiversity and phytogenetic resources? What anscestral role do farmers play in the development and preservation of these resources? How can we preserve this legacy for future generations given predictable climate change? What are transgenics? How do seed producing companies function? What are their links with the agro-chemical and pharmaceutical industries? What role should science and technology have in the fight against hunger and poverty in the world?

Second World Social Forum on Migrations held in Rivas Vacíamadrid, Spain, in June 2006.



Voice Over

Cora is the Greek Goddess of crops... every spring she emerges from the dark underworld of Hades and seeds begin to sprout on Earth... This could be one of the ancient myths for what today we call biodiversity, a word which simply means diversity of life, of ecosystems, of species, of genes... of everything which beats in this world... This difference, this uniqueness has enabled us to live since times remote...

Viorica Pop – Farmer (Castielfabib, Valencia, Spain)

Here on the land... I worked for a long time in agriculture. I’m a farmer. I spent 10 years in the fields in Bucharest... 4 years as a shepherd. I took care of a thousand sheep. We milked the sheep twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon. I also worked with cows for 6 years. I took care of 36 cows and milked them by hand. It’s been... a lot of hard work, working the land. In all places where I heard you could make a living, where you could make some money, I went.

Voice Over

Viorica and her husband have continued shepherding in the small village of Ademuz, an area threatened by abandon. Without them, an ancestral tradition, essential for the local diet and identity, would have disappeared, along with the biodiversity it provides. This struggle to maintain land, communities and social, economic and cultural cohesion, is present in many parts of the world... one of which is Amayuelas, in Palencia, Spain, where the Fifth Encounter of Farmers for a Living Rural World took place.

Pedro Burruezo – Musician (Amayuelas, Palencia, Spain)

...and a lot more things. The truth is, I have a daughter who was conceived here. (laughter) That doesn’t mean that tonight you should try to do the same. (laughter)... OK, so, moving on, we are going to sing a song now, which also refers to this, a get together of villages, right?

Manuel Guzman “El Jilguero” - Ecological farmer (Amayuelas, Palencia, Spain)

My life’s project, to have a traditional family farm – we’ve always lived off the land, from the direct sale of vegetables, of citrus fruit and other fruit from orchards we had – well now, that dream has been cut short by land speculation in Malaga, specifically in our village where they’re going to build a residential complex and a golf course and everything else, and the future farming there has gone down the drain, along with years and years of work and providing food for the area.

Mario Ahumada – General Coordinator of MAELA, Chile (Rome)

The fundamental objective of our organization is to promote ecological agriculture. And this has especially... to do with the principles which we want to develop related to what ecological agriculture is.

Manuel Guzman

And now we see how... in such a short time... the disappearance of traditions, roots... and a lifestyle... how modern life is bringing us improvements in health care, infrastructures, but at a cost... an emotional cost... and projected into the future, well, it’s quite worrying, isn’t it?

Mario Ahumada

From the beginning, it’s a cultural issue. Because for us the issue is fundamentally to recover local wisdom. And we insist that ecological farming is an agriculture that was discovered... that has preserved the local wisdom that existed in the communities, held by farmers for many, many years.

Manuel Guzman

My goals are in sync with my respect for the environment, and they include forming part of this association of farmers who have settled here in this village. We’ve been here for around a year and a half. We’re a group of farmers, most... well, all of whom are older than me, people who have been working in ecological farming for many years, others who are new comers. And since we started, one of our goals has... been to supply school canteens.

Mario Ahumada

It’s not only a question of... diversity, of biodiversity, but also an economic question, and a social questions in terms of recovering culture... of recovering, let’s say, rural spaces... youth questions, giving opportunities to youth – we’ve got youth organisations.

Voice Over

In cannot be denied that in all civilizations, seeds and the crops that derive from them, have had a magical and cultural effect. Our very survival has depended on this sacred and ancestral bond.

Francisca Rodriguez – Vía Campesina (Rome)

At a meeting once I asked an elderly lady where the potato was found. She said: Go to the cemeteries. It’s in the cemeteries where many seeds that had been lost were kept. Many seeds that accompanied the lost ones, that were dispersed, it was part of the culture of some villages. This is the case in the village of “Goo-ish” (?), in the south, where tombs were adorned with them.

Voice Over

In Mexico, a divinity was worshipped: Ciutli, the name given to corn, and to this goddess the first harvest was dedicated, as was done with wheat to the Greek goddess Ceres. Virgins at the sun temple in Cuzco prepared corn bread for the sacrifices.

Luis Navarro – Researcher (Agrarian Research, Instituto Valenciano, Spain)

In the case of Mexico, it’s easy to say that local species must be preserved. And yes, they should be. But this should be done through active policies, not through forbidding transgenic corn. There should be some type of subsidy, so that the farmer shouldn’t have to... he should be paid for growing local species, not at market rates, but at rates compatible with preserving the sanctuaries of these local species.

Voice Over

Darwin found ears of corn on land which is now 85 feet below sea level.  It wasn’t until the 16th century that corn was grown in Europe. The first seeds of this plant arrived in Seville in the year 1500. The diets of millions of people, especially in Latin America, depend on this plant and its various local varieties.

Francisca Rodriguez

When we talk about preserving seeds, we should start with the cultural aspect. We should start with the feeling that... there was a break-up of the family, of the community, of organisation. There was a cultural break-up, and this cultural change included our way of dealing with each other, both within the family and within the community.

Voice Over

A strange poem, also buried like the seeds of Darwin, says:

To feed ourselves...

To maintain our race

We will have to invent

An adverb of time,

Before the stars,

Above and beyond time.

And we will have to smile and sow

For the sun to rise.

Preserving this legacy for future generations has been the lifelong goal of José Esquinas, who, from the FAO, has been one of the impulses behind the international treaty on phytogenetic resources for food and agriculture, signed in Madrid by more than 100 countries in June of 2006. The treaty represents an unprecedented worldwide commitment on behalf of governments to confront the needs of food security in a world where population increases, coupled with a reduction in arable land, make an increase in food production critical.

Ramón Acién – Farmer (El Ejido, Almeria, Spain)

People think that us farmers are getting rich, you know? And here we are, slaving away.

Elena Espinosa – Minister of Agriculture, Fishing and Food – Spain (TIRFA, Madrid)

We’re talking about a list of 64 plant species which account for 80% of the worldwide need for food – originating from plants, of course. We are talking about such plants as wheat, rice, potatoes and corn.

José Esquinas – FAO Secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food Production and Agriculture (TIRFA, Madrid)

In the 1960’s and 70’s, when there was the green revolution, and when there was a genetic simplification which came about through the substitution of traditional crops which represented a true mosaic of diversity, for commercial and homogenous varieties, which in general terms are more productive and simplify the input process. But also they are more vulnerable as they are all the same.

Jacques Diouf – FAO General Director (TIRFA, Madrid)

It’s a worldwide problem... it’s a problem linked to food safety around the world... and what we are doing today will of course have an impact in the phytogenetic sector.

Jaime Costa – Technical Director of Monsanto, Spain (TIRFA, Madrid)

The biotechnological industry has seen that food production can be improved, as much in quality as in quantity, that food can be obtained more efficiently than is the case today. Forecasts indicate that within 20 years, we’ll have to feed some 2 billion more people, and that they’ll want to be fed with better food than we currently produce, so there’s a need to produce more, and to produce in a cleaner way.

José Esquinas

Also, farmers, in the 10 thousand year history of agriculture, have put in a lot of effort, have put in their labour, have put their experience and have put their money in the development of these traditional agricultural varieties.

Voice Over

According to professor José Esquinas, this international agreement will not only guarantee the preservation and the sustainable use of phytogenetic resources, but also the fair and equitable distribution of the benefits derived from their use, including the financial benefits acquired through their marketing. For the first time the rights of farmers are being recognised, based on the fact that it has been the small traditional farmers from around the world who have contributed to the development of biological diversity in agriculture throughout the centuries, and presently continue being their main custodians.

José Esquinas

If we consider the following as natural resources for the development of agriculture: the land, the air, water and biological diversity – and we’ll focus in this case on biological diversity – then we’re talking about a natural resource which has been developed over 3 billion years of life on earth, and fundamentally over 10 thousand years of agriculture.

Parvis Koohafkan – FAO Rural Development Department Director (FAO headquarters, Rome)

I believe that biodiversity is the... base of all... let’s say of all the resilience and... potential of human beings... Because... one of the most important strategies for farmers, especially for poor farmers, is diversification. Nature itself, to confront various situations, created diversity.

Voice Over

We live in a complex world in which science and technology have become the beacons of hope of our times. However, one should ask if the dizzying advances of specialities such as biotechnology are contributing to the eradication of hunger in the world. Or, if they are widening the gap between rich and poor and making famine a permanent feature of the human condition.

Parvis Koohafkan

No, these people are the poorest, and they haven’t got access to infrastructure, or to money with which to buy food, so this is why we need to support these systems, for them to survive, for poverty to be reduced, because these poor people, if they don’t produce, there won’t be any alternatives for them.

Paulo Martins – IPT Institute of Technological Research, Sao Paulo, Brazil (World Social Forum, Caracas, Venezuela)

When there’s a new technology, people always say that it will reduce the problem of hunger. We already experienced this with the green revolution, and the problem of hunger wasn’t reduced. Because hunger is not a problem of agricultural production. There is agricultural production and there is food for all of the world population. What doesn’t exist is the income necessary for most people to buy this food.

Voice Over

One of the most heated debates among farmer associations today involve transgenic crops, whose original seeds have been genetically modified and whose patents belong to large multinational groups with high stakes in agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries. More than ever before, our food supply and our health seem to depend on powerful trans-national economic interests.

Jaime Costa

First of all, I must say that there is a great lack of knowledge here, because seeds that have just one life cycle don’t exist. They’re not even being tested in the field. What’s happening is that seed companies, in order to make their research profitable, have put all their efforts into those hybrid seeds which, although they can be planted year after year, have their greatest productive efficiency during the first generation.

Elena Espinosa

Of all that... all the issues involving NGOs... - in general and then we can get more specific – it’s not so much a decision for a member state but for the European Union. The authorisation, for example, to market a genetically modified organism, it’s the European Union which authorises it or doesn’t authorise it.

Francisca Rodriguez

But now is when the biggest threat appears, which is the terminator seed.  So, the sterile seed, the one which doesn’t reproduce itself, the seed which kills, not itself like some people have said, that after it germinates dies, right? That after it grows, it dies, and before doing so it infects all the others.

Paulo Martins

The question of patents can be seen from various perspectives... Very well. All genetic improvements made throughout the centuries by farming communities, by farming families... also improved many seeds: of soya bean, of millet, of cotton, of various crops... and they never patented them. Therefore, all of this collective knowledge from all of these communities have produced high quality food and have increased productivity in agriculture, and now we have these companies which have patented these seeds because they’ve inserted a different gene in the plant and this has given them the right to patent. Having patented, this gives them the right to require that any farmer who buys these seeds cannot reproduce them.

Luis Navarro

The truth is that it is a problem, they’ve got the capacity, they’ve got fantastic scientists, and they’ve got the capacity to make improved products which really can resolve some humanitarian problems. So of course... really... for me the problem isn’t in the technology, the techniques are what they are, they can be used one way or another. The issue is elsewhere, it has nothing to do with genetically modified organisms, it has to do with... with a global issue of how to organise food production on a global scale.

Voice Over

Although it is said that the planet is in flames,

And that our paralysis more than ever maims:

Carbon dioxide, methane,

Nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbures,

Biotechnology without a soul,

Roots without generation,

Seeds without hope...

Although we are said to be ash,

Dinosaurs of history

Let’s not lose touch

As this world is very cold.

José Esquinas

Or we privatise everything and there’s someone interested in conserving it because it has costs and not only benefits, or humanity becomes aware of that fact that we are talking about our home, and that we are talking about breathing, of food, of the place where are children will live, and we consider it a collective duty, with political commitment, the necessary legislation, and awareness of people, to implement this on a collective level, and not at the mercy of the rights of the private sector.

Voice Over

Many questions remain unanswered: should science take on a new ethical dimension? What role should technology play in the fight against hunger and poverty in the world?

Carlos Taíbo – Professor and Writer (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

I must admit that I’m very leery of the intellectuals and academic groups of

the northern countries. I don’t have much faith in their willingness to change things. Let’s not forget, for example, that many scientists are directly responsible for the development of systems which makes life even more unliveable in poor countries. And I don’t see that in the university environments of developed countries there exist clear initiatives aimed at changing the rules of the game.

Paulo Martins

Look, talking about the scientific community is a complicated matter. Why complicated? Because... there are fewer and fewer differences between those scientists who work for the universities and those who work for companies. They are more and more... entwined, right? Many scientists are working under the logic of companies, where there’s only one possibility, the possibility of patents.

Voice Over

We should also ask ourselves what kind of development model we want. What are we willing to give up as individuals for the heart of the world to continue beating?

Carlos Taíbo

I think that what we realise now is that economic growth can have healthy aspects, but that is also creates problems that are too numerous to neglect. Two of the perennially negative consequences of economic growth have been on the one hand, the depletion of basic resources, and on the other hand a continuous stream of attacks on the environment, in some cases irreversible. What’s behind this is something quite important, nothing less than the rights of future generations, and this makes for an enormous responsibility when confronted with proposals which only offer economic growth, development – which is one of the consequences of economic growth – as the only objective worthy of being evaluated.

Voice Over

Civil society is engaged in a struggle to preserve natural resources and biodiversity, with food sovereignty as its new paradigm. Also to be found in this struggle are the fishing communities from around the world, defending the treasure of the seas, the lakes, the rivers... their culture and their poetry... an ancestral way of life.

Pedro Avendaño – Technical Director of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (World Social Forum, Nairobi)

Fishing communities are responsible for the maintenance of marine resources, and consequently contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity on earth.

From the point of view of... of the extraction of resources from the seas, the lakes and the rivers, one the main characteristics of small scale fishing and its communities is the use of methods that are highly selective. There are no communities based on small scale fishing which have destroyed their own habitat or which have destroyed the resources from which they live.

Voice Over

We should not forget that 16% of the proteins consumed by humans come from fishing. To kill the ecosystems of rivers and seas is to kill mankind itself, especially in the poorest communities.

Pedro Avendaño

It turns out that now we have the same environmental, economic and political responsibility, and that’s not true. While they have accumulated all the access and profits, we have accumulated tragedies... what has happened in Lake Victoria, what has happened with the Nile perch is a good example of how biodiversity can be attacked by... large scale industrial companies and how there are increasing efforts made on behalf of small scale fishing communities to preserve marine resources.

Voice Over

The struggle for life,

Pain when faced with felled beauty,

The seven seas uprooted

And the horizon of the sea

Further and further away...

If you do not take my hand

Only salt and the void will be left...

The instinct to dream of light from other planets.

And to breath

We will have to invent

Verbs of soothing tenderness

Green horizons in the night

And sowing, singing and praying – they are not the same

Raised onto drifting ice

Until Cora returns

From her dark depths.

Biodiversity is the skin of the planet

And the soul of Cora

Who in the spring equinox

Will return from the dark

In order to sow the earth.


Direction and Screenplay – Sonia Llera

Direction of content – Vincent Garcés

Executive production – Sonia Llera, Manolo Rodríguez, Sergio Escribano

Photography and camera – Sonia Llera

Editing – Raquel Jimenez, Javier Cordero

Live music – Pedro Burruezo, El Jilguero, Latvia Medieval Group

Original Music – Ivan Lorenzana

Sound and mixing – Marco de Gregori Astrici

Poem “Verbos de Piel y de Cariño” – Angel Petisme, Sonia Llera


Graphics and Headings – Jesus de Matos, Marcela Pelegrin

“Etalonaje” ?  - Miguel Tejerina

Production direction – Cruz Ortega

Production aid – Eva Nistal

Special collaboration (in order of appearance) – Viorica Pop, Pedro Burruezo, Manuel Guzman, Mario Ahumada, Francisca Rodríguez, Luis Navarro, Ramón Acién, Elena Espinosa, José Esquinas, Jacques Diouf, Jaime Costa, Parvis Koohafkan, Paulo Martins, Carlos Taíbo, Pedro Avendaño