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THE STRUGGLE

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					            THE STRUGGLE
            FOR THE FOREST
                Conservation and Development
                          in the Sierra Juarez

                                     Sustainable forest management challenges
                                         communities to renew themselves.




   I      n the southern Mexican state of
          Oaxaca, Ricardo Lopez Luna is
          talking about ecotourism. As a
          truck-mounted winch lifts mas-
          sive pine logs to be hauled from
   the steeply sloped forest, he also dis-
                                               issues
                                                      David Barton Bray
                                                           inevitably      steeped
                                               personalities-have become the currency
                                               of local as well as global politics.
                                               Comaltepec may have found some
                                                                                        in
                                                                                             that the forests of Mexico have been
                                                                                             used by man for centuries. These ad-
                                                                                             vocates cite recent research indicating
                                                                                             that even the Lacandon rain forest of
                                                                                             southern Chiapas is a "secondary
                                                                                             growth" forest, once fully recovered
   courses on logging, butterfly farming,      answers, in part because the community        from Mayan depredations centuries
   and bioreserves.                            is large enough to lend itself to a variety   before and now being destroyed again.
      Neither ecologist nor forester nor       of uses, but also because of its ten years    Governments,         traditionally     less
   "green" travel agent, Lopez Luna is a       of accumulated experience in managing         interested in ecology, prefer to use the
   small coffee farmer who serves as           its stands of oak and pine.                   forests' natural resources to generate
   treasurer of the oversight committee of         The forests of Comaltepec, like those     foreign exchange and supply domestic
   the Chinantec Indian community of           in all of Mexico, are part of a               industries, giving local autonomy little
   Santiago Comaltepec. His ancient            kaleidoscope of environmental drama in        or no priority. Although reconciling
   community, clustered around an eight        which Ricardo Lopez Luna and his              such divergent interests may be an
   teenth century Dominican church,            fellow comuneros debate conservation          impossible task, the struggle for
   occupies over 18,000 hectares of            and development with visiting Japanese        solutions continues in Comaltepec, in
   Papaloapan River watershed high in the      lepidopterists,     representatives      of   Mexico City, and in Washington, D.C.
   pine and oak forests of the Sierra Juarez   Mexican and U.S. environmental and               In exploring community forestry in
   mountains. The winch and the pines, not     development organizations, and ad-            southern Mexico, this article first fo-
   to mention the butterflies, belong to the   ministrators of a parastatal pulp mill.       cuses on the broader canvas of events in
   community's own forestry enterprise, the    Just as in the Pacific Northwest of the       the Sierra Juarez, where one finds a
   Unidad de Aprovechamiento Forestal          United States where battle lines are          historical pattern of outside exploitation
   Cerro Comal.                                drawn over spotted owls and loggers'          of local resources. Here, too, is found a
      Lopez Luna's conversation reflects the   paychecks, competing groups in Co-            pattern     of    resistance     to   such
   arguments and practices that have           maltepec struggle over Pleistocene            exploitation, resistance that gradually
   divided Comaltepec for decades, in-         refuges versus better incomes in a poor       sees its gains exceed its losses and
   tensifying in recent years. During this     mountain community that has sent over         eventually leads to community control
   time, Comaltepec has seen its forests       400 of its best and brightest to work in      over local resources. The events in
   depleted by a pulp mill and has             southern California.                          Santiago Comaltepec are then presented
waged a vigorous struggle to regain               Some Mexican and U.S. environ-             as a microcosm of conservation and
 control of its woodland resources. Now        mentalists would like to see vast un-         development in the Sierra, where highly
the community finds itself involved in         touched nature reserves preserved for         politicized struggles appear finally to be
protracted internal debates ~ over how to      geological time. Other environmen-            leading to what New Scientist magazine
use its remaining forests: Sawmills and        talists, as well as promoters of              calls "the optimistic premise that there
bioreserves, conservation and development      community-managed forestry, argue             need be no conflict between prudent
exploitation and the conservation of          United States, and some residents of the       of its proximity to the pulp mill and
forests."                                     Sierra are now as familiar with the            argues that FAPATUX did no real forest
                                              streets of Santa Monica, California, as        management or reforestation during the
THE SIERRA JUAREZ:                            they are with the trails to their own com      concession period. She contends that the
POVERTY AND                                   fields.                                        total forest area in the Sierra was reduced
                                                                                             by one-third during FAPATUX's
ABUNDANCE                                                                                    concession, with significant degradation
                                              MINING THE FOREST
Part of the Sierra Madre Oriental, the                                                       of the rest of the forest. She also feels
Sierra Juarez mountain range of northern      Until the 1950s, forest exploitation in the    that the communities' "zeal to satisfy
Oaxaca is 186 miles long and 47 miles         Sierra Juarez was light, as a gold mine in     their vital necessities" is manifested in an
wide, with average altitudes of 8,202 feet    the mountain hamlet of Natividad was           intense interest in forest conservation.
and peaks above 9,842 feet. Cool              for decades the only timber consumer of           During the 1970s, FAPATUX also
temperatures and high rainfall have           any note. However, as part of the 1950s        invested heavily in pine plantations in the
allowed great biological vigor. A World       national development policies, 261,000         Mixe Baja region of Oaxaca, which may
Wildlife Fund report on the Sierra's          hectares of Sierra Juarez forests came         have reduced its interest in assuring
ecological richness catalogued cloud          under a 25-year concession to the              sustainability in the Sierra Juarez. An
forest, pine, mixed pine-oak forest, moist    foreign-owned (but nationalized in 1965)       additional part of the problem lay in the
and dry montane tropical ecosystems, the      Fabricas de Papel Tuxtepec (FAPATUX)           fact that FAPATUX employed the
"richest oak forests in the world in terms    to produce paper and news pulp.                standard harvesting technique of the
of species diversity," and remnant            Although born out of the demand for            period, the "Mexican
populations of rare flowering plants and      national      economic         development,    Method." This method, also termed
butterflies.                                  FAPATUX          brought      a    profound     "high-grading," is likely to take out the
    One part of the Sierra, within the        paternalism to its relations with the           best timber and damage the rest, leading
boundaries of Santiago Comaltepec,            communities that nominally owned the            to genetic impoverishment. Because pine
constitutes a "Pleistocene refuge":           forest resources. It claimed to provide for     forests tend to be evenly aged, this
 fauna and flora "safehouses" formed          a "rational and integral use of the forests,    system produced stands of smaller trees
 during the last Ice Age, whose highly        while promoting social development and          of poor genetic quality and permitted
 diverse gene pools have vital implica-       creating permanent and productive               scrub oaks-marketable only as lower-
 tions for future evolution.                  sources of work, [thus preventing] the          value charcoal-to invade the open spaces
    The Sierra's biological richness is in    possessors of this resource, in a zeal to       in a natural forest succession, squeezing
 striking contrast to the poverty of its      satisfy their vital necessities and because     out pine regeneration.
 people. Oaxaca is the poorest state in       of . . . uncontainable demographic
 Mexico: Its incomes are less than half       pressure, from destroying the forest,
 the national average, with 40 percent of     using the soil inappropriately, demol-
 its population lacking access to             ishing                                         FORGING    LOCAL
                                                                                             RESISTANCE
                                                                                             Its concession failed to give FAPATUX
                                                                                             absolute access to community forests,
 "We will no longer permit our natural resources to                                          requiring the company to negotiate
 be wasted since they are the patrimony of our                                               yearly contracts with the communities.
                                                                                             In    these    negotiations,    however,
                     children."                                                              FAPATUX clearly had the upper hand,
                                                                                             frequently with the collaboration of the
health facilities and primary education        habitats, [and] creating erosion and          secretary of agrarian reform, using its
and 80 percent to potable water.               aridity."                                     legal standing as concessionaire to
   Forestry and mining have historically          Yoland.1 Lara Padilla, a member of         suppress the communities' attempts to
generated some employment; agriculture         Estudios Rurales y Asesoria (ERA), a          assert their rights. Communities were
has provided less since the soils and          Oaxaca-based,         community-forestry      denied the right to sell their timber to
climate of the Sierra yield a poor harvest.    nongovernmental organization (NGO),           other buyers, for example, and one
The shortage of jobs in Oaxaca has led to      notes that, in reality, the Sierra Juarez     community that wanted to set up a
heavy migration to other parts of Mexico       region was far more heavily "mined"           woodworking shop was told it would
and to the                                     than others because                           have to buy back its own pine from
                                                                                             FAPATUX.

 14   Grassroots Development 15/3 1991
Photo on page 12: Workers roll logs outside the Santiago Comaltepec communal sawmill forward for planing. Above: Mexico has more pine species
than any other nation. The forests of Oaxaca's Sierra ]uflrez contain a lush blend of flora and fauna, including rare butterflies and mammals,
plant associations dating back to the Pleistocene Age, pine, moist and dry montane tropical ecosystems, and the world's richest variety of oaks.


back its own pine from FAPATUX.                  Cal pulal pan - Xiacui- Trinidad                  should be in the hands of our com-
   The first significant rebellion against       (IXCAJIT), which included four com-               munities, and we will struggle for
such practices broke out in 1968, when           munities. The bargaining concessions              [greater education that will permit ra-
the community of San Pablo                       forestalled further efforts at local eco-         tional exploitation]."
Macuiltianguis organized 14 other                nomic initiative during most of the                  ODRENASIJ launched a whirlwind
communities into the Union de Pueblos            1970s. But as October 1981 and the end            of activities: publishing Tequio, visiting
Abastecedores de Materia Prima a                 of FAPATUX's 25-year concession                   other forest community organizations in
FAPATUX. Their actions led to a five-            approached, a new surge of grassroots             Mexico, organizing the first national
year boycott of FAPATUX that                     initiatives developed.                            conference of forest community
eventually forced the factory to close for          On March 9, 1980, 13 of the com-               organizations in May 1981, and
40 days in 1972 (although during most            munities assembled in the mountain                lobbying with state and federal gov-
of the boycott FAPATUX was able to               hamlet of Guelatao to create the                  ernment officials to promote its cau$e.
supply itself from communities                   Organizacion en Defensa de los                    Working with sympathetic students and
elsewhere in Oaxaca).                            Recursos Naturales y Desarrollo Social            young professionals, ODRENASIJ
   When they first organized them-               de la Sierra de Juarez (ODRENASIJ).               began to define its issues, realizing that
selves, the communities' primary ob-             Its primary goal was to prevent a                 merely to prevent the concession's
jective was to receive more economic             renewal of the concession and thereby             renewal       was      insufficient;   the
benefits; sustainability of the resource         guarantee communities the right to                communities also needed technical
was not yet an issue. Their demands              manage their own forests. The                     training in wood processing, forest
included higher wages for community              organization quickly established a                management, and small business
loggers, a larger stumpage fee,                  newspaper, Tequio, whose first edition            management.
scholarships for workers' children,              presented a vision that encompassed
protective equipment, and more roads.            both development and conservation:                GAINING COMMUNITY
Eventually, FAPATUX made some                    "We will no longer permit our natural             CONTROL
bargaining concessions and even formed           resources to be wasted, since they are
an intercommunity enterprise, the                the patrimony of our children. The                In late 1981, the government tried to
Unidad Forestal Ixtlan                           forest resources                                  reinstitute the concession not just for


                                                                                                     Grassroots Development 15/3 1991        15
 The Forests                               mates Mexico's annual losses to ag-
                                           riculture and lumbering at nearly
                                                                                     renewal combined with the interests
                                                                                     of enlightened politicians and forest
 of Mexico:                                600,000 hectares. The most publi-
                                           cized losses have been in the
                                                                                     technicians to forge a new direction
                                                                                     for forestry in the state. Training and
 Moving From                               Lacandon rain forest of Chiapas, but
                                           steady losses and degradation of for-
                                                                                     organizing in sustainable forestry
                                                                                     began in the southern town of
                                           est lands are occurring all over the      Chetumal in 1983, and expanded
 Concessions to                            country. However, in Mexico the
                                           unrelievedly grim recital of defor-
                                                                                     into a Yucatec Mayan zone near
                                                                                     Felipe Carillo Puerto in 1985. The
 Communities                               estation statistics is balanced by
                                           some of the most advanced experi-
                                                                                     plan evolved into a concerted effort
                                                                                     on the part of young forestry spe-
                                           ences in community control and            cialists, backed by the state govern-
 Mexico has the third largest forested     exploitation of forest resources any-     ment, to turn the full economic and
 area in Latin America, about 70 per-      where in Latin America.                   ecological management of the forest
 cent of it in upland temperate zone           These community forestry experi-      over to its owners.
 fOrests in'the massive complex of         ences, relatively new and still poorly        From general community assem-
 mountain ranges that dominate the         documented, have taken root in a          blies emerged the ecodevelopment
 naqonal geography. The rest are           variety of ecological settings, both      strategy that braked the exploitation
 tropical-lowland hardwood forests,        highland temperate and lowland            of the most precious tropical woods,
 mostly in southern Oaxaca, Chiapas,       tropical. Making Mexico particularly      such as mahogany and cedar. De-
 and the Yucatan Peninsula.                promising for community-based for-        spite this strategy, however, the
    In the nineteenth and first half of    est management systems is the             company holding the concession-
 the twentieth centuries, Mexican for-     70 percent of total forest lands se-      which had been authorized to cut
 ests were "mined" through huge            curely held by indigenous communi-        particular quantities of precious
 concessions to private companies,         ties or ejidos. Although these com-       tropical hardwoods as well as lesser
 with no attention paid to conserva-       munities have had to struggle for         known species-proceeded to har-
 tion. The lumber from these forests       control over the resources on their       vest over 99 percent of the autho-
 was turned into ties for the railroad     land, ownership of the land itself        rized precious timbers and a mere
 tracks that linked Mexican agricul        has never been in question. (In con-      4 percent of the less profitable com-
 tural and natural resources to the        trast, the Food and Agriculture Or-       mon woods. Taking immediate steps
 world economy, fine European fur-         ganization of the United Nations es-      to reverse this pattern, the commu-
 niture (from the mahogany of south-       timates that 80 percent of forest area    nities also set aside a permanent for-
 ern tropical forests), and dwellings      worldwide is on public land.)             est extractive reserve to be adminis-
 to house an expanding population.             An increasing number of forest        tered in 25-year harvest cycles. In
    In the 1950s, a more systematic       communities in states such as Oa-          the meantime, technical teams be
 attempt was made to harness Mexi-        xaca, Guerrero, Durango, Chihua-          gan intensively training ejido mem-
 co's forests to national economic        hua, and Quintana Roo are slowly          bers in all aspects of forest manage-
 growth, again using the concession       learning to become effective stew         ment and lumbering, and instituted
 system. Forests all over the country,    ards of their own forests. However,       computerized forest inventories.
 many of them formally owned by           attempts to introduce community               In a few short years, communities
 local communities, were given in ex-     forestry into Chiapas, a major reser-     have vastly increased their forest in-
 clusive exploitation concessions to      voir of lowland rain forest, were         comes and have mastered basic
 private and parastatal sawmills and      halted by the 1987 decision of the        technical aspects of forest manage-
 paper factories. These concessions       state government to refuse almost all     ment. Two organizations of ejidos,
 assumed that the indigenous com          new logging permits.                      the Sociedad de Ejidos Forestales de
munities and ejidos (a communal               The accompanying article de-          Quintana Roo in Chetumal and the
land tenure arrangement established       scribes in detail the community for-      Organizaci6n de Productores Fores-
by Mexican agrarian reform laws)          estry experience in Oaxaca, only one      tales de la Zona Maya in Felipe
had no ability to manage their own        of many efforts that have emerged         Carillo Puerto, are now regarded as
forests or the revenues they pro-         in Mexico over the last decade.           Mexico's foremost examples of the
duced. The stumpage fee called for        Other compelling experiences have         economic and ecological viability of
in these concessions represented but      occurred in the lowland forests of        managing lowland tropical forests
a fraction of the timber's market         Quintana Roo and in the highland          with sustained-yield forestry tech-
value.                                    pine and oak forests of Chihuahua.        niques. The Plan Piloto, renamed
    Concessions such as these, cattle         In Quintana Roo, the Plan Piloto      Plan Estatal, is currently organizing
ranching, and the colonizing of low-      was a community forestry effort           two other groups of ejidos and small
land forests brought about the rav-       stimulated in 1983 by the end of a        producers with a vision of eventu-
ages of deforestation that have oc-       29-year, half-million-hectare conces-     ally putting nearly a half-million
curred over the last several decades.     sion to a private enterprise. Commu-      hectares, stretching between
The World Resources Institute esti        nity mobilizations against concession     bioreserves in Quintana Roo and
Campeche, under sustainable forest                                                   credit difficulties, low productivity,
management systems.                             The richness of the resource has     and internal disorganization. Also,
   Significant problems remain, of          led to intense interest on the part of   many ejidos harbor ethnic divisions
course. The more advanced                   national and multinational economic      between Tarahumara Indian and
Sodedad de Ejidos Forestales in             concerns, as well as multilateral        mestizo members, with the Indians
Chetumal urgently needs to develop       agencies. For example, a joint project      frequently marginalized from partici-
new markets for the lesser known         by a major multinational bank and a         pation in the forest industry. The
species of tropical hardwoods in or-     timber company envisions vast pine          ARIC undoubtedly has many years
der to reduce the pressure on pre-       and eucalyptus plantations in Chi-          of struggle ahead, but the experience
cious timbers. In the Mayan zone,        huahua. A $90 million World Bank            in the Sierra Juarez suggests that its ~
the major product is still the tradi-    project will pump in production             task is not impossible.
tional one-railroad ties-with the        aedit and extend road networks,                Added to the range of locally con-
national railroad company as the         and provide lesser funds for envi-          trolled initiatives in sustainable for-
sole buyer. Its leverage as sole buyer   ronmental protection.                       est management that have emerged
allows the company to set its own           In the midst of an this, the             in the last decade are the efforts by
price, one that has remained un-         Asociaci6n Rural de Inter&                  the local and regional forest commu-
changed in three years Clearly,          Colectivo General Felipe Angeles            nity organizations to build a national
there is an imperative need to diver-    (ARIC-Felipe Angeles), with mem-            presence. Both the Productores Fo-
sify products and markets and to in-     ber communities in both Chihuahua           restales y Agropecuarios de Mexico
dustrialize. Nevertheless, as the        and Durango, has taken on the               (PROFOAGREMEX) and the IAP-
Worldwatch Institute has noted, less     daunting pursuit of profit and effi-        supported Comisi6n Forestal of the
than 0.1 percent of tropical logging     ciency in a former state enterprise,        Uni6n de Organizaciones Regioriales
is done on a sustained-yield basis,      the Promotora Foxestal de la                Campesinas Aut6nomas (UNORCA)
so the Quintana Roo experiences are      Tarahumara (PROFORTARAH). The               are currently trying to combine the.
significant examples of what could       ARIC includes 185 ejidos and                various regional and local efforts :
be done elsewhere.                       30,000 peasant families, controls           into a national coordinating body for
   In Chihuahua is a much more           highland pine and oak forests of            marketing, technical assistance, and
troubled case, one holding great po-     over a million hectares (with               sustainable forest management. The
tential but presenting equally great     437,000 hectares having commercial          consolidation of national-level orga-
challenges. Chihuahua and Durango        value), and over 25 sawmills and            nizations would also be a bench-         .
between them have the most com-          other wood-processing facilities.           mark in a decades-long struggle to
mercially important forests in Mex-         But the magnitude of the re-             put community-based sustainable
ico, with the two states contributing    sources the ARIC commands is                forest management on the natural
50 percent of the country's forestry     matched by the magnitude of its             resources agenda in Mexico.
production.                              problems. In 1990, the operation                                      -David Bray
                                         was beset by mechanical failures,


                                                                                       GI'IIIIOOtI Development 15/3 1991 17
25 years but in perpetuity. Outraged,
the communities mobilized to defeat
that attempt, obtaining legal and
other kinds of help from their support-
ers. In 1982, the communities at last
won their struggle, in the process
establishing a major precedent in
community control of natural re-
sources in Oaxaca and in Mexico. Now
the question of management arose.
   Despite having lived their lives in
the ,forest, the community members
were primarily small farmers who
knew little about forestry other than
cutting trees with a chain saw and
loading them onto trucks. Further-
more, the communities would have to
face these questions on their own as
ODRENASIJ, having met its primary
purpose of defeating the concession,
collapsed in 1983.
   Slowly, the individual communi-
ties began to learn how to manage the
forests, logging operations, and small
forestry enterprises. They also discov-
ered that selling their timber at the
prevailing market price permitted
previously undreamt-of capitalization
opportunities. The community of San
Pablo Macuiltianguis again led the
way in November 1981: It signed a
contract with FAPATUX but this time
as an equal partner, owner, and seller
of a market-priced good.
   By the mid-1980s, timber profits
permitted communities to buy trucks
and winches and to invest in sawmills
                                          Workers maneuver a log toward a truck for hauling to the Comaltepec community
and furniture shops, creating their
                                          sawmill. At its peak, the enterprise has employed 15 residents in the mill and
own forestry enterprises. Profits were
                                          another 50 cutting timber in the mountains.
also channeled toward social benefits
for the entire community: schools,
health clinics, roads, and community
water works. One organization of          the   communities       began     to    de-    westernmost Chinantec Indian mu-
communities, the Union de Comu-           velop a "forest culture" and, eventu-          nicipio in the Sierra Juarez. Its 2,000
nidades y Ejidos Forestales de Oaxaca     ally, also began to federate to meet           inhabitants occupy 18,366 hectares of
(UCEFO), even directed part of its        common needs. Santiago Comalte-                mountains and valleys that include
profits into a modest pension plan for    pec, the community of Ricardo Lopez            highland pine and oak, cloud forest,
widows. Most strikingly, the majority     Luna, is one example of this pattern.          and montane tropical ecosystems.
of these investments were made out                                                       The municipal seat rests at the bottom
of current income, with the few loans     SANTIAGO   COMALTEPEC:                         of the deep, narrow Comal River val-
incurred quickly repaid.                  A MICROCOSM                                    ley, 71 winding miles from the city of
   With many fits and starts, internal                                                   Oaxaca and 6 miles from the Oaxaca-
political struggles, and external pres    Although lying in a primarily Zapotec          Tuxtepec blacktop highway.
sures,                                    region, Santiago Comaltepec is the                The forests of Comaltepec have ex-


18   Grassroots Development 15/3 1991
 perienced every stage of the forest                  During this same period, some of the          orientation-with each NGO being
 struggle in the Sierra Juarez. In 1961,              professionals and students who had            supported in turn by an international
 FAPATUX began cutting timber there                   supported community struggles for             donor with the same respective inter-
 and continued, under annual con-                     local forest management created               ests. However, the bioreserve ran
 tracts, until 1967. From 1967 to 1974,               NGOs to formalize their work.                 afoul of the centripetal forces of
 Comaltepec joined the Union de                                                                     Oaxacan municipal politics.
 Pueblos Abastecedores, spearheaded                   EMERGING CONFLICTS:                              The state's 570 municipios, one-
 by its neighbor San Pablo Macuiltian-                BIORESERVES VERSUS                            third of all municipalities in Mexico,
 guis, and logging was almost entirely                SAWMILLS                                      are products of Oaxaca's fragmented
 halted. Then in 1975, after FAPATUX                                                                topography and ethnicity. Within
 made some concessions, the com-                      Struggling to manage its own forests,         many of the municipios are smaller
 pany began cutting Comaltepec's for-                 Comaltepec has found itself split in-         population centers known as agen-
 ests again. From 1980 to 1982, how-                  ternally, as is much of the outside           cias, which may be relatively distant
 ever,     the    community        suspended          world, among conservationists, com-           from the municipal seat. Many of
 cutting by FAPATUX, became an ac-                    munity foresters, and national timber         these agencias have long nursed
 tive member of ODRENASIJ, and fi-                    interests-and even those who are              dreams of municipal independence;
 nally celebrated with the rest of Oaxa-              indifferent to the fate of the forest. In     and Comaltepec has such an agencia,
 ca's forest communities the definitive               the mid-1980s, the battle was ex-             La Esperanza, located near the region
 end of the mill's concession rights.                 panded with an attempt to establish a         of the proposed bioreserve.
    FAPATUX's withdrawal as admin-                    bioreserve in Comaltepec. At the                 The local environmental NGO
 istrator coincided with a rising global              same time, the community was strug-          made some errors when it ap-
 focus on tropical forests, and Mexican               gling to get a sawmill up and running.       proached the agencia, inducing it to
 and U.S. environmental organiza-                     Each effort, the bioreserve and the          see in the bioreserve a possible road
 tions quickly became interested in                   sawmill, had support from local              to greater autonomy through new
 Comaltepec's mammals, rare butter-                   NGOs-one with an environmental               boundary surveys. When the munici-
 flies, and ancient plant associations.               orientation, one with a development          pal seat realized that the bioreserve
                                                                                                   could serve as a Trojan horse to fo-
                                                                                                   ment municipal secession, the envi-
                                                                                                   ronmental NGO and, indirectly, the
                                                                                                   international conservation group that
                                                                                                   supported it were expelled from the
                                                                                                   community, with the bioreserve be-
                                                                                                   coming a casualty of the conflict. The
                                                                                                   merits of a bioreserve in and of itself
                                                                                                   were secondary to the fact that the
                                                                                                   initiative had upset the delicate equi-
                                                                                                   librium of municipal geopolitics:
                                                                                                      As with conservation, community
                                                                                                   forestry in the form of Comaltepec's
                                                                                                   community-owned sawmill has also
                                                                                                  fallen victim to municipal politics.
                                                                                                  When FAPATUX's concession was
                                                                                                  not renewed, Comaltepec quickly es-
                                                                                                  tablished a timber-producing unit, le-
                                                                                                  gally registering the Unidad de
                                                                                                  Aprovechamiento         Forestal      Cerro
                                                                                                  Comal in November 1983. The unit
                                                                                                  received its first annual cutting permit
                                                                                                  the same year and began selling lum-
                                                                                                  ber to the FAPATUX pulp mill.
A Comaltepec logger harvests trees from a fire-damaged area. During the past                          Cutting at modest levels for several
decade, small farmers who knew little more about trees than cutting them down                     years, Comaltepec never reached
with chain saws have had to learn how to manage forest systems.                                   7,000 cubic meters (less than half



                                                                                                    Grassroots Development 15/3 1991   19
Workers plane logs at the Comaltepec community sawmill. Such mills are often equipped with outmoded, inefficient
machinery that reduces market flexibility. Comaltepec plans to buy portable mills that can be hauled on the back of trucks to
timber sites in order to precut wood for processing and make selective harvesting more economical.


their approved annual cut) and in                     slopes. Profits also went into a secon-                 the president shut down the sawmill
most years cut far less than that. Fur-               dary school, clinic, municipal hall                     in April 1990 on the grounds that Co-
ther, because of an intense fire that                 improvements, and, more recently,                       maltepec needed to take a more-
burned over part of their land in 1983,               plans for another step into value-                      careful look at what it was doing to
nearly all of the timber logged has                   added processing-building a car-                        the forest.
been fire damaged. Thus, like most                    pentry shop to produce furniture.                           Supporters of community forestry
communities in the Sierra Juarez,                     When operating at its peak, Comalte-                    argued that in his profit analysis the
Comaltepec was profoundly conser-                     pec's sawmill has employed up to 15                     president had factored in only one ac-
vative in its first steps toward forest               people in the mill itself and as many                   counting period, during which time
management.                                           as 50 in the mountains. With ERA's                      major investments had been made.
   As timber production became more                   support and full community partici-                     They also noted that the sawmill con-
systematic,     Comaltepec        gained              pation, Comaltepec also developed a                     tinued to process only timber dam-
enough confidence to begin planning                   land use plan that was democratically                   aged by the forest fire.
for a sawmill and to inventory its for-               approved by the community general                           This dispute highlighted the degree
est resources. For both purposes, the                 assembly in June 1988.                                  to which the community had aligned
community relied upon the support                        Although most community mem-                         itself into pro- and anti-sawmill
of the previously mentioned Estudios                  bers were pleased with the infrastruc-                  camps, and also into a faction that
Rurales y Asesona, one of the area's                  ture and employment brought by the                      was primarily concerned with its
newly founded NGOs, which was re-                     sawmill, some remained concerned                        members' coffee plantings in the
ceiving funding from the Ford Foun-                   about its role in forest management.                    montane tropical area, with no strong
dation.                                               This became a serious issue in early                    feelings about the mill. In any event,
   By 1987, the sawmill began opera-                  1990, when a new municipal presi-                       the sawmill, like the bioreserve before
tions, and sales of both sawn timber                  dent was elected from the region of                     it, fell victim to municipal politics.
and logs permitted a vastly increased                 La Esperanza, a man who had been                            However, after the mill had been
capital flow. In that year, Comaltepec                identified with the agencia's earlier                   idle for a year, the same president had
was able to finish the sawmill and                    attempt to establish a bioreserve. Ar-                  a change of heart. The sawmill was
buy a used tractor, several trucks, and               guing that the sawmill was being in-                    reopened in March 1991 (albeit very
a winch for hauling logs up the steep                 efficiently run and was losing money,                   late in the cutting season) because of


20    Grassroots Development 15/3 1991
                                         employment pressures and report-           feel that consensus does not imply
                                         edly because the president was satis-      uniformity but the contrary, the har-
                                         fied that it would now be appropri-        monization of different interests, with
                                         ately administered. Comaltepec is          a focus on the common good."
                                         back in the timber business for the           Szekely and Madrid see knowledge
                                         time being, but how well the enter-        as the only way to harmonize diverse
                                         prise can compete in a marketplace         interests in the forest and have tried
                                         that requires dependability in produc-     to train a large number of community
                                         tion remains an open question.             members in the various aspects of
                                                                                    managing a community forest enter-
                                         SEEKING A COMMON                           prise. But tensions between democ-
                                         GROUND                                     racy and efficiency will continue, and
                                                                                    in the meantime, the communities
                                         Wrestling with the question of how to      and the NGOs add new and complex
                                         combine democratic processes with          challenges to the brew.              .

                                         efficient business management, ERA,           ERA, now teamed up with another
                                         other Oaxacan NGOs, and the com-           Oaxacan NGO called Servicios Co-
                                         munity see no clear answer. Two            munitarios (SERCO), began a new
                                         Mexican community forestry experts,        phase of support for communities in
                                         Miguel Szekely and Sergio Madrid           the Sierra Juarez and the Sierra Sur of
                                         (the latter a member of ERA), have         Oaxaca in early 1990. Assisted by a
                                         tried to square the anthropologists'       grant from the Inter-American Foun-
                                         traditional image of community inte-       dation, SERCO and ERA responded
Top: Workers stack planed building       gration with the contentiousness they      to community requests for intensive
beams in the Comaltepec mill yard.       have found regarding forest use. Ac-       training in all aspects of forest and
Bottom: The community enterprise at      cording to them, "It is important to       business management by running a
nearby Capultllpan has started a         recognize some elements of commu-          school workshop on forest manage-
furniture-making business to add more    nity life as fundamental: the oft-cited    ment and carpentry near the city of
value to their milled wood;              consensual decision making, ritual of-     Oaxaca, facilitating a decisive step
Comaltepec plans to follow suit. The     fices, voluntary community labor,          into furniture manufacturing to add
profits are reinvested in the business   feast days, and other moments in           more value to community produc-
and in schools and other services.       community life ........... [However,] we   tion. Although the NGOs were able



                                                                                      Grassroots Development 15/3 1991       21
A community worker plants a pine seedling on a slope in Santiago Comaltepec. The area naturally tends toward low-price
oak, so systematic pine reforestation is needed to maintain profits and ecodiversity.


to begin this program in other com-       selecting stands of trees to be cut, for-    some volumes are hardly ever used,
munities, their efforts in Comaltepec     est damage will be greatly reduced           but at some point every volume will
were basically stymied by the afore-      and the community will benefit eco-          be useful to someone. All those
mentioned political shifts.               nomically from sustained-yield har-          books, all those genes, have to be pre-
   In the meantime, the World Wild-       vesting. They also point out that            served," he observes. Ricardo Lopez
life Fund (WWF), an international         pines age and die as part of their life      Luna believes there is room for every-
conservation organization working         cycle, and if they are not harvested, an     thing in Comaltepec-timber exploi-
with Mexican professionals, has been      important economic resource is lost.         tation, bioreserves, coffee farming-
invited by municipal authorities to          There are signs that conservation-        and goes on to speculate about the
work with Comaltepec on the con-          ists and community foresters are be-         Japanese lepidopterist who told him
servation and appropriate use of its      ginning to understand one another's          how the community might be able to
biological resources, including a re-     views. Alejandro de Avila, a Mexican         breed rare butterflies on its land.
prise of the bioreserve idea. With past   anthropologist working with WWF,                Ironically, just as community fac-
experiences in mind, WWF, SERCO,          questions the idea of an untouchable         tions are working to resolve their dif-
and ERA are moving much more cau-         reserve. "I'm not in agreement with          ferences, an external force once again
tiously and with an enriched under-       the idea of a conventional reserve; it       threatens Comaltepec's control over
standing of the complexities of demo-     isn't viable in Comaltepec," he says.        its forest resources. The Comision
cratic community control of forests.      "For centuries the forests of southern       Federal de Electricidad, the public
Differences in perspective still remain   Mexico have been used by human be-           utility charged with generating elec-
in Comaltepec and among NGOs and          ings for firewood and other purposes:'       tricity for Mexico's expanding cities,
international donors. Conservation-          De Avila thinks the most feasible         has for years been considering a pos-
ists, for example, worry that the de-     route to conservation would be an ex-        sible dam in Comaltepec and has now
gree of logging Comaltepec's forests      tractive reserve, where traditional use      set up a camp to do field studies. Such
can take is limited. Steep slopes and     of resources could be controlled.            a dam would flood the projected
vulnerability to soil erosion make the    Francisco Chapela of ERA agrees that         bioreserve, among other areas, and
construction of logging roads a ques-     Comaltepec's      biological      richness   Ricardo Lopez Luna hopes the re-
tionable activity. Foresters, on the      needs to be carefully tended. "Its ge-       serve's ecological value can be used to
other hand, believe that by carefully     netic resources are like a huge library;     forestall the Comision's designs.


22   Grassroots Development 15/3 1991
STRENGTHENING                             and economic significance in October        immediate need to reforest with pine
COMMUNITY                                 1990, when Chucho Hernandez, re-            because lower value oak now occu-
MANAGEMENT                                cently graduated forester and native        pies over 60 percent of community
                                          of the UZACHI member community              holdings. Oak is a naturally dominant
Even as Comaltepec wrestles with          of Xiacui, entered another member           succession species, so to maintain
conservation and development of its       community, martillo in hand, to do          pine after cutting takes more-
resources, community members are          the marqueo as an UZACHI em-                concerted reforestation efforts. In Co-
participating in another development      ployee. Jaime Cano, president of the        maltepec, some reforestation has al-
effort, one with both economic and        oversight committee of the commu-           ready begun; community children,
civic implications. With support from     nity of San Mateo Capulalpan de             for example, have helped reforest
SERCO and ERA, Comaltepec helped          Mendez, notes its economic impor-           eight hectares.
found a new intercommunity associa-       tance: "Last year here in Capulalpan           More systematic and regular efforts
tion, the Union Zapoteca-Chinanteca       we paid over $12,000 for forest tech-       need to be undertaken in all of the
de la Sierra Juarez (UZACHI) in 1989.     nical services. This year, we are pay-      communities,     however.      Attention
Composed of one Chinantec and four        ing a much smaller amount to                also needs to be given to agroforestry
Zapotec communities, UZACHI in-           UZACHI as a part of Chucho's salary,        practices, particularly with coffee-
cludes several of the communities         and the rest we can keep for the en-        growing in Comaltepec's montane
that formed ODRENASIJ. Through            terprise.' ,                                tropical region.
UZACHI, Comaltepec can deal with             UZACHI is also instituting selec-
two of the most vexing issues facing      tive cutting as a tool of sustainable       THE NEED FOR NATIONAL
community forest organizations: the       forest       management,       abandoning   LEVEL ORGANIZATION
servicios tecnicos forestales (STF), or   FAPATUX's high-grading practices.
forest technical services, and the        With selective cutting, only a portion      FIFONAFE is a trust fund that repre-
Fideicomiso Fondo N acional de Fo-        of mature trees are taken out in ad-        sents another paternalistic relic now
mento Ejidal (FIFONAFE), or com-          dition to diseased, malformed, or           under grassroots pressure for greater
munity development trust funds.           poorly spaced trees, resulting in a         openness and efficiency. It was estab-
   The STF authorizes how many and        healthier, better-spaced stand. Many        lished to receive the proceeds of the
which trees a community has permis-       of the best specimens are left as seed      stumpage fee on timber and other
sion to cut in a given year, sending a    stock for natural reforestation.            kinds of agricultural production. In
professional forester out to do the          Commercial forest areas are di-          theory, the communities would then
marqueo, marking with a martillo, or      vided into ten sections, with selective     present development projects to the
stamping tool, each tree that may be      harvestings in a given section every        fund to get their investment capital
cut that year. The STF is supposed to     ten years, sufficient time to ensure a      back. In practice, however, it has been
provide a range of other forest man-      sustainable harvest without seriously       very difficult for communities to find
agement services in addition to the       modifying the natural structure of the      out how much money they have de
marqueo. Currently, associations of
professional foresters have an exclu-
sive concession from the federal gov-
ernment to provide these services, for
which they are paid out of sales.             UZACHI is also instituting selective cutting as a
   Communities have long com-                    tool of sustainable forest management. . .
plained that they pay steep fees for
scarce services, and organizations              resulting in healthier, better-spaced stands.
such as UZACHI have argued that,
since they can hire their own profes-
sional staffs, they should have the au-
thority to provide their own marqueo      forest and the ecological benefits it       posited and to get access to it. With-
and other technical services. UCEFO       provides (although some conserva-           out technical assistance, communities
in Oaxaca won this right a few years      tionists dispute this last point).          have a hard time formulating viable
ago, and now UZACHI has received             Although pine and oak regenerate         proposals, and even these can have
provisional permission to do its own      vigorously, communities in the Sierra       trouble getting through the bureauc-
marqueo.                                  Juarez need to take much more de-           racy. Individual communities have
   It was a moment of both symbolic       cided steps to manage their forests. In     been unable to do much about these
                                          Capulalpan, for example, there is an        problems, and UZACHI hopes it will


                                                                                        Grassroots Development 15/3 1991   23
have      enough     clout      to    push   utilized oaks, reduce existing oak          immediate challenge of forming its
FIFONAFE toward greater efficiency.          stands, and create space for pine re-       own technical team from disputing
Ultimately, however, the communi-            forestation. A project to establish an      tecnicos. External pressures emanate
ties hope to retain this investment          astilladora, or wood-chipping ma-           from local government, which is ac-
capital for their own development            chine,     would     allow     sales   to   customed to controlling most peasant          J

projects.                                    FAPATUX's pulp mills at a more ad-          organizations. The Sociedad's reso-
   But UZACHI itself is only a small,        vanced stage of processing and a            lutely apolitical stance and multiparty       1
new organization of five communities         higher price. This project is particu-      membership oblige it to fight for
with limited influence over Oaxaca's         larly    important     because     market   legitimation from local political au-
forestry sector. To increase its pres-       trends in forest products show paper        thorities.
ence, technical capacity, and capital        production to be more dynamic than
and credit potential, UZACHI helped          sawn wood.                                  MORE THAN
forrll a confederation in Oaxaca in             There are also a number of smaller       ECONOMICS
January 1991. The Sociedad de Silvi-         investments that should be made. For
cultores de Oaxaca, S.C., includes a         example, many community sawmills            As the Sociedad struggles to consoli-
second organization from the Sierra          are inefficiently run and need inten-       date itself, its value to Oaxaca and the
Juarez, the Union de Comunidades             sive technical assistance. The Socie-       Mexican nation becomes more clearly
Ixtlan-Etla, as well as forest commu-        dad and its advisors are also acutely       defined. The immediate value is not
nities from the southern Sierra. The         aware of the possibility of a Mexican       necessarily economic. For example,
Sociedad eventually hopes to become          free trade agreement with the United        Mexico's 1990 trade deficit of
the second significant forestry organi-      States and Canada and its probable          $314 million in forest products will
zation to emerge in Oaxaca (after            impact on local timber production. In       not be satisfied by the community en-
                                                                                         terprises    in    the    Sierra    Juarez.
                                                                                         FAPATUX, for example, must now
                                                                                         import raw materials from northern
       In the Sierra Juarez today, the real value of                                     Mexico because of declining supplies
      current production is retained entirely by local                                   from Oaxaca. In reality, however,
                                                                                         timber industries rarely contribute
         communities, a genuine breakthrough in                                          significantly to national development
                 grassroots development.                                                 because of government inefficiency in
                                                                                         capturing forest rents. As occurred in
                                                                                         Oaxaca, a few timber companies real-
                                             fact, timber from the United States         ize windfall profits, with neither gov-
UCEFO) in the last decade, and joins
                                             and Canada and from other Latin             ernment nor local communities accru-
the growing roster of other commu-
                                             American countries is entering Mex-         ing much benefit. But in the Sierra
nity forestry organizations at the na-
                                             ico now, and many sawmills have al-         Juarez today, the real value of the
tional level in Mexico.
                                             ready gone under. The Sociedad and          modest current production is retained
   Through      the   Sociedad,    more-
                                             its members are competing in an              entirely by the local communities, a
ambitious community development
                                             international    market     with    more-    genuine breakthrough in grassroots
and conservation projects can be un-
                                             efficient producers from other coun-         development.
dertaken. Lucas Pérez Ruíz, president
                                             tries, and they are scrambling to in-           These community enterprises also
of UZACHI and a schoolteacher in
                                                                                          represent another kind of develop-
the community of La Trinidad, says           crease their know-how.
                                                                                          ment, with a less easily calculable          \
that "the Sociedad will strengthen us           In addition to the economic chal-
                                                                                          value. Because they are exploiting
and enable us to get more resources.         lenge, the Sociedad also faces internal
                                                                                          their own timber, the communities            I
We need to find a way to use sawdust         and external pressures. Internally, it is
                                             off to a rocky start because of conflicts    are concerned with the sustainability
industrially, get wood chippers [for
                                             between SERCO and ERA, the two               of its economic value and ecological
news pulp], and deal with the prob-
                                             NGOs that had collaboratively sup-           services for future generations of
lem of oak dominance."
                                             ported its formation. Differences over       Mexicans.       The     emergence       of
   The Sociedad is preparing a variety
                                             strategies and the disposition of            UZACHI and the Sociedad also
of investment projects to present to
                                             scarce resources have led to a falling-      promises to contribute to a more
financing sources. One such project,
                                             out between the two groups, which            democratic rural society in Mexico.
for charcoal production, would allow
                                             has presented the Sociedad with the          Determinedly nonpartisan and focused
 the communities to exploit the under


24    Grassroots Development 15/3 1991
     cused on their interests as timber-               reaucrats, and leaders at all levels of   Human Organization and "Mexico:
     producing peasants, the organiza-                 the global community will be wres-        Campesinos and Coffee" in Hemi-
     tions represent the new face of                   tling with exactly how to bring this      sphere, co-authored with Luis
I    autonomous civil society in Mexico.               about. Comaltepec's leaders and citi-     Hernandez.
     Further, as the World Bank's Michael              zens must find a way to successfully         The author acknowledges the collabo-
.~
     Chemea has noted, these kinds of                  manage their community's entry into       ration of Fernando Melo, Rocío Solís,
     grassroots institutions should be                 the global economy in the last decade     Sergio    Madrid,    Francisco  Chapela,
     rightfully considered "a form of capi-            of the twentieth century; in doing so,    Yolanda Lara Padilla, Alejandro de
     tal accumulation" in their own right.             they must decide whether it will be as    Avila and the comuneros of Santiago
        The experience of Comaltepec and               coffee farmers, timber producers, for-    Comaltepec and San Mateo Calpulalpan
     other communities in the Sierra Jua-              est stewards-or maids and construc-       de Méndez for their support in the
     rez, as well as in Chihuahua, Quin-               tion workers in Santa Monica. Per-        elaboration of this article. Extremely
     tana Roo, and other areas of Mexico,              haps it will be as a combination of       useful technical comments were also
     suggests that the New Scientist's "op-            them all. Citizens and leaders of the     provided by Bruce Cabarle, Mario Ra-
     timistic premise" of the compatibility            world outside Comaltepec must be          mos, Alejandro de Avila, Alberto Var-
     of conservation and development is                prepared to respect the community's       gas, Brad Ack, and Carol Zabin.
     not unfounded. A new awareness is                 decisions and to help it gain the best
     growing among many development                    available knowledge on which to           REFERENCES
     and environmental organizations that              base its decisions. <>
     sustainability cannot occur without                                                         Chernea, Michael. 1987. Farmer Orga-
     both forces: There should be no con-                                                          nizations and Institution Building for
                                                       DAVID BARTON BRAY is a Founda-              Sustainable Development. Regional De-
     servation projects that are not also              tion representative for Mexico. His re-     velopment Dialogue Vol. 8, No.2: 1-19.
     development projects and no devel-                cent publications include" 'Defiance'     Lara Padilla, Yolanda. 1991. La Situacion
     opment projects that are not also con-            and the Search for Sustainable Small        Forestal en el Estado de Oaxaca. Un-
     servation projects.                               Farmer Organizations: A Paraguayan          published ms.
        In the years to come, citizens, bu-            Case Study and a Research Agenda" in      - 1991. EI Aprovechamiento Forestal
                                                                                                   Sostenible, un Reto para la Superviven-
                                                                                                   cia de la Industria Forestal en Oaxaca.
                                                                                                   Unpublished ms.
                                                                                                 Postel, Sandra and John C. Ryan. 1991.
                                                                                                   Reforming Forestry. In State of the World
                                                                                                   1991, edited by Lester R. Brown. New
                                                                                                   York: A Worldwatch Institute Report,
                                                                                                   w.w. Norton and Company.
                                                                                                 Sattaur,Omar. 1991. Last Chance for the
                                                                                                   Rain Forest Plan? New Scientist, March
                                                                                                   2, 1991.
                                                                                                 Szekely, E. Miguel and Sergio Madrid.
                                                                                                   1990. La Apropriacion Comunitaria de
                                                                                                   Recursos Naturales: Un caso de la Si-
                                                                                                   erra de Juarez, Oaxaca. In Recursos Na-
                                                                                                   turales, Hcnica y Cultura: Estudios y
                                                                                                   Experiencias para un Desarrollo Alterna-
,                                                                                                  tivo, edited by Enrique Leff. Meidco
                                                                                                   City: Universidad Nacional Autonoma
f                                                                                                  de Mexico.
                                                                                                 World Wildlife Fund. 1990. Proposed
                                                                                                   Program for the Implementation of
                                                                                                   Natural Resource Conservation Activi-
                                                                                                   ties in Oaxaca and Chiapas with Inter-
                                                                                                   national Support. Internal report.
                                                                                                 Zabin, Carol Ann. 1989. "Grassroots
     Members of the UZACHI association of forest communities use their new                         Development in Indigenous Communi-
     computer for making a complete inventory of local forests by species and age in               ties: A Case Study from the Sierra Jua-
     order to plan efficient and safe selective harvesting. A new confederation, which             rez in Oaxaca, Mexico." Ph.D. disserta-
     gives members a national voice, financed the computer.                                        tion, University of California, Berkeley.



                                                                                                   Grassroots Development 15/3 1991     25

				
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