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The living earth: agricultural culture and rural knowledge in a mestizo-Mexican developing community

Jonas VANREUSEL student laureate


°1975 Belgium
Bio-engineer land and forest management, Universiteit Antwerpen/Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, 1998

La tierra viva: cultura agrícola y conocimiento campesino en una comunidad mestizo-mexicana en desarrollo

Jonas Vanreusel, an agronomist with additional studies in anthropology and cultures & development, examines in his work the relation between the following concept pairs: modernism-traditionalism, globalisation-localization, which play an important role in relation with development co-operation as well as with science and politics. These dual concepts are marked by prejudices that are hard to eradicate, especially when related to alternatives of development and cultural self-fulfilment.
Changes and tradition are processes that can only be distinguished as radical opposites: a traditional system always contains germs of innovation, optimisation and dynamics. Each cultural system moulds and adopts new elements, as is shown in this case study of a mestizo-Mexican community, that has been developped over a long period in the fringe of the capitalist-colonial system.
The traditional 'contextual' systems, i.e. the local systems adapted to certain ecological and cultural conditions, have always integrated external contributions into their local knowledge system, as long as their flexibility enabled them to do so.
Based on a profound respect and interest for and in dialogue with the local agricultural knowledge system, it then becomes possible to integrate elements of modern science to meet local needs. Ideally, confronted with some rapid changes (e.g. migration patterns, introduction of agrochemical substances) which seem too overwhelming, a dynamics might be developed to restore the local balance.
Jonas Vanreusel justifies this conclusion by illustrating it from his multidisciplinary viewpoint as an agronomist-anthropologist in a rural community in Mexico, which experiences the clash between two ways of producing, thinking, organizing. In Mexico the land reform, inspired by the ideology of the revolution, has given rise to social development projects. The region that is studied may, provided it can keep a certain autonomy, take advantage of this new dynamics and of government resources to improve their water supply - a system of canals maintained by the community. This form of development in which the population takes control reinforces the unity within the community, which was traditionally kept alive above all by local celebrations.
Various factors favour the flexibility to integrate modern concepts and to confront the future but, up to now, the government did not offer any help by way of development projects taking into account local participation, respect for the system of local knowledge, or the stability of the ecosystem.

Report by Prof. Dr. Isabel Yepez del Castillo, Institute for Development Studies, Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium