In a display of remarkable grassroots mobilization and solidarity, in the fall of 2014 a coalition of protesters composed largely of indigenous peoples and smallholder farmers (campesinos) assembled in Guatemala City to demand the Guatemalan legislature’s repeal of Decree 19, the so-called “Monsanto Law.” The law would have created an opening for the corporate privatization of Guatemala’s seed market. Located in the midst of a multi-country region recognized as one of the world’s centers-of-origin for crop domestication and agro-biodiversity, Guatemala’s indigenous and rural populations recognized this latest attempt at enclosure as a serious threat to community seed and food sovereignty. Indeed, as this event clearly demonstrates, food sovereignty continues to serve as a central touchstone for movements for cultural survival and cultural equity in a country with one of the oldest continuous agricultural systems in the world, and yet simultaneously racked by a history of inequality.
In this global field studies course, we will study prehistoric, historic, and contemporary contexts of food traditions, agricultural systems, and food sovereignty efforts in the western highlands of Guatemala. The itinerary for the two-week field course includes one week in and around the city of Quetzaltenango (aka Xela) and one week divided between several sites on the shores of Lake Atitlan.