Concordia Student-Run Food Groups Research Project

Mayan Ancestral Knowledge & Land Defense

Photo by Ella Bennison – The Milpa (Mayan calendar system)

Food & Culture Conference Report – by Ella Bennison
Rony Lec – Permaculture, Mayan Ancestral Knowledge & Land Defense
Monday, October 2 at 6 PM – 8 PM

On October 2, 2017, the McGill Permaculture Club hosted a talk with Ronaldo Lec. In 2000, he founded the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute (IMAP) in Guatemala.

Mesoamerica comprises a part of Central America (Oaxaca, Yucatan, Chiapas, Honduras). This region is specific to the Mayan culture and covers only 0,1% of the surface of the earth. However, the historically Mayan land is also the most biodiversified land with 12% of the world’s biodiversity. It is such a productive region because it is located on an intercontinental breach (otherwise known as the “edge effect”). This region has given us corn, chocolate, chilli peppers, tomato and peanuts or some of the basic staples of our modern diet.

The Mayans have a very specific worldview whereby three elements – the plants, humans and animals, the cosmos and mother earth – are all linked. They believe we all come from the same source of life and therefore we owe respects to all things that are alive and have a language. This idea differs from the typical Western society’s conception of the world as the elements of earth and plants are seen by the Mayans as living things that can communicate. All these items are dependent on each other. To achieve this balance, the Mayans followed a complex calendric system. These calendars rhythmed the cycles of agriculture but also the lives of the Mayans. For them, science and spirituality are tied.

This Mayan system highly contrasts our modern agriculture systems where corporations practice monoculture with an anthropocentric view. Losing diversity means losing sustenance. These corporations contend that we cannot feed the world but this is due in part to large amounts of waste. In reality, there is no shortage of food. Food sovereignty is a key issue for the IMAP and Ronaldo Lec. Food sovereignty is the idea of allowing people to grow their own food and to choose their methods to do so. This concept differs from food security, a term created by the government when they provide food in disregard of the people’s culture (food dumping).

In an effort to support food sovereignty, the IMAP puts an emphasis on seeds as they are necessary for our survival: they contain our accumulated knowledge as well as practices and techniques. Permaculture comes from indigenous and/or ancestral knowledge and this is complemented by new knowledge that has come about with forever changing conditions. Within a context of rising use of GMO seeds, preserving non-GMO seeds becomes especially important (preserving biodiversity and making them available).

This lecture was given on a tour to promote the upcoming 6th Continental Seed Freedom Summit that the IMAP will be hosting in the Spring of 2018. The summit will promote seed sharing, seed selection, seed banks and permaculture. As part of the Red Semillas de Libertad, IMAP are “seed guardians”.

If you would like to support this summit, you may do so here

The IMAP also have an educational vocation and offer programs about food sovereignty, biodiversity (creating seed banks, growing native foods) and permaculture.

For more information on IMAP make sure to check out their site

After the conference, questions from the attendants ensued and Ronaldo Lec suggested, as an advocate for food sovereignty, that in order to make a difference at our personal scale we should try to eat what is at our hands.

For more events organized by the McGill Permaculture Club see their Facebook page