The following piece is part of our ‘Women Around the World Inspiring Change’ blog series that will run until Mother’s Day 2014. We started with a women’s group in Nogales, Mexico Hogar de Esperanza y Paz/Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC). Our second post is about Global Exchange’s 2014 International Human Rights Award honoree, María Estela Barco Huerta, an incredible leader of DESMI (Desarrollo Económico Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas), based in Chiapas, Mexico.

WomensDayQuoteWork has many definitions for many of us but a few things can be generally accepted as common goals relating to ‘work’. We aspire to grow up and enjoy our work, to put time into a fulfilling job, to thrive with others and experience success in the places we put our labor. We even hope that the compensation for our efforts will put food on our tables.

According to the International Development Exchange (IDEX), “Women comprise close to half of the world’s agricultural labor force, including two-thirds of all livestock keepers, twelve percent of fisher folk, and a large share of agro-forestry workers.” That’s a lot of us, growing, tending, catching and harvesting food for our families.

One of IDEX’s grassroots partner organizations, DESMI (translated as Social and Economic Development for Indigenous Mexicans), is led by María Estela Barco Huerta, a powerful woman working to promote food sovereignty. DESMI provides workshops on sustainable agriculture, environmental education, and ecological management of livestock, examining these subjects through a lens of gender equality and women’s rights. DESMI’s projects promote the idea that ” …women play a key role in food production and security [and so w]hen women farmers can access the resources and skills they need to sustainably cultivate healthy nutritious crops, their production increases, making it less likely that their families are hungry and malnourished … As significant food producers, seed savers, and resource managers, women are on the frontlines promoting agroecological solutions towards food sovereignty.”

María Estela Barco Huerta in Chiapas, Mexico.

Originally from Mexico City, Ms. Barco has lived and worked in Chiapas for the past 35 years. She started as a church outreach worker – where she worked alongside the highly respected Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a liberation theologist. She later joined the team of several community development organizations including DESMI, where she has worked since 1993. Ms. Barco has played a leading role in organizing Agro-Ecology Learning Exchanges in Chiapas, Mexico. These exchanges bring together activists from across Latin America to confront the challenges of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), encroaching agribusinesses, and loss of value and culture for peasant farmers in the region and to create innovative solutions. As Barco says, “We gather for the wish to build hopes. We want that no one and no community has lack of access to food. We trust in learning from each other.”

As Chiapas was and still is ‘ground zero’ for NAFTA and its devastating impact on Mexican agriculture, Ms. Barco’s work to create solutions for small indigenous farmers is crucial. And Global Exchange is honored to present María Estela Barco Huerta with the 2014 International Human Rights Award.



Join Global Exchange on May 8th at the Human Rights Awards. Early bird tickets are on sale until April 11.

Join a Global Exchange Reality Tour to Chiapas and see the challenges and solutions first-hand.