Evaluation of the Contradictions in Sembrando Vida

Zapotec campesino in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. 2020.

Coneval, Design Evaluation with Field Work of the Sembrando Vida Program 2019-2020. Photo: Ojarasca Supplement of La Jornada/283

By Ramón Vera-Herrera

The Sembrando Vida Program (“Sowing Life”) claims to focus on 230 thousand “agrarian subjects” (at times, “legal subjects”), planting 575 thousand hectares. Over almost two years of operation, they have added 170 thousand people and 425 thousand hectares, covering 20 states in the country. In total, one million hectares and 400 thousand people.

Its [the program’s] requirements force us to take into account that, “The unit of production should be available to implement the agroforestry program and should have some of the following characteristics: that it is idle or abandoned; that it is fallow or in pasture; or that it has milpa in cultivation. As we have shown before, this implies going directly against areas of common use (some 6.89 million in the country) that continue to be at the heart of the territorial practices of communities and ejidos in the 51% of the national territory that is still held as social property. These areas, as Álvaro Salgado has said well, are also the heart of a responsible mutuality between campesinas  and campesinos from communities and ejidos that should agree on the terms of where and how to plant each year, something diametrically opposed to the fixed, geo-positioned parcels that already herald the digital future awaiting the Mexican countryside. And the theft grows in response to Sembrando Vida asking its “agrarian subjects” for full domain, “by certifying the ownership or possession of 2.5 hectares by way of a land certificate, certificate of agrarian rights, public deed, statement or  resolution of the Agrarian Court, or act of assembly in which the possession is accredited or some other document or title which clearly states the ownership or possession of the land.”

The Sembrando Vida program shows its profound disregard for the peasantry in these lines: “it is important that the work supports agrarian subjects that don’t have the necessary resources and knowledge to produce food” (and in another passage, “those that have scarce or insufficient knowledge for agricultural production”), despite the fact that we are talking about the regions that are richest in biodiversity, as stated in three lines above, and as we know, biodiversity is never only biological, but rather a product of the relationship with human populations.  

But the Sembrando Vida program says, “due to the characteristics of the territories that they inhabit, they (the agrarian subjects? the territories?) represent a great opportunity to promote the production of crops through sustainable agriculture systems.” With that crusade in mind, the aim is to achieve sustainability, recovery of the soils and the social fabric, food self-sufficiency, improve incomes, and move above the poverty line. In the final evaluation of Sembrando Vida Program, published in the middle of this year, the National Council for Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval) states that “these objectives are not well-defined in the goals and scope sought by the intervention,” and “neither are the tools necessary to operationalize the objectives or to quantify the measurable results about these aspects.”

Additionally, the Bank of National Savings and Financial Services (Bansefi) will hold onto 450 of the 5 thousand pesos per month that is due to each “legal subject,” plus the 50 pesos that will go to a Welfare Fund. Although some commentators on the program  affirm that it has to do with choice, that is, something voluntary, the lines of the Sembrando Vida program define it as an obligation (point 3.7.2), which is no small thing if in addition they have to maintain their savings untouched for at least three years, and the bank happy. In its evaluation, Coneval signaled that one difficulty for those who received the money was the “proximity of mechanisms to withdraw cash […] implies an significant expense, both economic and in opportunity.” This is compounded by the fact that with the few branches that exist, and so many people collecting on their programs, the branches are overrun and are left without cash in the rural regions where the beneficiaries are, in addition to the time and the money spent in going to collect.

At the beginning of the year, María Luisa Albores, the then-commissioner of the program, now secretary of Semarnat (Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources), complained that the military nurseries, with which they had contracted the delivery of 100 million plants, had only delivered 37 million. Today the people of Chimalapas1 are alarmed at the absurdity that the people enrolled in the program are forced to buy plants from military nurseries brought from Veracruz, with 25 percent of the plants dying just in transport and management, when the Chimalapas is the bioregion with the greatest diversity of all kinds of trees.”

As Daniel Sandoval, researcher from the Center for the Study of Change in the Mexican Countryside (Ceccam) said, “The Sembrando Vida Program directly affects the decisions of people to accept official regulation. This disloyal action that alienates the people from their ability to exercise free consent can be proven with testimonies from various localities, primarily in Bacalar, Quintana Roo. The factional use of this governmental program is a fact that applies  to the vast majority of regions in which the government needs the population to cede their territories […], according to what we have proven cartographically in relating the sites where  Sembrando Vida is being implemented with the planned routes for the passage of the Mayan Train.” According to the businessman Alfonso Romo, “thanks to their investments, a transformation of ‘unproductive lands’ to ‘highly value-added lands’ has been achieved, employment  generated, ‘communities dying of hunger’ come out of their misery, etcetera.”

This is the very logic of the Sembrando Vida Program, when it insists that it is working to improve the income of the campesinos to increase the productivity of the land. Precisely one of the central criticisms that Coneval makes is that, “The definition of the central problem is ambiguous in terms of  the situation that it seeks to resolve.” On one hand, it refers to the insufficient income of the campesinos living in rural localities and on the other, it relates to the difficulty in making the land productive. The situation related to the insufficient income of the campesinos is a negative situation and in the first place it assumes that increasing their income would solve it, but it isn’t clear how resolving the problem of money resolves the lack of productivity of the land. […] It lends itself to confusion whether the problem to be addressed is the income of the campesinos or the productivity of the land.”

From another angle, Daniel Sandoval asserts, “It adds to the old entrepreneurial discourse, seemingly heroic and progressive, the application of metho combines kickbacks to the population that owns the land and the persecution and threats to people that try to organize the resistance. This fact has also been documented in these recent dates.” Sadly, this checks out perfectly with those from Chiapas, who “look with horror at how Sembrando Vida is being one of the motivations for the attacks perpetrated by ORCAO on the Zapatista communities, now that they need to secure more ground for the expansion of the program in order to ensure the most access to the monetary resources of the program in its second phase, so they are invading the recuperated territories of the Zapatista comrades, where they work in production collectives.”

Ver: https://www.coneval.org.mx/SalaPrensa/Comunicadosprensa/ Documents/2020/COMUNICADO_11_PROGRAMA_ SEMBRANDO_VIDA.pdf

Tren Maya, Sembrando Vida y Corredor Transístmico: http://ceccam.org/node/2914

Lineamientos de Sembrando Vida: https://www.gob.mx/ cms/uploads/attachment/file/579757/Lineamientos_Programa_ Sembrando_Vida_2019.pdf

This piece was originally published in the November issue of the Ojarasca supplement of La Jornada on November 14, of 2020. https://ojarasca.jornada.com.mx/2020/11/14/evaluacion-de-contradicciones-en-sembrando-vida-6055.html This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. Chimalapas is a region in the southeastern part of Oaxaca and western Chiapas. It is a bioregion of top importance in Mesoamerica.
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