Friday, November 26, 2010

community forrestry in mexico

NYTimes | As an unforgiving midday sun bore down on the pine-forested mountains here, a half-dozen men perched across a steep hillside wrestled back mounds of weeds to uncover wisps of knee-high seedlings.

Freeing the tiny pines that were planted last year is only one step of many the town takes to nurture the trees until they grow tall, ready for harvesting in half a century. But the people of Ixtlán take the long view.

“We’re the owners of this land and we have tried to conserve this forest for our children, for our descendants,” Alejandro Vargas said, leaning on his machete as he took a break. “Because we have lived from this for many years.”

Three decades ago the Zapotec Indians here in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico fought for and won the right to communally manage the forest. Before that, state-owned companies had exploited it as they pleased under federal government concessions.

They slowly built their own lumber business and, at the same time, began studying how to protect the forest. Now, the town’s enterprises employ 300 people who harvest timber, produce wooden furniture and care for the woodlands, and Ixtlán has grown to become the gold standard of community forest ownership and management, international forestry experts say.

Mexico’s community forest enterprises now range from the mahogany forests of the Yucatán Peninsula to the pine-oak forests of the western Sierra Madre. About 60 businesses, including Ixtlán, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in Germany, which evaluates sustainable forestry practices. Between 60 and 80 percent of Mexico’s remaining forests are under community control, according to Sergio Madrid of the Mexican Civic Council for Sustainable Forestry.

“It’s astounding what’s going on in Mexico,” said David Barton Bray, an expert on community forestry at Florida International University who has studied Ixtlán.

The Mexican government plans to showcase its success in community forestry at the global climate talks in Cancún next week. Despite fractious negotiations over reducing carbon emissions, talks on paying developing countries to protect their forests have moved further ahead than most other issues.

In developing countries, where the rule of law is weak and enforcement spotty, simply declaring a forest off-limits does little to prevent illegal logging or clearing land for agriculture or development. “Unless local communities are committed to conserving and protecting forests it’s not going to happen,” said David Kaimowitz, a former director of the Center for International Forestry Research, or Cifor, who is now at the Ford Foundation. “Government can’t do it for them.”

A recent Cifor study reported that more than a quarter of the forests in developing countries are now being managed by local communities. The trend is worldwide — from China to Brazil.