It is a natural assumption that international development programs lead to direct improvements in lives around the world. Decreasing rates of under-five mortality from malaria? Absolutely. Improving lives in the wake of unimaginable destruction from natural disasters? Without question. It was under these obvious assumptions that I worked for years on various development programs as part of a large government agency. However, I quickly realized that this dominant model of development – one that often takes a Western approach to what progress looks like and applies it to people in all parts of the world regardless of their own values – does not fare so well in empowering cultures, languages or local solutions. With time I saw clearly that in addition to building health clinics, schools, and green revolutions, I was in some cases unknowingly contributing to the creation of a Western monoculture and the destruction of beautifully diverse cultures and languages that hold immeasurable value.
Interview with Felipe Montoya Greenheck by Ortixia Dilts This article blossomed from my continuing delightful conversations with Felipe Montoya Greenheck. Initiated as an inquiry over the MILPA seed project as presented in Terralinguna’s publication, Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook (Earthscan, 2010), we soon diverged from our original subject and into the intent and thinking behind the MILPA projects, concluding with an inspiring model for community revitalization. …..tell me a little about Milpa. I began MILPA as a project to revitalize the living connection between Costa Rican rural communities and the traditional seeds they cultivated. Among the most memorable and enduring activities was a simple seed exchange among small farmers. Paying respects to the local seeds, traditional crops, and land races the participants brought to exchange was very important to tear down the ideology of the supremacy of “improved varieties” that had been introduced and officially promoted, displacing the traditional varieties. Their worth was restored and from that time on (since 1997), traditional seed exchanges have continued to take place in Costa Rica, mostly linked to organic farmers markets. MILPA also organized a conference on Cultivated Biodiversity which was declared of “national interest”. So MILPA pushed the issue among peasant farmers, NGOs and the academia, as well.
How do we conserve biocultural diversity? It may sound like stating the obvious, but it is worth reminding ourselves at the outset that the best way to “conserve” the diversity of life is to make sure that it does not get depleted in the first place—that is, that it continues to thrive when it is