Training young agroecologists: the Latin American example
Based on the inspiration and pedagogy of the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, the first Latin America Institute of Agroecology (IALA) was set up in Venezuela in 2006 with the backing of former President Hugo Chavez.
Since then a continental network of agroecology schools has followed in Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua and soon the Dominican Republic.
The global movement of peasants and indigenous peoples, La Via Campesina LVC and its regional representation the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organisations (CLOC), have prioritised setting up IALAs that provide holistic political, ideological and technical training based on agroecology and promoting social transformation in harmony with the environment.
A key principle is to encourage the sharing of peasant knowledge in their grassroots and to build capacity among young graduates to lead movements for the construction of food sovereignty in their countries, organisations, communities and internationally.
Latin American Institute of Agroecology (IALA Ixim Ulew) in Nicaragua
Founded in 2018, the Latin American Institute of Agroecology (IALA Ixim Ulew) in Nicaragua is an initiative of the ATC for students from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Panamá, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. The name “Ixim Ulew” means “land of corn” in the maya quiche language, honouring corn as sacred to the Mesoamerican culture common to all of the countries of the region.
IALA Ixim Ulew’s campus is located on over 60 hectares (150 acres) of land in Santo Tomas in the department of Chontales. Since acquiring the property, IALA Ixim Ulew has been working on building the school infrastructure and putting an agroecological system of farming in place. The campus has areas for growing vegetables, fruit, maize and beans and raising cows, pigs, chickens, and bees. This diversity of production contributes to the self-sufficiency of the school and provides access to practical training for the students. Much of the land is protected forest and there is a beautiful river that runs through the property.
Two cohorts of students graduated from IALA Ixim Ulew in 2018-19 and 2020-21. A third cohort, currently studying, will finish their course in 2023. Students alternate time on the central campus taking classes and doing field work and periods in their own communities putting into practice what they learnt. The programme lasts for two years, and the students receive a technical degree that is accredited by the Nicaraguan Technological Institute (INATEC).
IALA Ixim Ulew also hosts short courses including the Mesoamerican School for Women Militant Agroecologists, specifically geared towards women from organisations in La Via Campesina and other allied movements.