“Without Food there is No Resistance”: The Impact of the Zapatista Conflict on Agrobiodiversity and Seed Sovereignty in Chiapas, Mexico

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Violent conflicts are frequently associated with detrimental or neutral effects on economic, social, and environmental development; by extension, one might expect similar effects on agrobiodiversity. However, as this study suggests, the impacts of conflicts are not necessarily all negative or neutral. Indeed, conflicts may also create favorable political conditions for the implementation of community-driven agrobiodiversity management. Drawing on ethnographic research in the indigenous central region of Chiapas, Mexico, where the insurgent Zapatista movement (EZLN) has a strong influence, we examine the impact of the agrarian conflict between this indigenous movement and the Mexican government on the development of agrobiodiversity conservation initiatives. Two research questions guide this paper: (1) What has been the impact of the conflict on communities’ subsistence agriculture and seed sovereignty? and (2) To what extent has the local seed sovereignty movement—an outgrowth of the Zapatista conflict—influenced agrobiodiversity conservation? Our findings suggest that the conflict has led to the implementation of grassroots agroecology and food and seed sovereignty projects that could ultimately strengthen agrobiodiversity in the communities under the influence of the Zapatista movement. We suggest that these projects highlight two elements essential for long-term agrobiodiversity conservation: first, the strategic relationship between agrobiodiversity conservation and these communities’ food security and seed sovereignty, particularly in the context of conflict; and second, the central role that peasant communities play in the preservation, reproduction, and evolution of agrobiodiversity. We conclude that the overall long-term impact of the Zapatista conflict on local agrobiodiversity has in fact been positive.


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