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Many challenges, many rewards: Working together to strengthen Mexico’s forest sector

Selene Castillo

This blog post was submitted by Carole Megevand, Sr. Natural Resources Management Specialist and Forest Lead for the World Bank Group

In few cases do arguments for simultaneously improving economic, social and environmental outcomes merge as clearly as in Mexico’s forest sector.

At 64.8 million hectares, forests cover a third of Mexico’s land, contributing to its status as one of only 17 megadiverse countries in the world. Moreover, some 80% of forests are owned by communities, meaning that forests are crucial to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

But sustainably managing this wealth of forest resources is far from easy, as deforestation and forest degradation are the results of complex dynamics at the landscape level. This challenge is evident in the country’s forest trends: while the rate of deforestation has declined significantly over the last decade, Mexico is still losing about 150,000 hectares of forest land each year, much of it to agriculture as well as logging activities.

However, under Mexico’s ambitious National Forest Program (PRONAFOR 2014-2018), the government wants to reverse this trend and transform its forest resources into a competitive and socially inclusive sector, and thereby boost rural economies. The plan involves increasing areas of certified sustainably managed forest, as well as land under commercial plantation. Equally important, PRONAFOR seeks to increase payments for environmental services, and to improve the social and economic status of people living in forested areas, including by creating thousands of permanent jobs.

So, what does it take to tackle deforestation in a country like Mexico?

This question was at the center of a two-day forum convened jointly by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) and the Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA) with the support of the World Bank and PROFOR. The forum was important as the first platform for discussing an integrated landscape level approach for Mexico.

Participants -- representing all levels of government agencies for agriculture and forestry, and regional experts -- discussed how the policies and programs from the different parts of the government could be better aligned to offer communities a coordinated package that would help them define the best use of their lands, based on their comparative advantage. This integrated approach got a lot of traction at the technical level and beyond, with one participant pointing out that such an appraoch is also good use of government resources!

At the forum’s close participants were energized as they reached agreement on a road map for a landscape approach in selected states of Mexico where REDD+ interventions have been prioritized (Peninsula de Yucatan, Chiapas and Jalisco). The roadmap sets out short, medium and long terms actions that will make integrated landscape management a reality. CONAFOR and SAGARPA confirmed their commitment to build on the very positive outcome of the forum to define a new model for interventions to support sustainable rural development in Mexico. One of the very immediate actions was the establishment of a working group with CONAFOR and SAGARPA representatives to work on the Operation Rules for the two major programs respectively run by the two entities, namely the Program for Environment Services and the Livestock Program to seek enhanced coordination.

The roadmap compliments Mexico’s Program for community- based landscape approach to reduce GHG emissions. The proposed Program, supported by the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, aims to further transform the management of forests across regions within Mexico, through a truly integrated approach at the landscape level. The program will combine a wide range of activities that promote rural development with low carbon emissions ranging from sustainable forest management to silvo-pastoral techniques, grazing rotation, conservation tillage, agro-ecology, afforestation, reforestation, restoration and forest certification to reduce emissions of GHG.

Both the roadmap and this forward looking program promise to be a game changer in the way Government supports rural development and is expected to benefit millions in Mexico who depend on forests. Stay tuned for further updates on the results of this work. 

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