Mexico Diary: Living with the Forest

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Learn

This is Part 4 of a six-part series by Lisa Hayden, climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy, based on her recent trip to Mexico. See the rest of the Mexico Diary here.

The next day, we visited a forest ejido, communally managed land under the Mexican agrarian reform system, where people live in thatched-roof homes, many without plumbing. Our trusty rental 4WD jeep navigated a pock-marked road into the ejido conservation forest, where a chorus of insects provided background music. We learned about the carpentry shop the ejidatarios built, and with grant funding, are outfitting with saws and tools in order to process and sell their wood products for a higher price.

An ejido family welcomed us to their dinner table, and we were invited back to another home for breakfast the next morning before a visit to their sustainable forest site. We shared hand-made tortillas warm from the fire, a delicious egg dish, pumpkin spread, and a warm maize-based drink that tasted vaguely like oatmeal. I did not speak their language, but genuine smiles need no translation.

Our gracious hosts insisted that we take with us the green gourds or lec picked from the tree in the back yard. They craft the shell of this fruit into bowls. The family grew the maize from which the corn meal was made. The community cut from their own forest the tree-limb poles that formed the walls of their traditional Mayan homes.

How different from the “developed” world where everything comes from the store, which you must travel to by car far from your house.

And here we are, the rest of the world, asking these people to do more – to avoid cutting down their forests – because the planet’s climate system can’t afford to experiment with releasing all the carbon locked up in trees.

The hope is that a just and fair system of paying people to protect environmental services like carbon storage and sources of clean water can provide people in developing countries with sources of income, while sustaining the planet we all need for survival.

But what if these people don’t want their way of life to change?

The U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples established imperatives to be protected as REDD programs are pursued: “free, prior and informed consent” of local people must be gained before programs such as REDD are adopted in their lands. Proponents of REDD must pay more than lip service to these ideals.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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