Course:FRST370/Assessing the social, economic and environmental outcomes of the integrated community forest enterprise of Ejido El Largo y Anexos in Chihuahua, Mexico
- 1 Summary
- 2 Description
- 3 Tenure arrangements
- 4 Administrative arrangements
- 5 Stakeholders
- 6 Challenges
- 7 Benefit Streams
- 8 Recommendations
- 9 References
This case study focuses on the Ejido Community Forest Enterprise (CFE) in El Largo y Anexos of Chihuahua, Mexico. Mexico has one of the most developed community forestry sectors in the world . El Largo has been researched by numerous scientists, NGOs, and Mexican government agencies . Using these sources, this paper will assess the social, economic and environmental outcomes of the integrated community forest enterprise of Ejido El largo y Anexos. The tenure and management arrangements will be analyzed to explore the two types of forest management systems in Mexico, along with the comisariado administrative system specifically implemented by the El Largo ejido. Key affected and interested stakeholders will be identified, and assessed in power as well as their role in the operations El Largo. In addition, there will be discussion on CFE successes and challenges faced by the enterprise. Lastly, recommendations for CFE development will be derived from the information as well as gathered advice from relevant articles.
Located in the Northwestern part of Chihuahua state, Mexico, Ejido El Largo y Anexos was first established by a presidential decree on the 20th of May, 1955, when 110 local individuals were granted 9,500 hectares of land after applying for a land grant. Since then, the ejido (a piece of land managed communally) has expanded dramatically, and became Mexico’s largest community forest operations. With over 260,000 hectares of land, where more than 250,000 hectares are forested by pines and oaks, El Largo has an Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) of 315,000m3. As a result, it is responsible for 28% of Chihuahua’s timber production, and 4.6% of Mexico’s national timber production per year. In order to process such an amount of wood materials, El Largo operates 10 sawmills, machinery and transport, while it employs more than 2600 people mostly from local communities.
The predominant type of vegetation in ejido land are coniferous forests, with pines being the dominant species, mixed with oaks and junipers. The management plan implemented in ejido is based on the pines due to its high commercial value. In addition, pines are significantly easier to manage compared to oaks and junipers, thus majority of the management efforts are put into pines.
Less than half of forested land in El Largo is commercially viable. Due to the dominance of the oak and juniper trees in some areas, 128,000 hectares are considered unproductive, thus the land is dedicated solely for conservation purposes. A notable endemic species protected in El Largo is the thick-billed parrot.
The main species of commercially valuable pines are listed below.:
- Pinus engelmannii (Apache Pine)
- Pinus durangensis (Durango Pine)
- Pinus arizonica (Arizona Pine)
- Pinus leiophylla (Chihuahua Pine)
- Pinus ayacahuite (Mexican White Pine)
- Pinus herrerai (Herrera's Pine)
El largo uses the Mexican Silvicultural Development Method (Método de Desarallo Silvícola). It is essentially an application of seed-tree method with enrichment planting where it is deemed necessary. The rotation age is 70 years with a cut-cycle of 10 years for intermediate treatments. 86% of El Largo is managed with this system, whereas the remaining 14% are managed under variable retention due to limited regenerative capacity with a cut-cycle of 15 years.
In 2001, El Largo drafted a forest management plan where the ejido took more area out of production, and introduced measures to improve regeneration, timber stand growth, as well as biodiversity conservation.
Historical Timeline of the Region
All timeline data is adapted from Hodgdon and Murrieta (2015).
Land Reform in Mexico
Prior to the Mexican Revolution which began in 1910, the majority of the land was owned by the elite class of Mexico. A very small percentage of wealthy landowners owned a large portion of the country’s farm land. It was necessary for the upper class to use the lower class to manage their land. Despite no official records indicating the use of slavery and serfdom, the lower class peasants were in essence slaves to the landowners. Due to this circumstance, various leaders attempted different types of agrarian land reform which as a result created the land tenure system that exists today.
As of today, a little over 60% of Mexico’s forest land, or one third of the country’s land area is owned by rural communities as a result of the agrarian reform. With 3000 communities in Mexico having forest management plans in place, 35% of the communities are taking active roles in managing their land. 60 to 100 CFEs achieved vertically integrated operations and control all aspects of forestry planning, operations, processing and marketing, including value-added finished products, and communities are transitioning away from dependence on concession arrangements with large timber firms.
Current Land Tenure System in Ejido El Largo y Anexos
The land tenure arrangements were reformed and launched during the Mexican Revolution in 1917, where the land was redistributed to local rural communities through two forms of tenure; ejidos, which are land grants to groups or individuals, and agrarian communities, which are rural, indigenous communities holding land grants issued by the Spanish Crown.
Procedure for establishment of an Ejido
- Landless farmers petition the federal government for a creation of an ejido
- Federal government would consult the landlord in which farmers are currently leasing
- The land would be expropriated from the landlords if the ejido is approved by the government
- Ejido would be established and original petitioners would gain the right to use the land
CFEs in El Largo have created complex inter-community alliances to generate economies of a large scale and undertaken joint ventures. The CEFs have shown to substantially contribute to local development and are effective in protecting natural forests and services. As a result, El Largo evolved into a Comisariado form, an enterprise governance which as a result yields great economic growth.
The Mexican Agrarian Law mandates members of the Ejido to form an assembly and to appoint a comisariado. Being the enterprise manager, a comisariado oversees the administrative body that includes the president, a secretary and a treasurer. The assembly then appoints an oversight committee for the comisariado to guarantee transparency and legal compliance. In addition, the administrative post being a temporary position, the post last for about 3 years before each rotation, although this may change sooner due to the poor performance. This form prevents corruption as a result of having a frequent rotation of the administrative body, although many community members show concern, as it can result in permanent incompetence requiring training cost. In addition, low skill levels can result in poor accounting, leading to a confusion or suspicion even if actual corruption does not exist.
Around 800 harvesting teams consisting of 3 members, a chainsaw operator, a bucker, and horse skidder. The teams are overseen by a foreman (montero). After a patch is harvested, the team must acquire a coupe receipt to prove timber was harvested properly and in the correct quantity. Receipts are given by ejido members after inspection and are required to request more work. Improper harvesting is punished with work suspensions. There is also thorough oversight in mills, where foreman and manager take responsibility for quality and constantly monitor work. There is thorough internal monitoring and checkpoints throughout the ejido production chain.
Affected stakeholders of El Largo y Anexos would primarily be the community operating the enterprise. The community objective is occasionally debated internally though the clear objective thus far is the management of the forest for multiple objectives. Animal traction and designated conservation areas show the importance of forest health to the ejido. Community members and locals all have access to firewood and non-timber forest products from El Largo’s forests. The local community also includes a small number of the indigenous Pima family who inhabit El Largo.
The CFE is autonomous in operational and tactical decision making, but is limited by the government in strategic decision making. Management plans must be made with professional foresters and must acquire approval by the government before implementation. The operational decision making freedom allows the CFE to dictate its own harvesting practices and traditions. Even if government agencies voice opinions against harvesting methods, such as horse skidding, the CFE can proceed as long as management guidelines are met.
The strength of Mexico’s community forestry sector is thanks to national agrarian reform policies after the Mexican Revolution. The presidential decrees creating and expanding El Largo exhibit the degree of power held by the government. The national government passed the Forestry Law to benefit CFEs like El Largo and has the power to pass other legislature affecting CFEs. Though El Largo must abide by strict government policies, the government insufficiently utilizes their power to support CFEs. The restrictive and complex federal regulations make legal timber extraction unattractive to local people, excludes legal local access, while also contributing and allowing uncontrolled logging to continue.
One of the government's responsibilities is the prevention of illegal logging by parties like the drug cartel which has recently taken an interest in the industry. As the drug cartel’s other income streams become strained, they turn to illegal logging where they face virtually no opposition. Ejido members commonly report that government authorities fail to monitor and sanction the violation of forestry laws, allowing the cartel to steal valuable timber and launder it clean. It is nearly impossible to discern legally harvested from black market timber once it is processed. Opposition to the cartel is met with violence, even government protection of high profile civilians has proven ineffective. CFE leadership and environmental activists have all been victims of cartel violence. The influx of cheap black market timber is a threat to all CFEs in the region as legal enterprises have relatively high operating costs. This may especially be a threat to El Largo as the benefits of operating their own sawmills is diminished by having their prices undercut.
International environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can appreciate community operated forestry in its ability to simultaneously sustain local economies while restoring or protecting habitats and endemic species like the thick-billed parrot in El Largo. Most of the NGO aid comes in the form of improvements in operation, management, and administration. Educating ejido members is an intensive task due to the 3-year rotations in ejido management.
The challenges faced by El Largo are similar to smaller CFEs in Mexico. The traditional management and administrative structure has its benefits but also some significant disadvantages. In asamblea meetings, community members may not sufficiently understand the technical, financial, or managerial issues being addressed, yet they still have equal voting power on the subject. The management structure creates difficulties in maintaining community relations while fulfilling managerial duties. Each member has an equal share in the CFE, but hierarchical authority must be upheld.
The 3 year rotation of the management roles in the enterprise slows its development objectives. The main problem created is discontinuity in leadership, making progress on long-term development goals difficult. It also enables the incompetent or inexperienced members to be in positions of power. A lack of training due to the rotation of posts can lead to poor book-keeping and management of money. This leads to confusion and suspicion of corruption even when none is present. It can be easy for political elites in communities to corrupt or manipulate asambleas and carry out a “covert privatization” of the enterprise. The CFE’s internal mechanism of control is too reliant on the community’s overall governance structure and may not be strong enough to resist the manipulation of local elites.
The different demographics among the voting members whether by age, gender, or income creates discrepancies in the weighted value of certain objectives. The perception that the CFE is a source for jobs and profit sharing rather than a profit-maximizing enterprise creates tensions over wage policy and production volumes. There are also limitations in the democratic extent of the CFE as very few women are legal community members and thus are not fairly represented in votes.
The greatest issue faced by El Largo in the timber market is poor product quality. The deficiency is due to the outdated infrastructure which is inefficient and costly to maintain, and also affects productivity and creates unnecessary risk for workers. Roundwood and sawnwood sales are limited exclusively to low-end local markets within Chihuahua. The only products which have penetrated the national market are value-added products like posts, pallets, and tool handles. No El Largo forest products are sold internationally.
Forest Stewardship Council Certification
El Largo is one of the few Mexican CFEs to acquire and retain a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. The FSC certification represents a standard of quality assurance of forest management which is attractive to some clients. The cost of application and renewal for the certification is a significant financial barrier for many CFEs and few see enough benefits to justify the cost. El Largo however has one significant client that purchases the Ejido’s FSC certified products. They not only purchases 20% of El Largo’s overall production in the form of smaller logs, chips, and sawdust, but also at a 10% price premium. This direct economic benefit of having FSC certified products is promising for the CFE’s future development.
Animal traction is criticized by the Mexican government for being archaic and inefficient but the communities of El Largo see otherwise. Horse skidding is not only more inexpensive than mechanized options, it also has less impact on forest health and appearance than heavy machinery. El Largo is an outlier in cases of animal traction use due to its enormous AAC and land area. Animal traction is usually limited to smaller operations which do not operate their own mills, El Largo defies both of these conventional indicators. The cost of horse skidding is described by El Largo locals to cost 50% less than machine operation and upkeep because the horse teams are not owned by the CFE, but by the families or individuals in the harvesting teams. Locals also claim animal skidding is more efficient in loading trucks for log transport. Mechanized loading typically requires more maneuvering and loads 2 trucks in the time a horse team can load 3 trucks. The environmental damage caused by animal traction is also minimal as fossil fuel consumption is reduced by 8-20 times when harnessing animal power. There is also very light residual stand damage after harvesting, the soil is less compacted, and nearby trees show faster rates of regeneration. Horses are also much more flexible in maneuvering through forest areas bulky machinery cannot. The preservation of horse skidding also has the economic benefit of increasing local employment. Harvesting teams comprise most of the employees in the CFE with around 2100 people distributed into 800 skidding teams. This method of reduced-impact logging is good for multiple management objectives of El Largo.
Reinvestment, Public Goods, and Employment
CFEs very often funnel profit or revenue into public goods such as public infrastructure and retirement pensions. CFEs often help construct or restore buildings and services such as churches, municipal buildings, schools, clinics, and potable water systems. These services are rightfully the responsibility of the government, but they often fail to deliver in the rural ejido communities. CFEs can mend this and provide these needed services to the community. Reinvestment of profits for CFE improvements benefit the community in many other ways. El Largo generates nearly 80% of the community's total revenue, it has become a stable pillar of the local economy.
Despite being Mexico's largest community forest enterprise, El Largo is not immune to issues that often ail smaller CFEs. These recommendations do not discourage traditional practices but aim to adapt the CFE to mitigate the disadvantages they bring.
El Largo should take more advantage of its FSC certificate to expand its buyer base. Increasing product variety and quality of value-added products will increase penetration into markets beyond Chihuahua. To achieve this goal the outdated infrastructure must be refurbished. A revitalized infrastructure system would not only improve quality but also the efficiency of production; reducing cost and waste. Significant training and education programs should be implemented to ensure workers have the technical knowledge to operate new machinery and protocol. These measures are vital for El Largo to compete with foreign markets with cheaper timber such as Chile or the Southern U.S.A..
Further training in administrative staff is also recommended. There should also be more stable-long term administrative positions to ease transitions in leadership every few years. The addition of more inside-work positions allows for more inclusion of different demographics within the community. Women and youth should be involved at greater degree for the future benefit of the CFE. A greater variety of involved community members would also be beneficial in decision making processes by providing new perspectives or potentially impede the ‘covert privatization’ of the enterprise by influential members.
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