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Chinantla Alta (CORENCHI), México

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Introduction

Comité de Recursos Naturales de la Chinantla Alta (CORENCHI) [Natural Resources Committee of the Chinantla Alta]

In northern Oaxaca, Mexico, six Chinantec communities joined together in 2004 to form the Regional Committee for Chinantla Alta Natural Resources (CORENCHI), in order to improve control of their natural resources, strengthen conservation efforts and obtain more socio-economic benefits from landscape management (Bray et al., 2008; Pérez et al., 2006). To date the communities have set aside multiple areas for conservation that total 27,564 hectares (ha), some of which have been certified as a Community Conserved Areas (CCA) by the Mexican National Natural Protected Areas Commission (CONANP).

The CORENCHI communities are located in the Papaloapan river basin, between 200 and 2,900 meters above sea level. Five belong to the municipality San Felipe Usila: Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, San Antonio de El Barrio, Santiago Tlatepusco, San Pedro Tlatepusco and San Antonio Analco. The sixth community, Nopalera del Rosario, is part of the municipality San Juan Bautista Valle Nacional. The region is famous for its highly diverse tropical cloud and lowland forests, which include thousands of plant species – of which over 800 have been inventoried – and notable animal species such as jaguar, puma, white tail deer, toucan and wild boar.

The approximately 2,000 residents of the CORENCHI communities are engaged in agriculture, agroforestry (including organic shade coffee plantations), extraction of non-timber forest products such as the edible palm called tepejilote (Chamaedorea tepejilote) and pita fiber (Aechmea magdalenae) and fish production, particularly in Santiago Tlatepusco. The subsistence and monetary benefits of these activities are supplemented with remittances from the large number of community members who migrate to the United States and urban areas of Mexico in response to persistent socio-economic marginalization.

History and Activities

Community territorial planning started in Santa Cruz Tepetotutla between 2000 and 2002, with institutional support from the Mexican NGOs Estudios Rurales y Asesoría (ERA) and GeoConservación. The efforts were funded by two government initiatives, the Forest Resources Conservation and Sustainable Management Project (PROCYMAF) and Integrated Ecosystem Management (MIE).

GeoConservación provided the technical expertise to extend territorial planning to the other communities, culminating with Analco and Nopalera in 2006. WWF granted some funds for land use studies and management plans. Separately, the Mexican enterprise Grupo Modelo (brewers of Corona and other popular beers) provided financial support for the construction of a biological field station in Santa Cruz Tepetotutla. This external support was in response to local requests – stimulated in part by the intervention of NGOs – for technical and financial assistance from industry dependent on water resources from the watersheds managed by CORENCHI communities.

The Community Territorial Planning, guided by regular training workshops, led to proposed statutes on the use and management of natural resources and the demarcation of different land use zones. These include conservation areas – in which land use changes and hunting are not allowed – that protect biodiversity and ecosystems, including the maintenance of forest cover, water capture and wildlife. The general assembly of community members, an important local governance institution, officially validated the land use categories and statutes.

In addition to land use planning, the community conservation process was stimulated by CONAFOR’s Payment for Environmental Services (PES) program. In 2004, Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, San Antonio del Barrio, San Pedro Tlatepusco and Santiago Tlatepusco submitted 8,189 ha for payment for hydrological environmental services (PHES). In response, CONAFOR approved 16,377,208 Mexican pesos (1,453,969 USD at the 2004 average exchange rate) over a period of five years. In 2007, San Antonio Analco and Nopalera del Rosario joined the other four communities for a second PHES submission of 7,866 ha, which yielded an additional 14,849,658 Mexican pesos (1,360,229 USD at the 2007 average exchange rate) (Mondragón, 2008).

CCA certification by the Mexican National Natural Protected Areas Commission (CONANP, Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas) provided additional incentive. The process started in 2004, when San Antonio del Barrio achieved certification of 1,500 ha, San Pedro Tlatepusco of 5,050 ha, Santa Cruz Tepetotutla of 9,670 ha and Santiago Tlatepusco of 4,300 ha representing a total of 20,520 ha in the four communities. The certification granted by CONANP is valid for 30 years. Nopalera del Rosario is in the process of applying for certification of 4,994 ha, and San Antonio Analco of 2,050 ha. The total area placed under conservation status by the communities is this 27,564 ha.

To summarize, the main results achieved by the CORENCHI community process are:

(1) conservation of more than 27,500 ha of diverse tropical forests;

(2) agreement on a common strategy for managing the payments for environmental services;

(3) definition of a joint strategy among six communities to preserve common property within their borders;

(4) development of strategic productive projects, aiming to strengthen community economy through sustainable resource management; and

(5) creation of communal statutes to normalize and regulate the use of and access to common resources.

Following on the success of these measures, the communities are exploring further economic diversification through scientific tourism, added-value marketing of coffee and commercialization of selected non-timer forest products.

Governance and Administration

The community makes decisions over their social life, administration matters and natural resource management through traditional communal regulations and general assemblies. The internal political organization includes collective institutions of village-level democracy such as traditional authorities (autoridades) selected by community members, general assemblies of villagers (asambleas generales), communal property offices (comisariados de bienes comunales) and supervisory councils (consejos de vigilancia), which allow a relative amount of autonomous decision-making.

Impacts of Local Community Conservation

Following the results of a workshop that Global Diversity Foundation carried out on May 2009 in Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, with representatives from all the CORENCHI communities, the impacts of local community conservation activities on the environment and social life include the following:

Positive impacts:

  • Economic resources received through PES or other funding programmes are not enough for living
  • People cannot use all the natural resources they would like
  • With the new regulations people cannot practice subsistence hunting, which has negative repercussions on family nutrition and the economy
  • Conservation obligations and responsibilities means more work and higher costs for individuals and communities.
  • Conservation activities diminish the time spent on productive work
  • Conservation activities provide more responsibility and less freedom, for example they cannot have cattle
  • Difficult to place sustainable or organic products in the market, or getting the same price as conventional products
  • Conservation activities are not always related to cultural projects
  • Government does not take into account community efforts.
  • Many people now have the idea that money can solve everything
  • Benefits are not clearly perceived by most community members
  • Conservation activities and objectives are not shared by all community members, creating divisions and internal conflicts

  • Negative impacts:

  • Ending of land conflicts between communities
  • Prevention of forest fires
  • Taking conscious decisions about conservation activities have promoted local union, strengthening their identity and organization.
  • Formal environmental education
  • Communities have taken on conservation responsibilities
  • Conservation activities have allowed the production of energy through solar cells
  • Access to economic support and specific funding for conservation and productive projects
  • Better regulation of access to natural resources
  • People with responsibilities for community conservation have learned to work in a team and to speak in public.
  • Community members are being offered temporal jobs related to conservation.

  • Threats

    The main current threat to local governance is a government project to create a government administered category of protected area in the same areas of the already government certified community conserved areas. A government administered category in Mexico means that the protected area must have a Direction board on which the management decisions are taken totally or partially by people from outside the communities.

    Poverty and low quality of services (such as education, health) are also threats to the social life of the community. National policies towards rural production are also an important threat to the economic well-being of the community, a situation shared by all rural communities and ejidos in Mexico. One of the main direct consequences of such low socio-economic support is migration to the USA or big Mexican cities looking for a better quality of life.

    Video

    Introductions - Chinantec Participatory Video trainees

    Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) is co-ordinating a partnership with the Corenchi community association, a local conservation organisation called Geo conservacion, and Insight UK who are specialists in capacity building marginalised communities in Participatory Video; to offer a series of courses in communication and video, legal aspects of conservation, community conservation methods, and other practical tools to assist the local indigenous stewards of bio-cultural diversity.

    References

    Bray, D.B., Duran, E., Anta, S., Martin, G.J. & Mondragón, F. (2008) A New Conservation and Develpoment Frontier: Community Protected Areas in Oaxaca, Mexico. Current Conservation 2.2 Web link

    Pérez, P., Anta, S. & Mondragón, F. (2006) Los ordenamientos Territoriales en las Comunidades de la Chinantla Alta, Oaxaca. Seminario “Análisis Metodológico del Ordenamiento Comunitario del Territorio” [The land use planning in the Communities of the Chinantla Alta, Oaxaca. Seminar "Methodological Analysis of Community Land Use Planning."]. COINBIO, México.


    Compiled by the Global Diversity Foundation, April 2010