Who? Ilsa Phillips
What? Thesis research at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR)
Where? Campeche, Mexico
‘Even though it’s on the other side of the world, El Colegio de la Frontera has a similar vibe to Wageningen. It has five campuses in the south of Mexico, and the focus lies on nature conservation, responsible fisheries and sustainable development. That means you are in a completely different context but you immediately meet people who are on the same wavelength as you.
I met my Mexican supervisor when she was a visiting lecturer at WUR. She and I drove four hours into the jungle with her from Campeche. Tucked away in the forest there are vast fields where soya is grown. Not by Mexicans but by Mennonites from Canada. This closed Christian community owns vast tracts of land there. They farm the soya very intensively for export on a large scale. That exhausts the soil very fast. After harvesting they just cut down another patch of forest.
For my research I looked at the accumulation of glyphosate, or Roundup, in the soil, and at one of its breakdown products, AMPA. My supervisor and I took samples of soil, plants and invertebrates in the soya fields along the edge of the remaining forest, and in the jungle itself. By doing that we could look at where the pesticide is found in flora and fauna in the vicinity. We still have to make our statistical analyses, but we can already say that you find traces deep into the forest.
I found the atmosphere in this region unpleasant. Every day I saw big machines injecting the fields full of glyphosate, while local children were playing in the fields. Glyphosate and other pesticides are used in vast quantities and pollute the groundwater and the soil. What is more, they end up in the local honey – one of the district’s main export products. Ironically enough, the Mexican government is happy with the Mennonites because they are hard-working people and ‘they keep agriculture going’. The craziest thing to my mind was that people my age go from farm to farm promoting glyphosate.
Fortunately, the job of sampling only took a few days; then we went back to ECOSUR. I got to do a very cool research project at a great university. I would have preferred to analyse our results more from a social perspective: what are the implications of large-scale soya production for the local people? When I write my thesis I will include that as much as possible.