May 26, 2008

Jesus Leon Wins Goldman Prize

It's rare that we get a chance to celebrate in this line of work. It seems we spend most of our time warning of new threats or documenting the devastation of a system that converts human lives and the vast diversity of nature into business ventures for the few.

But April 15 was a time to celebrate. Jesus Leon Santos, our nominee for the Goldman Environmental Prize, became the 2008 prizewinner for the North America region. In a moving ceremony held at the San Francisco Opera House, Jesus received the prize with his characteristic humility and dedication. Thousands of activists, philanthropists and students listened as he spoke out strongly about the displacement of Mexican maize farmers following NAFTA, the threat of genetically modified corn imports, and the importance of restoring and preserving traditional farming methods.

Environmentalists have sometimes had a hard time viewing agriculture as an area for environmental activism. Agricultural activity is usually found on the other side of the fence--as a force that works against the environment, through the use of agrochemicals, depletion of water, deforestation. But Jesus's project in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca is a perfect example of how that can change.

The Americas Policy Program has been following CEDICAM in its project to “build a future” in a homeland where erosion strips away the soil and out-migration strips away the farmers. As global warming, pollution, desertification, erosion and changes in land-use threaten our food supply, small farmers are coming to be viewed not just as victims, which they often are, but also as our possible salvation. And it’s no wonder that indigenous farmers, like Jesus, lead the move to sustainable farming. Find out more about how, watch this video also: