Sustainable future in CZH

Creating a sustainable future for smallholder farmers in Mexico

WWF and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship continue to collaborate to protect and manage natural resources for the benefit of people and the environment.


The collaboration seeks to improve livelihoods and protect and enhance biodiversity while transitioning to more environmentally sustainable business practices. 

Building on the work, lessons, and community relations of these last 16 years, IKEA Social Entrepreneurship and WWF Mexico, working with WWF Nature Pays, began a new partnership in 2020, aiming to improve the operations and access to markets of 13 social enterprises, whose work and products aid in the conservation of Copalita-Zimatan-Huatulco (CZH) watersheds. 

Here, we find Nayé, Guiliani, and Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepecto, three social enterprises that engage in the responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. 


A sustainable future in Copalita Zimatan-Huatulco

The Copalita-Zimatan-Huatulco watersheds lie in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico and are pieced and held together by ecosystems made up of mangroves in the South, and sinuous hills of pine-oak forests in the North, with endemic species of birds like the Sinaloa Wren and the Golden-cheeked Woodpecker flying over them 1.

In the upstream portion of the CZH, surrounded by this life, lies the municipality of San Miguel Suchixtepec, a community of approximately 3,000 people. The residents of San Miguel are mostly of Zapotec ethnicity, an indigenous group that, along with pre-Mayan Chontal, have a presence in the region that can be traced back to 15,000 years 2.

WWF story - CZH (photo by Antonio Hernández Ramos / WWF-México)

Unfortunately, this environmentally and culturally significant landscape suffers from deforestation caused by excess logging, water contamination from domestic, urban, and agricultural sources, and the effects of climate change on water availability. Since 2004, WWF has worked with communities like San Miguel Suchixtepec to monitor, safeguard and restore the landscape through reforestation, capacity building with the best agriculture and water management practices.

The 13 social enterprises participating in the Community Conservation Programme are made up of people from communities living within the watersheds, including San Miguel Suchixtepec. These social entrepreneurs are inspired by generations of Zapotec knowledge and traditions that seek a more balanced relationship between people and nature. 

To recognize and celebrate our collaboration with them Nayé, Guitiani, and Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepecto share their thoughts about how Zapotec culture and their relationship with nature empowers them to create sustainable livelihoods for their communities and future.  


Cosmovision of nature

To Fabiola from Nayé, Porfirio from Guitiani, and Romeo from Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec (AAS) the ever-present nature surrounding San Miguel Suchixtepec is not regarded as an object to be used and discarded, but rather as an integral part of their lives. 

WWF story - Fabiola, Romeo and Porfirio (photo by Antonio Hernández Ramos / WWF-México)

They find it not only a joy to live in the region but also consider themselves as people of the forest. Feeling they have everything they need surrounding them, they understand the need to protect the life in the Copalita-Zimatan-Huatulco region and not work against nature, but with it. Carefully considering that overexploitation for them means destroying nature and therefore their livelihoods. Without it, says Porfirio, they wouldn’t be able to exist. Their cosmovision, or rather worldview of life around them shapes the way they treat the soil they till, the water they drink, and the crops they grow.

   

Nature means life, without it we wouldn’t exist It gives you food, water, clothing, everything. If nature didn’t exist, no amount of money in the world would help you. That’s exactly why one thinks about how to pass down this sentiment of nature to other generations, to the future.

Porfirio, Guitiani

WWF story - Porfirio (photo by Antonio Hernández Ramos / WWF-México)

 

Stewards of nature and tradition

Fabiola, Porfirio and Romeo practice the responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. To them the protection of nature comes from their ancestors; the people learned from; how they took care of soil, animals and flowers etc. Keeping these traditions alive and remembering where they came from allows them to give nature its proper place and value in their way of living and working.

For example, Romeo’s farm involves pear, apple and peach trees grown alongside corn stalks on steep slopes. The farm’s production involves organic, self-made fertilizers and seeks to reduce erosion by interchanging fruit trees with commonly grown corn. Around his farm, signs in Zapotec language explain the work AAS does and why:
 

You can’t separate Zapotec language from agroecology, they go hand in hand (…) We put signs in Zapotec so people from the community can see what we do in our mother language. We don’t want it [Zapotec] to disappear. (…) Some agricultural practices need to be passed down in Zapotec, there is no other way; if you ask an elder to explain it in Spanish, it’s not possible.

Romeo, Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec

Naye’s products, made of native species of medicinal plants, carry Fabiola’s grandfather’s legacy and his gift for curing ailments with natural products, famous in San Miguel Suchixtepec. Like him, she blesses thyme, rosemary and the other plants in Naye’s nursery before and after using them to make products:

   

When we started Nayé, the people in the community were happy we were continuing my grandfather’s work. They know the ointments and soaps we make because my grandfather made them. (…) We preserve native plants and do what our ancestors always did: finding out how certain plants can help us. I’d love for my children to learn and carry this knowledge to the future, so they can do this when we are no longer here.

Fabiola, Nayé

Porfirio’s vision Guitiani, a farm of different fruits grown via methods similar to Romeo’s, comes from his father’s teachings.


Community Conservation Enterprises - powerful allies for conservation

Along with 10 other social enterprises from different parts of CZH, Nayé, Guitiani and AAS, are Community Conservation Enterprises (CCE): enterprises that provide dignified, sustainable livelihoods, that preserve the ecosystems in the watersheds.

WWF story - CCE (photo by Antonio Hernández Ramos / WWF-México)

Beyond having successful, environmentally-friendly businesses, however, these enterprises aim to develop their products and overcome challenges on their terms: faithful to the cultural and family traditions they’re rooted in.
 

Competition is our biggest challenge. There are companies with better presentations and marketing, but we're told people like our story and how we came to be. And among us, we say that we need to believe in our product, believe in its effectiveness, and hope people do so as well.

Fabiola, Nayé

   

We struggle to be completely independent and make and improve our organic agri-inputs – fertilizers, pesticides – and increase our productivity through agro-ecology. (…) But we are working on it, generating ideas and learning how to apply science on our processes.

Romeo, Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec

   

We need to find a stable, committed market for our product. At times we don’t work 100% of our time on parcels of land, because we know that we’ll have a lot of product, but no place to sell it.

Porfirio , Guitiani



The Community Conservation Programme

Since April 2020, IKEA Social Entrepreneurship and WWF Mexico have joined forces in an innovative programme integrating conservation, sustainable agriculture (agroecology) and livelihoods in the rural regions of Mexico.
 
The Community Conservation Programme improves the lives of 1,500 people, mostly indigenous Zapotecs, who depend on the land for an income. The programme was built on a strong sustainability foundation, including environmental conservation, equality and circularity. And with many of the participating enterprises being on different maturity levels, the programme also provides tailored support that fit the needs and potential of each of these enterprises. Some focusing on market access while others establish a solid organisation.

Besides Naye, Guitiani, Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec the programme also supports 10 Community Conservation enterprises in improving their products and access to markets. Six of them are staffed exclusively by women. Women and youth will also be more prominently involved in decision-making and governance processes under the partnership.
 
During the first year of the partnership, workshops were carried out to teach the enterprises about organic inputs like bocashi, a fertilizer that can be made with excess natural materials from normal agricultural productions.

WWF story - Romeo workshop  (photo by Antonio Hernández Ramos / WWF-México)

The partnership also carried out business development workshops to help the enterprises envision their goals and reach them:
 

During the workshop, they asked us to draw how we see Nayé in the future, and we came up with a drawing where people from the community helped grow the plants we use for our products (..) they help us visualize Naye’s value, its future and how to get there; how to plan better and how to interact with each other. Everything helps us so much.

Fabiola, Nayé

 

We're 13 members in AAS; the workshops helped visualize a singular dream because every member has different visions for AAS. It helped us create a collective dream by helping us join ideas, goals, and aspirations. This is nice because it helps us believe in AAS, and maybe it stops people from migrating and looking for jobs elsewhere. This happens here. (…) The other workshops taught us how to improve our agri-inputs, like how to make better fertilizers and compost; all of this improves AAS.

Romeo, Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec


Successful CCE's like Naye, Guitiani and AAS are essential for preserving and restoring the region's biodiversity. By combining sustainable ecosystems and agriculture with job and income opportunities, whole communities such as the Zapotecs are given the tools to regenerate themselves. In the process improving livelihoods for the long run, creating jobs and reducing the number of people in poverty which in turn puts a stop to them migrating.



The road ahead

Although not free of obstacles, these three social entrepreneurs’ journey is marked and paved by the generations that walked them before. Headstrong, Nayé, Guitiani, and AAS build on their grandfathers and parents' work before them. Beyond pine trees, flowing rivers, and hills, the Copalita-Zimatán-Huatulco watersheds are pieced and held together by more than its nature, but by the beliefs of people like Romeo, Fabiola, and Porfirio, committed to making sure the ancient landscape is there for future generations.

Through the Community Conservation Programme, IKEA Social Entrepreneurship and WWF Mexico hope to deliver long-term economic benefits for the Zapotec community and others, alongside positive outcomes for nature.  Benefiting from the diverse ecosystems of the region, the natural environment is better protected and managed, making a positive impact on the world.

WWF story - Fabiola and baby (photo by Antonio Hernández Ramos / WWF-México)

Related links


[1]
Mansourian, S., González Mora, I.D., Palmas Tenorio, M.A., Spota Diericx, G.  and Vallauri, D., 2020. Lessons Learned from 15 Years of Integrated Watershed Management and Forest Restoration: the Copalita-Zimatán-Huatulco Landscape in Mexico. Paris: WWF France, WWF report, field series, Experiences in Forest Landscape Restoration, 44 pages.

[2] Danver, S., 2015. Native Peoples of the World: An Ency-clopedia of Groups Cultures and Contemporary Issues. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 1030 pages.

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