Project #14089

Bring Back Bees to Mexico's Degraded Farmlands

by Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
Pollinators coming back to Mexico! Photo by RICDA
Pollinators coming back to Mexico! Photo by RICDA

Thank you for your generous support of Food First’s Bring Back the Bees Project. Your donation helps ensure that we can continue helping the Indigenous Farmer Network for Agroecological Development (RICDA) in Mexico.

In the interest of ensuring that your donation has the most impact for the farmers in Mexico, we are shifting our fundraising from Global Giving directly to the Food First website. We hope you continue to invest as we move over to a more direct funding mechanism that allows us to give all of your donation directly to the project you care about.

Here is the link: http://foodfirst.org/farmer-led-pollinator-restoration/

Just like on Global Giving, we keep up-to-date information on our website and blog so you can stay informed about this project and the other work that we are doing here at Food First.

Here is an update with a proposal for the next step of this project:

Over the last 5 years, the Indigenous-Farmer Network for Agroecological Development (RICDA) has converted over 300 hectares of degraded farmland to highly productive agroecological practices, benefitting hundreds of families in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Guerrero and Oaxaca. RICDA’s time-tested Campesino a Campesino methodologies for farmer-to-farmer agroecological development improve community food security and ensure a sustainable stream of ecological benefits that build resilience into indigenous/smallholder farming systems. These include: enhanced pollinator habitat, soil and water conservation, reforestation & carbon capture, heirloom seed saving and the watershed scale conservation of biodiversity.

The Next Generation project builds on RICDA’s successes by bringing farmer-to-farmer agroecological instruction to 10 secondary schools in the municipal district of Ahuacatlán, in the northern mountains of Puebla, Mexico.

The goal of the project is to provide hands-on agroecological instruction to 300 indigenous and mestizo high school students to make sustainable farming a viable livelihood option for the region’s next generation.

Instruction will be carried out by 15 farmer-promoters from the Independent Indigenous Organization of Ahuacateca (OIIA), a founding member of RICDA. Training will take place at 5 secundarias and 5 preparatorias (junior and senior high schools) in the classroom, in school and community gardens and on the 1/2 to 2-hectare farms worked by the OIIA instructors, the students and their parents. Most of the students in Ahuacatlán come from low-resource farm families, are13 to18 years old and have few opportunities for vocational training or gainful employment.

Agroecology offers these young men and women the opportunity to learn how to produce more and higher quality food for their families while improving the region’s environment by conserving soil, seeds, water, pollinators and biodiversity. Surplus production will be processed and sold through local and regional channels, providing students with entrepreneurial experience and providing their families with increased household income. Because the Next Generation is run by and for indigenous farming families from the OIIA, the project will also help strengthen local organizational and civic structures in Ahuacatlán.

We hope that you will continue to donate to fund the next phase of this project directly through our website. You can set up monthly donations just like on Global Giving, and we'll be happy to help you with this if you give us a call.

Thank you again for supporting Food First’s project with RICDA for pollinator restoration and agroecology in Mexico.


With gratitude,

Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director

Alexandra Toledo, Development Director


Contact us here:
510-654-4400 x221
Habitat Restoration. Photo by RICDA
Habitat Restoration. Photo by RICDA


The fate of the world is in your hands
The fate of the world is in your hands

Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 15th, your donation to Mexico or Mali will be MATCHED on Global Giving!

Donate up to $1,000 and get a 30% BONUS. That means, a $50 donation is $65 for our project and a $100 donation is $130!

But here’s the catch: The matching funds are first come, first served, and only available until they run out.

The Challenge starts at 9 am Eastern time, 8 am Central time, 7 am Mountain time, and 6 am Pacific time. So, if you are here in California like us, set your alarm and leave your credit card by your bed!

This Bonus Day comes in the middle of Global Food Week of Action, October 12th-19th. Here’s an update about what Food First has in the works for this important week of action.

On Sunday, October 12th, Executive Director of Food First, Eric Holt-Giménez, moderated a panel on The Global Struggle for Food Sovereignty: A Discussion with African Food Leaders & Farmers. This panel formed part of the Africa-US Food Sovereignty Strategy Summit in Seattle to support African farmers’ efforts towards Food Sovereignty and challenge the Gates Foundation’s industrial agricultural programs in the area. These kinds of actions develop international support for farmers like those in Mali that benefit from your donation to our project: Help 30 Villages in Gao-Mali Grow Food NOW!

Monday, October 13th we celebrated Indigenous People’s Day, a re-claimed holiday started in Berkeley as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day. Our work with RICDA, the Indigenous-Farmer Network for Agroecological Development supports farming communities as they produce food, protect agobiodiversity and conserve pollinators across Mexico.

Eric Holt-Giménez also presented in The Future of Food webinar on agroecology, speaking to the need for farming in harmony with the environment, just like your donation supports for pollinators and biodiversity in our project: Bring Back Bees to Mexico’s Degraded Farmlands.

Tomorrow evening, Wednesday, October 15th, Food First Board member and longtime Executive Director of Community to Community Development, Rosalinda Guillén, will be awarded the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize along with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) of Palestine. Rosalinda’s work with immigrant farm workers represents the vision we have at Food First for a just, sustainable food system.

Here in Oakland, we’ll host a panel on alternative travel as a source for transformative change, thinking deeply about our Food Sovereignty Tours around the world.

World Food Day is Thursday, October 16th, and we will be standing in solidarity with food activists holding events throughout the world to build a more just, sustainable food system.

Stand with us!

In celebration of World Food Day, please make a donation to one of our Global Giving projects on this Bonus Day, Wednesday, October 15th. Your donation will go further for farmers in Mexico and Mali.

Set your alarm now to make your donation starting at 9 am Eastern time, Wednesday, October 15th.

Thank you in advance for your activism and support!

In solidarity,


Eric Holt-Giménez

Executive Director, Food First


P.S. Take action! Forward this to a friend to generate more bonus gifts for farmers in Mexico and Mali during the Global Food Week of Action.

Butterfly back in the field. Photo by RICDA.
Butterfly back in the field. Photo by RICDA.
Pollinator at work. Photo by RICDA.
Pollinator at work. Photo by RICDA.

Juan Manuel “Manolo” Moran knows a thing or two about teaching sustainable agriculture. Raised in the lower foothills of Mexico’s Popocateptl volcano, he grew up farming corn, beans and squash (the “three sisters”) on the family’s two-hectare “ejido” plot. Apricot, apple and “tejocote” trees lined the borders between plots. The garden in the large, enclosed patio of their small adobe house was full of several varieties of chilies, tomatoes, onions and medicinal herbs. Pots of new plants were clustered everywhere under the watchful gaze of his grandmother. She was the one who experimented with new cultivars to see what kind of cultivation they required; planting dates, changing sun and shade regimes, companion planting… when she was convinced of their utility, she either planted them out in the garden or had Manolo and his grandfather plant them out in the field. Chickens, ducks and turkeys wandered in the yard. Life was hard but good, and Manolo learned what it meant to put food on the table and sell a surplus at the local market.

A romance with a North American volunteer on a local development project led to marriage, family and a five-year sojourn in the United States. Manolo finished high school and enrolled in agronomy classes at Cornell University. There, he says, “They taught me everything we were doing in San Luis was wrong—diversified cropping, organic manure, using our local varieties… I learned to grow single cash crops with fertilizers and pesticides on the university farm. They looked so good. But it made me feel as though my family were just stupid peasants.”

Manolo returned to San Luis to share his new knowledge. His grandfather refused to adopt the new practices. Other farmers mistrusted his advice. He finally rented his own land and began trying out what he had learned. The first chilies he grew came up nicely and Manolo was careful to apply fungicides and insecticides. They looked good…until they were attacked by a virus that withered the skins. He picked out the best for market. At the end of the season, he had broken even. His grandfather, who put a large store of maize, beans and hard squash away for the rest of the year, just shook his head.

“I tried and tried to make these new seeds and inputs work,” says Manolo, “I’d get a good crop, then get clobbered in the market. I kept having to apply more and more fertilizer just to get a crop. My costs went up and my profits went down. Eventually, I had to take a job as an agronomist just to pay off my debts. Working for the government, I was paid to give farmers the same advice that had driven me broke.”

But after a few years, Manolo met farmers from the Campesino a Campesino (Farmer-to-Farmer) Movement for sustainable agriculture. He found that he wasn’t the only campesino to have adopted Green Revolution technologies and gone broke. The farmers in this movement used a combination of traditional and new practices that conserved soil, water and biodiversity. Their harvests were good—not extraordinary—but consistent from year to year and their whole farm system was designed to resist extreme weather patterns. To “join” the movement, all Manolo had to do was experiment with a new method on a small scale. If it worked, he had to apply it to his farm. Importantly, he had to share his knowledge with someone else.

Manolo never looked back. He has been working as a farmer-extensionist promoter in the Campesino a Campesino movement for over thirty years. He has given workshops to other peasant farmers across Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. He returned to his grandfather’s ejido, which is now his. He grows the “three sisters” again, as well as organic fruits and vegetables which he sells directly through a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) network.

Now Manolo is starting path-breaking work in the indigenous villages of the Sierra Norte of Puebla. Working with the Pollinator Restoration Project, this summer Manolo organized experimental farms and gardens in 10 high schools. Students receive classes on agroecology—the science and practice of sustainable agriculture—with an emphasis on pollinator restoration. Students work on the school farm, learning how to lower and eventually reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. They take field trips to neighboring farms and forests to understand pollinator habitat and then identify and cultivate local pollinator-friendly plants, many of which also have medicinal or other uses. They are creating teaching collections of pollinators and plants, identifying by their common and scientific names as well as their indigenous names and cataloguing these in terms of traditional and new practices and uses. They are building their own, local knowledge system of indigenous agroecology.

“The students take this knowledge home,” says Manolo, “We encourage them to get their parents to give them a small, experimental plot to try out new things. The whole family gets involved.”

The goal of this work is to revive pollinators by re-establishing a safe habitat for them within the farm system. This is accomplished through agroecology and farmer-to-farmer innovation and sharing. The project is also looking to re-establish local markets and systems of community-supported agriculture for farm products.

“We want to provide a sustainable livelihood alternative for the young people of these villages so they don’t have to emigrate to make a living.”

Manolo has come full circle and is doing what he loves: growing food, protecting the environment and teaching others.

Thank you for your support of Manolo and so many other families who are providing us all a service of restoring the pollinators. Food First's Pollinator Project works with farmers in Mexico to bring back bees (and butterflies, birds, and bats) by reaching people through radio shows, farmers market demonstrations, field demonstrations, workshops and community supported agriculture.

Did you know: Studies show that 1 in 3 bites of food you take depends on pollinators? Please support this farmer-led campaign to save pollinators and keep eating.

Bee in Tlascala
Bee in Tlascala

The Pollinator Restoration Campaign

“Look, there she is!”

Emiliano Juarez is whispering, pointing a finger at a tiny bee busily rummaging around in a squash flower. He notes down the letters “a.n.” in a spiral pad, “She is one of ours—una abeja nativa (native bee). She doesn’t sting, but she can bite! Ever since we put up the nesting gourds, their population has been increasing. It’s a good pollinator for my squash crop.”

It was a crisp Tlaxcala morning on the Meseta Central of Mexico and we were squatting, evenly spaced, along with two other campesino farmers, in the very middle of Emiliano’s “milpa” the two-hectare corn-beans-squash polyculture that feeds his family. Each of us had a spiral pad. We had just five minutes to observe, classify and count the pollinators buzzing in the field. Fifty yards away, four more campesinos were also counting pollinators in the middle of the neighbor’s field.

The two fields could not have looked more different. Emiliano’s milpa seemed a bit weedy and disorganized, but was full of edible tomatillos, purslane and leafy quelites. The land was divided lengthwise along the contour by two long conservation ditches for water catchment. The bunds above the ditches and the borders of his field were lined with thick hedgerows of trees, broom, maguey, a few aromatic herbs and native flowering plants, and plenty of weeds.
The neighbor’s field looked to be recently cultivated and sported clean rows of uniform corn plants… just corn plants. Not much grew around the perimeter except for a few magueys. It looked like the farmer had been careful to keep the weeds down.

“OK, time’s up!” calls Emiliano, “Lets see what we found.”

We all meet up to tally our observations and compare the results between the two fields.
Emiliano’s field has twenty-three pollinators: six native honey bees, two bumble bees (abejorros), four wasps, and eleven ants. (A discussion ensued regarding whether or not the wasps were actually pollinating. We decided they were.)

“OK, how about my neighbor,” Emiliano asks.

People in the other group shrug a little uncomfortably. They claim two native bees and six ants.
“So, why the big difference?”

For the next twenty minutes we discuss the basic differences in farming styles, habitat, niches, pesticide use, organic matter… the conversation was lively and wide ranging.

This gives your a glimpse into the field-based learning process that campesinos have been developing for over 30 years in Mexico. As they say "the proof is in the pudding," or in this case "the proof is in the number of pollinators."

The loss of natural pollinators in central Mexico is a reflection of a larger, ecosystems breakdown that began in the late 1960s with the Green Revolution.

This year over 150 farming families will improve their yields, strengthen ecosystem resiliency and restore pollinator habitat on more than 300 acres of farmland in dozens of Mexican watersheds. Using the time-tested Campesino a Campesino methodology, they’ll also share their knowledge with more than 400 other farmers in nearby villages. The Farmer-to-Farmer Pollinator Restoration Project is the latest development in a decades-long struggle for farmer-led sustainable agriculture in Mesoamerica.

For our partners in Mexico, RICDA (The Indigenous Farmers Agroecology Network of Mexico) conserving natural pollinators is part and parcel of a larger campaign for peasant livelihoods based on agroecology, indigenous knowledge and food sovereignty: the democratic control over their food system. Aware of the importance of building alliances, RICDA organizes in the tianguis (farmers markets), giving workshops, informational materials and selling “pollinator friendly” products to a growing base of loyal consumers. RICDA members are active in the “Sin Maiz no Hay Pais” (Without Corn there is no Country) campaign and coordinate with the international peasant federation Via Campesina to lobby for agrarian reforms that protect smallholders and native seeds.

This pollinator work is just one piece of the continual farmer-to-farmer education which has been taking place in Mexico for the past 35 years.

The farmers of RICDA know that to conserve pollinators they need to be environmentally and economically sustainable. They also need to exercise political power to defend their livelihoods from a global food regime determined to push them off the land and out of the market. The farmers resist, in part because they wish to maintain their livelihoods, their culture and their way of life. They also resist because there is nowhere else for them to go. There are no jobs in the countryside or the cities. The costs and dangers of migrating to “El Norte” (US and Canada) for work are too great.
“We have to stay on the land,” says Manuel “Manolo” Moran of the Tonantlal farmers group in San Luis Coyotzingo, Puebla, “It is the only way to survive. But we need to make a better living, too, for our children—and for our land—to have a future. We can save the pollinators, but who is going to save us? We can’t do it all alone.”

Bee hive on a tree in Tlascala
Bee hive on a tree in Tlascala
Bee pollination
Bee pollination

There is an urgent need to set aside sections of land for pollinator habitat all across North and Central America. One third of our farm crops require pollinators (bees, birds, butterflies and bats) to cross pollinate fruits and vegetables.

Every year since 2006 annual honeybee colony losses in the United States have averaged 30 percent. Some veteran beekeepers are now losing all of their bee hives year after year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that honeybee colony survival rates are now too low to meet pollination demands of U.S. agricultural crops.

This loss reduces crop yields, puts farmworkers out of work and farmers out of business, and most importantly, raises the cost of food and reduces the range of foods available.

The urgency of doing something to save bees has reached the halls of the U.S. Congress where Rep. John Conyers Jr. and Rep. Earl Blumenauer have introduced a bill to impose a two-year ban on the use of insecticides suspected of contributing to the death of bees. In addition to banning the use of these insecticides, it is equally important to set aside and restore habitat to nurture pollinators.

The bee crisis is also hitting Mexico. Food First's project in Mexico is working to restore 300 acres of pollinator habitat. This will increase the amount of basic grains and vegetables grown on smallholder farms in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tlaxcala and Puebla. These states have been selected because the Campesino a Campesino (Farmer-to-Farmer) Movement is most active there.

Farmers are already working together in local farmer-to-farmer teams to set up habitat reserves on 300 acres of peasant farmland on 150 farms, as well as working to improve the ecosystems of dozens of watersheds. Campesino a Campesino field demonstrations are already allowing these farmers to show more than 400 other farmers in nearby villages how to set aside their own restoration areas.  Once these pollinator restoration practices are established within the Campesino a Campesino movement, they will spread throughout Central America with farmers continuing to teach other farmers.

Our campaign funding progress has been steady. As we move into spring planting season, your donation now will help us with our goal of having at least one farmer to farmer field demonstration in each of the four states we are working in during the coming month.

Please consider a donation now.  You can also help by sharing information with your facebook and twitter networks using the links at the bottom of the donation page.


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Organization Information

Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy

Location: Oakland, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.foodfirst.org
Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
Project Leader:
Eric Holt-Gimenez
Executive Director
Oakland, CA United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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