Helping Mexico's Forest Communities Build a Sustainable Future

Eva Fernandez Though rich in biological and cultural diversity, Mexico faces major environmental and social challenges, including extensive deforestation and extreme poverty. During the past several years, the country has become a proving ground for the Rainforest Alliance's forestry efforts, demonstrating the kind of change that is possible when communities are charged with managing their own natural resources and given the tools to do so responsibly. Nearly 80 percent of Mexico's forests are owned by ejidos, or local communities, and the government provides them with financing so that they can meet the rigorous certification criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). To date, we have certified over 1.5 million acres (607,000 hectares) of community forests in Mexico, representing nearly 10 percent of its managed forests. Eva Fernández leads the Rainforest Alliance's certification efforts in Mexico from our office in Oaxaca.

What brought you to the Rainforest Alliance?

Ever since I was a girl, I've been interested in helping to protect animals and the environment, but it was hard to find a job here that combined my business management skills with my conservation interests -- until I had the opportunity to represent the Rainforest Alliance in Mexico.

How does the Rainforest Alliance help communities improve the management of their forestry businesses?

By providing them with technical assistance. Often, communities come to us for help on one specific matter and our role grows from there. Our involvement can range from organizational help -- including staff training, budgeting and marketing -- to field and production assistance such as teaching communities how to sort wood according to quality.

What kind of changes do the ejidos usually need to make in order to become certified?

In addition to meeting all of the FSC's environmental and social criteria, these communities often need to adjust their perspective on their forestry work and separate the act of running the community from that of operating a forestry business. Ejido leadership usually changes every two to three years, but a successful business needs more stability than that.

Why do the ejidos participate in FSC certification?

Federal and state governments have encouraged the ejidos to get FSC-certified because these agencies recognize that it ensures good forest conservation. And the communities see the value in being certified -- not only as a distinction that can differentiate their products but also as a way to improve their management of natural resources.

What keeps you motivated to do this work?

This job has marked my life in every way, professionally and personally -- even in terms of what I now teach my own children. It's very comforting to know that what we do will leave at positive legacy for the future. I truly consider myself lucky to work for this organization and to know that in some small way, I've helped contribute to Mexico's precious forests and communities.

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