Course:CONS200/2019/Socio-ecological impacts of community forestry in Mexico

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Ejidos and communities in Mexico conserve the natural resources to stop deforestation and forest degradation.

The community forest in Mexico is large and diverse covering both temperate and tropical regions which is about 40.1% of the national territory and a total of 56.8 million hectare.[1] Since the early decades of the twentieth century as known as the Mexican Revolution, the stewardship of forest resources has achieved maturity in terms of the management of common-property and community-based forests. Within the governance of Mexico's community forest, governments and local communities collectively share the responsibilities for the national forest resources, associated with community forest enterprises (CFEs). It is estimated by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography that 80% of Mexico's forests are managed by ejidos and indigenous communities. The uniqueness of Mexican community forests is that a large number of communities have managed common-property forests for the commercial production of timber and finished timber ranging from 288 to 740 estimate of communities, and these forest products have provided social and ecological benefits to local communities[2][3]. The special case of forest management has provided local and international researchers with resources to explore the historical, political, economic, ecological and sociological perspectives. However, as such a mature community forest management, it still lacks global and national recognition, and it faces multiple challenges.

Community Forest Management

Mexico is one of the Latin American countries that has the largest population of indigenous people. There are 25,694,928 Mexican indigenous people in 2005, which is 21.5% of the total population in Mexico [4]. The states with the greatest percentage of indigenous people in Mexico are Oaxaca and Yucatán, which are both over 60%. Most of indigenous people in states are Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, Otomi, Nahua and Teenek.[4] Mexico has unique governance of forest compares to other countries, most of the forests are managed by local communities, rather than under the management of governments or associations.

Role of Government

The role for governments is “responsible for enforcing environmental laws, regulating forest activities and authorising the use of forest resources” by The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources through its General Forestry and Soil Management Office and the Environmental Protection Agency.[5] Also, there are some programmes encourage "reforestation activities, commercial plantations and community planning processes" to forest owners for improving overall forest management. [5]The office authorizes Ejidos and communities for forest management, so they have the rights in using their forest resources for industrial and economic development. The Mexican Constitution protects indigenous people’s right and autonomy in “providing for their self-determination and protecting the integrity of their lands and culture”.[5] This phenomenon was beginning from the Mexican Revolution in the twentieth century, communities already hold over half of the forests; and after that they “substantial control over the use of their forests”.[6]

History of Forest Management

The communities were allowed to sell their land to private industries at first in 1943 [7]. Then, the local government increased it role in relative products industries during 1950s and 1960s. There was a program to let the communities to manage their forest resources and finally made the Forestry Law since 1986.[7]  Over half of the national territory is holding by ejidos and indigenous community, but ejidos are holding little and not important area, so the community is holding over half of the forests.[6]

Role of Indigenous People

Indigenous people in Mexico is known as the group have the right to use and manage the resources in the country.[8] The majority of forests are owned by indigenous groups, and only a few are owned by the state.[9] Mexico has successfully managed the community forests and constituted the commercial purpose to sell timber products, which brings economic and ecological benefits, provides job opportunities, and achieves sustainable development. The successful forest management by communities has decreased 55% of deforestation over last decades [10]. The community forests has an area is assigned as the biodiversity protection area by groups of the community for having better forest services. The community has established the community forest enterprises (CFEs), which is for controlling the forest resources in order to get social, environmental, and economic benefits by producing timbers, that is the reason of defining the community forest as a successful “national laboratory”.[6] The community forests by indigenous groups are well-managed. However, the economy and the environment in Mexico can be more beneficial and sustainable under the Mexican government’s help in policies and incentives.[6]

Social impacts of Mexico community forestry: opportunities and challenges

Community forestry as an important contributor to the economy

According to the report from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Mexico forest industry was severely damaged by the Free-Trade Agreement in the last century since it broke Mexico’s original market balance. Not only many traditional obsolete factories were closed, the survived factories had to cope with new policies and competitive markets in order to catch business opportunities. During the 1990s, Mexico forest industry was challenged by the increasing deficit in forest products. From 1993 to 2002, Mexico accumulated a commercial deficit of approximately US$1.33 billion in wood products except pulp and paper. During 2000 and 2002, the accumulated deficit in pulp and paper reached US$4.54 billion, which is divided as: 68% paper and cardboard, 14% pulp, 10% sawn wood and boards and 8% wood manufactures.[11]

Income for forest management ativities in Mexico

After adopting the community-based forest management such as community forest enterprise (CFE), multiple positive economic outcomes have been generated. Cubbage et al. examine the income generated by different management activities in 2011 (see the table attached at the right side), namely timber commercialization, non-timber forest product (i.e. fuelwood, resins, medicines, tourism, and employment) commercialization, and payment for environmental services. Total income forests generated was MX$3,111/ha/yr (US$239/ha/yr) or MX$880/m3 (US$68/m3). Income from timber commercialization accounts for 90% of the total income while non-timber forest products and payment for ecosystem services generated 7 and 3% respectively.[12]

Problematic public engagement behind the community-based Management

The community-based management reduces distrust and conflict between the government and local communities. However, despite the fact that the engagement of local communities is enhanced through community-based management, their collaboration is very problematic [13]. The implementation of the community-based management may not always stick on its original incentive. For instance, the Mexico federal government was used to maintain strong controls over forest resources through harvesting regulations and environmental protection [14]. Consequently, although communities officially have the ownership of forests, they were denied the rights to actively manage them [15]. Moreover, within some communities, the disagreements between community members and their associations also emerged. Some community members did not feel represented, so they preferred to make decisions in a household level [16].

Conflicts with outsiders

Not only many indigenous groups of Latin America rely on forests to supply their household needs or as a source of income [17], forest is also special for its cultural significance. For instance, people in Naranjal Poniente protect forests for ceremonial purposes [18], and Ixtlán people see their large forest partly as a reflection of the community’s past political success [19].

However, due to the increasing expansion of the logging industry and the diverging view of business people and the local indigenous on forests, conflicts are frequently seen. During researcher Mathews Andrew’s visit to the land of Ixtlán in 2000 – 2001, he addressed the issue that “the community members were already worried about the influx of outsiders”. Outsiders buying up communal lands and progressively displacing comuneros “to the hills,” away from the center of town. Additionally, the community logging business employs outsiders as relatively poorly paid sawmill workers and from time to time purchases timber from nearby communities that cannot do their own logging. Given the history of logging under FAPATUX and the much older history of conflicts, this relationship is inevitably open to distrust and accusations of exploitation [20].

Tensions with the government—Tired feet march
A girl rests as she walks with indigenous people displaced from their communities by violence and political conflicts during the "Tired feet" march toward the state capital in Chiapa de Corzo, in Chiapas state, Mexico November 23, 2018.

Tzotzil people are the ejido who own and manage their land through activities include collecting non-timber products for ceremonial and medical uses, extracting pine lumber and collecting firewood for household needs [21]. However, nearly 500 indigenous Tzotzil Maya people from the municipalities of Chenalhó, Ocosingo and Zinacantán were forced to leave their traditional land by violence. Some of them have been displaced for more than two years. In response to the government’s violent stemming, the Tzotzils launched the Tired feet (Pies cansados) march to express their anger and disagreement with the Chiapas government, who has made no commitment to restore security in highland communities so that the displaced people can return home. A fourteen years old girl who was triggered by political differences was killed in the attack. On the way of marching, deaths of displaced people due to cold and hunger occasionally occurred [22].

Ecological impacts:

Carbon emission factors

Logging and deforestation

The tropical deforestation process in Mexico begins with timber production that adjusts the forest ecology. However, logging under the authorized volume is seen as a low-impact extractive activity, and it does not conflict with forest sustainability in conserving natural resources. Today, "there is still no consensus on how many of Mexico’s forest communities are actively managing their forests, as opposed to those many forest communities who still directly sell their timber to loggers with little supervision, with the probable result of ongoing forest degradation” [2] .The survey indicates that Mexican deforestation occupied about 30% of national carbon emissions, and except for the lack of forests management, poverty caused from population growth was related to the high level of deforestation as well. In addition, physiographic variables such as elevation, slope and rainfall were of great importance accounting for 71% of 1 km2 deforested area from 1980 to 1990 in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas[23].

The massive trees' die-off from deforestation can make the expected carbon sink turn into the carbon sources. And the phenomenon of more greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere is thought to accelerate the climate change. Nearly 80% of forest carbon emission is due to the conversion from the forest to pastures and agricultures [24]. Undoubtedly, this leads to soil depletion, inefficient use of space, forages and water. Due to the land use transition has a direct impact in the ecosystem services and goods, the effect of habitat fragmentation on species is very possible in decreasing the biodiversity, which not only do the interruption of habitat reduction for organisms but also change the ecosystem properties.

Forest fires

Logged forests are vulnerable to the impacts of hurricanes, and during the period of droughts, they are more receptive to forest fires [2]. Mexican forests are classified into five main types, and the following fraction of areas affected by the forest fires are not supposed to regenerate: tropical evergreen (20%), tropical deciduous (30%), temperate broadleaf (40%), temperate coniferous (30%) and open forests. Only the first four of forest types are incorporated into the carbon emissions. The open forests dominate a high proportion of the forested land, and no reliable information presents the deforestation rate of them [25].

In 1980s, anthropogenic fire has increased significantly and this becomes the leading factor in contributing to the forest degradation in temperate forests. Under this situation, black carbon and organic carbon emission are produced as greenhouse pollutant in promoting the snow and ice melting and decreasing the rainfall [26]. Certainly, 40% of forest fires originates from agricultural and pastoral practices. Many of native communities frequently make use of fires to harmonize food production and care for the environment, but the poor usage on fire is widespread throughout the region. In many parts of central Mexico, producers simply burns out the grasslands in the forests at a high intensity and rate of spread in order to cover the most surface area of land before the fire-fighters arrive.

As a result, from 2000 to 2012, the annual average emission from the fire were estimated up to 5955 and 62085 metric tons of black carbon and organic carbon emissions, respectively. And it accounts for 2 and 9 percent of the national emission [26]. The huge fire regenerates abundant new growth for the grass as complement feed for livestock including cattle, sheep and goats, but the food provision needs to sacrifice tree’s growth and underground’s root development. In Mexico, it is estimated that half of the vegetation (32 types) as well as 58 % of forest surface have fire regimes with return periods up to around 100 years [27].

Carbon mitigation

Timber production is managed sustainably for conservation and landscape restoration in Ixtlán de Juárez.

Although Mexican land area covers one percent of the earth, it contains about one tenth of all terrestrial vertebrates and plants. The abundance of topographic regions and wide variation of climate are two major factors in giving Mexican community forest high amount of biodiversity [2]. Mexican forests have the potential to be a carbon sink and contribute to the carbon mitigation, due to the implementation of national policy and strategy in regulation of Mexican forest resources. And it is estimated that in the Mexican natural forest, net carbon sequestration is quite huge with long term values between 100 and 180 t C/ha, and often above 200 t C/ha [24]. Mexico is characterized by a large of local communities, and some of them in the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca have consistently managed their forests by much efforts for the resources conservation. The recent study (2014) shows that Sierra de Juarez- Oaxaca was covered by around 180, 298 ha of forests, and approximate 41% land area was pine forest, 32% is cloud forest whereas 11% is oak forest [28].

Barriers and Recommendations

Future Mexican CFEs

The future paths of Mexican CFEs are drove by the diversified strategies. In the first path, entrepreneurial sector is intended to emerge and invest more in modernized equipment and human capital. At the same time, entrepreneurial CFEs are trying to explore new markets and integrate their activities into the value of ecosystem services. While the second path mainly focuses on the "Small CFE path" which CFEs do not update their equipment, containing management issues. However, as a small community business, CFEs have sought the niche market to get profitable value without expanding. Regardless of the internal and external pressure, these CFEs have transformed their services in the future. For example, some CFEs might switch from logging to the sale of ecosystem services. While CFEs have engaged with PROCYMAF since the 1970s, a new strata has been formed with small forest resources, requiring state support to thrive through the competitive marketplace. [3]

Action of Mexican Government

Despite the achievement and the benefits extracting from various aspects of Mexico's community forest, many community forests have struggled with problems of isolation, corruption, lack of capital and technical assistance, unauthorized policies, and illegal exploitation by outsiders. There are still thousands of communities that face a variety of social and economic obstacles to establishing conservative community-based forestry. As one of the influential factors about the establishment of community-based forestry, limited funding has dramatically decreased the forestry activities, because the federal government fails to reflect on the importance of Mexico forest for local and global development. The forestry activities in the federal environmental agency only received 641.872 million pesos, which was less than 1% of the federal budget in 1998.[24][29] During the 1988 to 2000 period, PROCYMAF the first Mexican governmental program promoting the integration of community forest had collectively incorporated with 32 new communities for 75593 ha; however, it is still a relative small amount of forest estate that government can reach.[3] The community-based management has evolved throughout the century, but in order to expand more small and big communities into a collective governance, government needs to offer greater funding and emphasis on the education of administrative management and local forestry knowledge; while the program needs to constitute on the development of the territories providing technical support, financing management plans, and completing authorized policies. When the timber protection from natural forests is declining especially in this era, Mexican government is suggested to impose strategic policy counting the niche market from sustainably managed community forests[2].


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Note: Before writing your wiki article on the UBC Wiki, it may be helpful to review the tips in Wikipedia: Writing better articles.[30] (Note that - if you look on the edit screen for this page when you are logged in - you will also see this as an example of how to create a reference!)

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  18. Hajjar, R., Kozak, R. A., El-Lakany, H., & Innes, J. L. (2013). Community forests for forest communities: Integrating community-defined goals and practices in the design of forestry initiatives. Land use Policy, 34, 158-167. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2013.03.002
  19. Mathews, A. S., & Project Muse University Press eBooks. (2011). Instituting nature: Authority, expertise, and power in mexican forests. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  20. Mathews, A. S., & Project Muse University Press eBooks. (2011). Instituting nature: Authority, expertise, and power in mexican forests. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
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  30. (2018). Writing better articles. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

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