On a recent issue of American Ethnologist, the Scientific Journal of the American Ethnological Society, Thomas W. Pearson takes an extensive look at some communities in Costa Rica that have chosen to adopt ordinances and municipal codes that prevent the planting of transgenics, or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
On his article titled Transgenic-free territories in Costa Rica: Networks, place, and the politics of life, Pearson argues that the work of rural communities -such as Santa Cruz in Guanacaste- against the cultivation of transgenic crops in their land is a “defense of sovereignty, place, and even life itself.”
Pearson takes a look at how organizations that promote sustainable development in Guanacaste became acquainted with GMOs and the dangers they pose to organic farming practices. The group that Pearson observed is Sol de Vida, an organization that The Costa Rica Star mentioned in an article about creating renewable sources of energy for household cooking. Not only has Sol de Vida achieved success in pushing for legislation to keep GMOs out of Santa Cruz, but they also empower local women through the promotion of solar-powered stoves.
There are many interesting points throughout Pearson’s article. He details the relationship between transnational activist networks that operate by countering the maneuvers taken by transnational corporations like Monsanto. Pearson describes how these transnational activist networks look for groups like Sol de Vida to raise awareness. On April 8, 2006 (the International Day of Opposition to GMOs), Pearson was in Guanacaste listening to Juan Arriaga from Sol de Vida about his experience in making Santa Cruz a legal transgenic-free territory.
Costa Rica as a Transgenic Pioneer
In a previous article, The Costa Rica Star looked at the reasons why agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto does not have an office in our country. One point that was not touched upon on that article is made very clear by Pearson: The world’s first transgenic soybean was brought to Costa Rica in the early 1990s, and it was a Monsanto strain. Pearson spoke with the man who experimented with the soybean GMO on behalf of Monsanto at different nurseries for the purpose of spreading and multiplying the transgenic seeds. Years after these experiments, transnational activist networks and local groups like Sol de Vida put enough pressure on Monsanto to keep out.
The fact that various communities in Costa Rica are becoming transgenic-free territories has a lot to do with the activist approach. In his American Ethnographer article, Pearson recalls how Don Juan Arriaga used the narrative of wild man and American filibuster William Walker and his band of mercenaries as they tried to seize control of Central America but were eventually stopped by Tico troops in the historical Battle of Rivas.
Pearson noticed how Don Juan Arriaga artfully drew comparisons between our brave National Campaign and the battle against transgenic merchants like Monsanto; the proverbial David vs. Goliath struggle that never fails to rouse the spirit of the people. Pearson calls attention of the use of cultural repertoires as the effective “framing of a thorny technoscientific issue through culturally salient narratives as an outside threat to Costa Rican sovereignty.”
In the end, Pearson determines that communities such as San Isidro, Santa Cruz, Abangares, Talamanca, Moravia, and Barva are expressing the people’s resolve to adopt sustainable development that is also socially just.
You can read the entire article here.
You can learn more Thomas Pearson here.