Community Forestry in Mexico

Ranked among the 12 "megadiverse" countries in the world and fifth in global species richness, Mexico is home to a wide array of flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. Especially notable for its forest biodiversity, the country has over 1,000 native tree species, and Mexico's forests cover more than 136 million acres (55.3 million hectares), representing 28.6 percent of the country's total land area. Approximately 54 million acres (22 million hectares) of these forests (40 percent) are classified as production forests. This natural endowment is coming under increasing threat: Mexico has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, losing about 815,000 acres (330,000 hectares) of forest per year.

The vast majority of Mexico's forests -- upwards of 80 percent -- are under the legal jurisdiction of communities. Through government-recognized tenure and an extraordinary degree of local decision-making authority, the last twenty five years have seen significant strides in the development of community forest enterprises (CFEs). Presently, more than 3,000 communities throughout Mexico have forest management plans and, as of June 2011, 23 CFEs held Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificates verifying their sustainable forest management practices. Successful CFEs have contributed greatly to local development by generating employment and building community assets. Moreover, recent studies have shown that sustainably managed community forests can be even more effective than protected areas at conserving forestland and safeguarding associated environmental services.

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Despite these gains, the bulk of Mexico's forest communities are not currently practicing sustainable management to maximize the potential benefits of their natural resources. Only about five percent have achieved a level of business development and profitability that would discourage forest conversion. More often than not, forest communities obtain only a small percentage of the market value of the wood and other forest products harvested on their lands, and forest extraction fails to create sustained employment for local residents. Lack of community involvement in forestry planning, operations and monitoring typically results in unsustainable management practices, which undermine forest resources, biodiversity and environmental services and forgo the substantial potential for social and economic improvements possible through well-run community forestry operations.

The Rainforest Alliance's TREES program is working to help Mexico's community forest enterprises increase their competitiveness in national and international markets. We are currently collaborating with ejidos and communities throughout Mexico as part of a joint project with the Mexican Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) and the UNDP, funded by the Global Environment Facility. We’re also working on a regional project supported by the Inter-American Development Bank, and in partnership with the Mexican NGO Reforestamos México. Our community-oriented efforts include providing technical assistance on business development as well as supporting the Mexican National Alliance of Certified Ejidos and Communities, a nation-wide group of local forest enterprises seeking to build market access for community producers that have been certified according to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

For more information, please contact your regional TREES representative.

Interested in learning more about forestry in Mexico? View this audio slideshow from the New York Times, and our own slideshow profiling our work in Durango.

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