A Place Alongside the Men

In Oaxaca, Mexico, a group of women help curb deforestation as they provide for their families

“With this project, it makes no difference if we are men or women,” Elizabeth Allende of Sierra Norte de la Chinantla, Mexico, says. “We’re focused on planting and harvesting our lands—and we help support our families. Our husbands value our work now.”

Elizabeth Allende

Elizabeth Allende

Allende is one of six women who make up the agroforestry team in Chinantla, a community in Oaxaca, Mexico. The Rainforest Alliance (through Alianza Mexico REDD+, a project financed by USAID) works together with local organization CISAO to monitor and strengthen a sustainable agriculture and forestry model in the region. The team that Allende works with has received training from the Rainforest Alliance as part of this larger project.

“Our hope is to earn a livelihood so our children can go to school and learn to take care of and conserve our lands.”

Elizabeth Allende

Thanks to workshops provided by the Rainforest Alliance, the six-woman agroforestry team employs—and augments—an ancient crop-growing system called milpa. Also known as the Maya forest garden, milpa incorporates corn and hardy perennials that come back year after year, eventually resulting in a reforested landscape; the Oaxaca team adds fruit trees (sprouted in a nursery they created) to bolster the system’s natural richness. The women plant and harvest cocoa, too, from which they produce chocolate. In another Rainforest Alliance workshop, the women learned to make ice cream from fruit harvested from trees in the milpa, thereby providing an additional source of income. 

“Working the land for a living is very difficult, but at the same time very rewarding,” Allende says. “Our hope is to earn a livelihood so our children can go to school and learn to take care of and conserve our lands.”

Sustainable cattle farm in Oaxaca

Sustainable cattle farm in Oaxaca

Photo credit: Alianza MéxicoREDD+

In many rural communities, women are traditionally excluded from access to natural resources, so the Rainforest Alliance makes a concerted effort to include women in trainings. This not only benefits the women, by boosting their incomes, it serves to conserve the forest as well, as those who make their living from the forest have the strongest incentive to protect it. Allende says her team is committed to taking care of local forest: “The land here has changed a lot because of cattle ranching. What we want to achieve with this project is to reforest what was lost.”

Other REDD+ activities in the region include sustainable cattle ranching and harvesting of palm leaves (sold for use in floral arrangements and on Palm Sunday).  All the work aims to combat deforestation.

The women on the Chinantla agroforestry team are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the project—both to help protect the land and to boost their families’ incomes. “I’m very proud to be involved in this project,” Hermelinda Delfín says. “In the past it was always, the kitchen, the kitchen, the kitchen. Now we have a place alongside the men.”

People collecting dirty river water

Around the world, 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.