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Los ojos de la milpa (The eyes of the milpa)


Description of campaign/project

Los ojos de la milpa (The eyes of the milpa*) is a community memory that captures, through images and voice recordings, a moment of transition in these complex times. It all takes place somewhere in the mountains of the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, Mexico, in a community where the elders tell stories to the youth about how maize was planted many years ago: without fertilizers or sophisticated technology. The young ones listen as they witness how maize can no longer grow without chemical fertilizers, nor survive without synthetic pesticides. This is a place where the precious pace of the passing seasons coexists with a growing pressure to produce more, to extract from the earth not only nourishment, but also more and more profit.

But there are newcomers in the milpa: in the community of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec Mixe, Oaxaca, peach trees have recently made their appearance. This is thanks to the MIAF system (Milpa Intercropped with Fruit Trees), an agroforestry project developed by researchers from the Postgraduate College of Agronomy of the Chapingo University in Mexico. In addition to traditional crops such as maize, beans and squash, the MIAF system introduces fruit trees in the milpa to satisfy a number of needs. By forming a live barrier, they help to protect the soil from erosion caused by runoffs, a major problem in Tlahuitoltepec, where arable land is mostly found on hillsides. The trees contribute to carbon sequestration, an important strategy in the context of climate change. Finally, they also strengthen the livelihoods of farmers and their families, who eat or sell the fruits, in this case peaches. However, new knowledge, skills and technologies come together with these benefits, involving a tough learning process, an increase in the amount of required labor, and the danger of a greater dependency on external inputs.

In this scenario, Los ojos de la milpa seeks to reveal the tense interweaving of the old and the new. Throughout a crop-growing cycle, families from the Juquila and Santa Ana ranches use smartphones to capture images and record sounds of whatever happens in their milpas, and to post them on this website. By doing this, they share their knowledge, their concerns, their ways of doing and their ways of thinking. They make themselves present by presenting their stories to us, by showing us how they live and work in a community which resists as it transforms. Through their own words and points of view, they leave a testimony of a crucial moment in which the urgency of finding a balance between nature and technology, between culture and productivity, can be felt.

Participants use shared smartphones to document their daily farming practices. The approach taken is that of participatory documentation, combined with different community dynamics.

As a first step, families are invited to participate. Then, they are given training on how to use the smartphones and the project's website. Participants meet face-to-face several times during the project, in order to discuss and shape it.

All the software tools used in "Los ojos de la milpa" are open source.

"Los ojos de la milpa" seeks to give voice to farmers. It is commonplace to find development or research initiatives that seek to implement solutions which are designed without considering local contexts, or listening to those who will be affected. To counter this tendency, "Los ojos de la milpa" reveals the framers' opinions and points of view when dealing with new techniques and technologies. By doing this, this project hopes become an example that may contribute to a fruitful dialogue between scientific researchers and farmers: a dialogue in which scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge may stand on equal ground.

Being a city person, I learned immensely from the farmers. Not only through their images and voice recordings, but also by being with them, talking to them and visiting their fields.

Because of the unsustainability of industrial agriculture and the over-consumption of food that is depleting the planet, I believe that we must all learn how to grow our own food, at least to some extent. In "Los ojos de la milpa", I found the best possible teachers.

Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

Long term relationships. Open Source technology. Memory and local knowledge. Complex change and continuity. Agricultural practices, food and survival.

"Los ojos de la milpa" engages with difficult terrain in accessible and relevant ways. There is obviously a wealth of information on the website that has been collected over a sustained period of time. It is important that things like this exist, and existing online makes them immediately accessible to a potentially diverse audience that would have been difficult to not only access but actually conceive before the advent of the internet.

This work’s desire to enable science and traditional knowledge to stand on equal ground is a wonderful, and very urgent, horizon to work towards. But how does one actually get there? The way in which the world is shaped today has meant that these two views stand on radically unequal ground.

Although "Los ojos de la milpa" seems to follow the right points on the compass, it still has a long journey ahead. How does one actually shift and bring together seemingly disparate world views? How can science and traditional knowledge stand on equal ground in the eyes of farmers, employees of development initiatives and wider audiences of the work itself? This is an immensely complex and urgent task, necessary across much of the world today. In that sense "Los ojos de la milpa" has the potential for a very long journey, of which this work could be seen as the first chapter of many.

"Los ojos de la milpa" contains an abundance of material but I would be interested to see the work grow in more imaginative, difficult and complicated ways – both in terms of the process itself and the visual language and techniques that become your tools of dissemination. This is important.

Within the convivial there is also a need for that which unsettles or challenges. It might be productive to examine the often overlooked spaces where the two world views stop short of each other; places where communication breaks and relationships with land and people are rendered obsolete. In this context how does one understand words like arrogance and shame or productivity and sustainability? How do such emotions and ideas play out in day to day environs, both for farmers and for those working in ‘development’?

You state that the project ‘seeks to give voice to farmers’. I understand where you are coming from but the statement still makes me a little uneasy precisely because it reaffirms this idea that farmers are voiceless subjects, disempowering them from the very outset by re-articulating the unequal power dynamic you are seeking to collapse. I want to know about the voices the farmers have outside of this project? What do they say? What is heard and what is not? Who speaks back? Are silences enforced or a tactical choice? Conversely what do people listen to from the development initiatives and what do they ignore?

Author and academic James C. Scott has written two wonderful accounts of how, very broadly speaking, those without power respond to power in ‘Weapons of the Weak: Everyday forms of Peasant Resistance and Domination’ and ‘The Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts’. These two books, among other publications of his, may feed very nicely into the future of your work. I look forward to seeing more growth.

View other works commented by Alana Hunt  ››

At this project I really really like the mix of new technology with a rural community. It´s a great idea to use mobile phones to create memory - to let people share their images, sounds and stories. It´s not a voyeuristic view of an external camera team, but a small device and it´s great to give it directly to the people. It reminds me a bit of this project I really love (http://www.borderfilmproject.com/), people from the US-border control and mexicans migrants became a camera to documentate their escape - the result are really strong and intimate pictures. I think what still needs to be done is a kind of visual project presentation/final curation of all contents...

View other works commented by Alain Bieber  ››

Other comments

9 years, 5 months ago

Dear Alana and Alain,

I am sorry it took me so long to reply to your comments. I have been spending time in Oaxaca, with limited opportunities to spend time online. But I hope you will agree that it's better late than never.

Alana, I want to thank you for your kind words. I want to say some words, hoping to reply to your interesting questions. As you know, traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge stand on unequal grounds. Yet, if we look closely, they are much more tightly linked than it appears at first sight. Although scientific knowledge has become hegemonic, scientists are realizing that they cannot advance unless they value and incorporate traditional knowledge. I have seen this in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, where "Los ojos de la milpa" started. Agronomists are trying to understand traditional cropping systems, in order to support their development in changing conditions. Correspondingly, farmers are learning advanced scientific techniques for achieving greater sustainability, such as planting trees for preserving the soil or using mychorrhizae as organic fertilizers. So, although science is still hegemonic, and holds a great deal of power in relation to traditional farming, there is a growing exchange between both knowledge systems. So far, "Los ojos de la milpa" contains exclusively what farmers from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec have chosen to show. I share your desire to see the project grow in many directions, as I consider that agriculture is a part of culture, and it is deeply connected to many other things which happen in daily life. This has started to happen to some extent, and I hope it will continue even more intensively. Finally, I think you are absolutely right about my statement. "Giving voice to farmers" sound paternalistic, and I should have stated this in a different way. Of course, nobody can give voice to farmers, because they already have one... and it's strong and powerful! But, as you know, the hegemonic capitalist system we live in effectively silences voices which stand for alternative views of how food should be produced. While this system preaches competition, efficiency and the preeminence of individual interests, farmers in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec raise their voices in favor of cooperation and collaborative work, and community values. Maybe I should have said that this project *amplifies* those voices.

Alan, I am also very grateful for your comments. I appreciate your understanding that this is not a voyeuristic exercise, but the materialization of a shared will of "voicing out." Farmers only showed what they wanted to show and, believe me, there are many things which were left out of this project. They clearly understand that this is not about exhibiting themselves, but letting everybody know what goes on in their fields. It is indeed surprising how the most advanced technologies are penetrating and being accepted in rural communities. In Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, for instance, the cellphone signal became available only two years ago. Now, many people own smartphones, especially young people. Our belief is that these technologies can strengthen the links between young people and their community. As you may know, it is mostly young people who migrate to the United States, often leaving their land and their family for many years. This also reminded me about the Border Film Project, which I also like. Thank you again for your generous comment.

8 years, 2 months ago

The question of an un-documentary form is important quality that the project traces. How can the politics of the voice and voicelessness can participate in producing fearless speech. The project has this type of potential.

8 years, 2 months ago

The question of an un-documentary form is important quality that the project traces. How can the politics of the voice and voicelessness can participate in producing fearless speech. The project has this type of potential.

Curators comments

This work has been commented by 2 curator(s):
Alana Hunt Alain Bieber go to comments ›

Entry details


Los ojos de la milpa (The eyes of the milpa)


Families from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (Mexico) use mobile phones to create an online community memory about everything that grows in their fields.

Concept author(s)

Eugenio Tisselli, Odilón Martínez, Families in Tlahuitoltepec

Concept author year(s) of birth


Concept author(s) contribution

Eugenio Tisselli: Author of concept, programmer, general coordinator. Odilón Martínez: Agronomist, local coordinator. Families in Tlahui: Project participants, content generators. For the full credit, please refer to http://sautiyawakulima.net/oaxaca/about_more.php




Eugenio Tisselli, Joana Moll

Designer(s) year(s) of birth


Designer(s) contribution

Graphic design, interface design



Copy author(s)

Tonantzin Indira Díaz Robles, Julio César Gallardo Vásquez, Eugenio Tisselli

Copy author(s) year(s) of birth


Copy author(s) contribution

Translators and transcribers



Other author(s)

Dr. Leobardo Jiménez Sánchez, Dr. José I. Cortes Flores, Dr. Ángel Ramos Sánchez

Other author(s) contribution

Scientific advisors



Competition category


Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

I practice socially engaged media art, mostly web-based.