A Mexican Hope to Latin America: Massive Reforestation Campaign.

Name: Alejandra Plaza Limon

Age: 26

Country: Mexico

A Mexican Hope to Latin America: Massive Reforestation Campaign.

By Alejandra Plaza Limón

The problem

The goodness of healthy forests are well known, and many benefits come within, including they produce oxygen, prevent erosion, provide water and regulate temperature. As former Vice President Al Gore said: "the best technology to fight global warming is a tree!” It is difficult not to agree with him, however, several challenges arise when securing better forests to communities in Mexico.

One of the main problems, according to data from Reforestamos México, is that the survival rate for national reforestation projects done by government agencies is just 30%. How to ensure that the initial impact of a reforestation campaign generates a lasting impact on the communities? The reforestation initiative is a great step forward, but the maintenance and active care of at least 3 years are crucial to ensure forests survival.

The experience

It was August 2018, almost the end of the reforestation season in the areas surrounding Mexico City. The desire of companies that wanted to leave their green mark on the planet had grown from almost one moment to another. At that time, the NGO Reforestamos México received many requests from more than 10 companies willing to join the last day of the reforestation season. All the companies were ready to invest in the reforestation campaign.

We all wanted the companies turned their goodwill into action to benefit our city and the planet. Therefore, after many planning, everything was set up. We organized a massive reforestation campaign that was designed to reforest 6 hectares with hartwegii pines in the foothills of the Nevado de Toluca Volcano, together with approximately 2 thousand volunteers and more than 10 companies. This was something very unusual.

Landscape in Nevado de Toluca area is wonderful. Mountains, forests, lakes, endemic species and communities full of life surround it. The Nevado is also a wooded area of vital importance for the Valley of Mexico. Each of the trees that populate its slopes impacts the quality of the air and the underground aquifers that nourish the central part of the country; indeed, it is a true green lung.

That day, we hopped on the bus at 6 am, with clear instructions to leave a memorable experience in our volunteer’s hearts. While practicing Scouts’ songs, a small speech about the activity, and my brief training on how to plant a tree, all brigade volunteers including me, were filled with a thrill of excitement. We were in charge of leading employees with their families into the flora and fauna of the area, talk to them about the local species and introduce them with our community leader, that would take us to our land to reforest. I got assigned ten volunteers, ten hearts, but also twenty hands ready to get dirty in action.

We arrived at the place. The property was located in the Loba property, below the slopes of the Nevado de Toluca Volcano. All the area was divided into small portions, sized enough to reforest with the volunteers each brigade got assigned. Our local guide provided us with shovels, gloves and an explanation about the local life and the benefits of the forests.

My team was strong and fearless. They were excited and in a rush of four hours, we finished our portion to reforest. Without noticing we started helping other sides of a portion until finally, everyone was feeling tired. One of the activities was to choose a tree they planted, select a name and leave a message on it. It was incredible to notice the messages people left. "Plant me and I will give you oxygen to live." "May nature grow and replenish with the help of these hands." "To grow you need to trust in yourself, you can do it!" At that moment I felt that hope was becoming action. And I'm sure they felt it too.

An effective strategy

The impact generated by Reforestamos México is impressive. Better Alliances, Better Forests (BABF) is the program they designed to pursue an organized and effective action plan to reforest a degraded area, intending to make it sustainable. MAMB is a national program that promotes restoration and conservation of forests. It is an action plan that unites different sectors of society: ejidos and communities, governments, businesses and youth. The program works to generate intersectoral alliances and thus restore degraded areas to obtain healthy forests.

The vertical integration of the program is what has constituted them as a successful pioneer in forest conservation in our country. Integration begins with direct contact with companies, supporting them in developing a social responsibility program focused on the sustainable development of forests. Alliances are created to ensure financial support, in which the company undertakes not only the reforestation effort but also the adoption of their reforested area. The investment that companies make in adopting a forest is divided into objectives to catalyze several problematics, including environmental, event organization and social work.

In the environmental sector, the monitoring and maintenance of the area are included for 3 years, in which a community forestry brigade would protect and maintain the forest with conservation actions such as replanting, fire prevention, surveillance, fencing, soil retention, and water harvesting. For the reforestation event, the coordination of the event would be held plus a scouting and a prior awareness-raising workshop; the event includes the collaboration of young leaders who guide the group on that day. In the social work area, the creation of productive projects with the communities and ejidos is promoted, where the people who inhabit the forests manage to create their own companies.

With this strategy, the NGO ensures the survival of the trees, and in their successful figures, 80% of the forests in which the MAMB program has worked, has managed to survive.

Some encouraging information is that since the creation of the program in 2011, this NGO has worked in more than 10,800 hectares with the help of 97,635 volunteers, planting more than 2.2 million trees, benefiting 500 families with the generated jobs. In 2018 alone, they participated with 17,425 volunteers from 76 companies in 17 Protected Natural Areas, which translated into restoration actions in more than 132 hectares in twelve states of the country, including Estado de México, Jalisco, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Puebla, Yucatán, amongst others.

Turning hope into action

Deforestation in Mexico has been a collective misfortune caused by poverty, misconceived government policies, greed of some loggers, tree poaching, and poor technical supervision. In general, Latin America region faces great risks due to deforestation and their effects on climate change. The urgent moment to act is now. So, what can we do to turn our hope into action?

After an exhaustive review, the Mexican NGO I volunteered with, believes that the key for reforestation campaigns could be to have a forest management plan vertically aligned, with the local residents as operators and benefactors. It should be noted that the economic model of this NGO began in 2011 just in the nearby cities of our capital. Today they have been able to replicate the program, make it grow and maximize its impact in more than 12 states.

If the replication of the program could be made in every country in Latin America, we could at least reduce 30% of greenhouse emissions. Implementing in our countries practices such as the BABF program to generate sustainable economic cycles and healthy forests, bring with it an inter-sectoral benefit and, in the long run, hope for our world.