Local and indigenous communities hold rights to nearly 75 percent of Mexico’s forests, yet more than half the 12 million people who live in and around them suffer extreme poverty. Limited access to business development, financing, and markets, along with other challenges—such as climate shocks and the migration of rural youth to urban areas—all conspire to keep communities and their land from flourishing.
The Rainforest Alliance has been working with a diverse range of partners in Mexico for almost three decades to foster the self-determination, economic stability, and sustainability of rural and indigenous forest communities — and 2018 marked a banner year. Most of our work was focused on southeastern and central Mexico, where poverty is most extreme, and where—not coincidentally—deforestation and climate vulnerability are urgent crises.
Using a holistic landscape approach, we collaborated with communities working in responsible forestry, coffee, cocoa, and other commodities, on everything from capacity-building and business training to climate resilience. We made significant strides in connecting communities to markets this year, including companies within Mexico—which, as the 15th largest economy in the world, presents a great opportunity for community-based rural businesses.
Grants for Indigenous People and Local Communities
In the states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Oaxaca, and Jalisco, we oversaw early efforts to disperse more than $3 million to two kinds of grant applicants: underserved or vulnerable populations (including women, youth, and those without land tenure) and already-established community-based enterprises, such as producer associations and ejidos (Mexico’s communally owned forestry businesses). As the executing agency for the World Bank’s innovative Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous People and Local Communities in Mexico, the Rainforest Alliance facilitates and oversees the entire granting process, from developing tools to evaluate proposals to ensuring proper use of resources, but it is the initiative’s national steering committee—made of indigenous and local people—that decides which applicants should receive funds.
In 2018, the national steering committee selected 42 proposals, all related to sustainable forest management, agroforestry, climate-smart agriculture, silvo-pastoral systems, governance, or ecotourism. One grant winner, for example, a group of 10 indigenous women in Ejido Petcacab, in the municipality of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, will strengthen a business manufacturing home décor items and furniture from FSC-certified wood provided by a local community sawmill.
Reforestation in Chiapas
In addition, we are working with communities in the Villaflores region of Chiapas to restore and reforest 1,000 hectares of degraded land by planting 800,000 native trees—all part of a wide-ranging initiative supported by Olam and financed by USAID. We’re also working with coffee farmers in the Tacaná region to improve climate resilience and agricultural practices, with an eye to awarding Rainforest Alliance certification to a group of 150 coffee farmers. As part of this work, coffee plots now serve as efficient, healthy buffers to the Volcán Tacaná Biosphere Reserve. The initiative is funded by Fundación Gigante, the TOKS restaurant chain, and SAFE platform, a IDB initiative which aims to sell only certified coffee from these producers in its 220 restaurants by 2020.
Sustainable Mango Farming
Using a similar approach, we trained mango producers in Oaxaca to use sustainable farming methods and to strengthen their business skills so they could sell directly to buyers. As a result, for the first time, these farmers sold directly to the Mexican juice company JUMEX and are now poised to sell to Walmart Mexico. This exciting work was supported by the Walmart Foundation.
Alliance for Sustainable Landscapes and Markets
These successful efforts with Olam, TOKS, and the Walmart Foundation laid the groundwork for what’s perhaps our crowning achievement of 2018: At the end of the year, the Rainforest Alliance formally launched the Alliance for Sustainable Landscapes and Markets in Mexico with the support of USAID. Starting with OLAM, Alianza Selva Maya, Fundación Gigante, Toks restaurant chain, Productores Orgánicos del Tacaná, and CEPCO, the alliance has since grown to include more than 12 global companies and more than 16 national companies, in addition to an array of NGOs and government agencies—all of whom recognize our model as a powerful tool for creating sustainable value chains and combating climate change. This alliance has the potential to make deep and lasting change on the ground in Mexico—for both forests and indigenous and local people.