Custodians of Mother Earth and Seeds


The Economic and Social Development of Indigenous Mexicans (DESMI)


Chiapas, Mexico


Food Security, Indigenous Rights

Project Duration:

May, 2017 Apr, 2019

Project Summary


In Chiapas, half the population lives with chronic food insecurity. Indigenous farmers are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity as it is increasingly difficult for them to produce healthy and nutritious food to feed their families. The complex terrain, limited access to land, the high exposure to crop failure and diseases, as well as the increasing use of agrochemicals, is contributing to families experiencing soil erosion and declining crop yields. Moreover, due to pressure from government and multinational companies, traditional farming practices are decreasing, and making the switch to hybrid seeds use, which discourage sustenance farming in favour of monoculture exports. 

Horizons is partnering with the community-based organization, Economic and Social Development of Indigenous Mexicans (DESMI), to address food security challenges and environmental degradation by collecting and protecting native seeds, and training in the mixed crop agricultural-ecological system. The project is providing technical workshops to 25 communities in Chiapas, making up 154 families, on sustainable farming practices such as the traditional “milpa” system. This farming approach is a traditional food production system from the region that incorporates three traditional crops: corn, beans, and squashes, and compliments these crops with other vegetables and herbs to increase soil fertility and contribute to the protection of crop biodiversity.

This initiative also includes the establishment of the “Guardians of the Seeds” network which unites to defend their rights to their native seeds and food sovereignty. Community members, including many women, volunteer as representatives in the network where they are responsible for advocating for their communities in meetings as well as ensuring continuity of sustainable agricultural processes.


It gives us great strength to realize the grand variety of native vegetables, fruits and trees that we have preserved within our communities. For us, this represents a major achievement, a way to combat climate change by protecting the grand biodiversity of our indigenous plants.
— Maria Estela Barco Huerta of DESMI

Key Achievements

  • This project aims to directly impact 154 Indigenous farming families in 25 rural communities.
  • Communities have identified 250-280 varieties of native seeds, including 16 varieties of corn and 25 varieties of beans.
  • As a result of this project, Indigenous women are undertaking leadership positions, including documenting seed inventory and mapping seed planting to help diversify their crop production.
  • We provide support to 267 volunteer Guardians, who continue to ensure communities care for their communal plots, “seed houses” and the “Guardians of the Seeds” network.