Restoring terrestrial ecosystems in Mexico: challenges and opportunities

Restoration area in Sierra Huautla, in Morelos state, Mexico. Photo credit: Cristina Martinez-Garza, State University of Morelos (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos), Cuernavaca, Morelos state, Mexico.
3 August 2018

MEXICO CITY (Landscape News) – Landscape restoration initiatives are receiving renewed focus in Mexico with the release of a new report, which evaluates the country’s potential to develop a national plan of action.

Discussions at a recent panel presentation at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) detailed findings of a study titled “The restoration of terrestrial ecosystems in Mexico,” which examined 75 projects undertaken in Mexico since 1979.

Panellists discussed Mexico’s commitments to restore 8.5 million hectares of degraded land under Initiative 20×20, a framework supporting the Bonn Challenge through efforts to restore 20 million hectares of land in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2020.

This is the second study of its kind in Latin America — after one on Colombia — and a similar study for Ecuador is already under way, said Manuel Guariguata, principal scientist, Forest Management and Restoration Leader at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and co-author of both studies.

“Mexico’s national restoration plans should be properly informed in terms of human and technical capacities and should be based on lessons learned from previous ecological restoration initiatives,” Guariguata said.

“In this sense, the study offers important information about how ecological restoration has been approached in Mexico, as well as the institutional, biophysical and socioeconomic challenges to overcome in the future.”

Almost half of Mexico’s landscape is degraded, and the country took its first steps toward developing a restoration plan in 2015. At that time, CONABIO (National Commission for Biodiversity Use and Knowledge) and CRIM (Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Research, UNAM) organized the workshop “Challenges and perspectives to comply with international agreements on ecological restoration.” Attendees planned maps of priority sites for restoration and evaluated previous restoration projects, leading to the recent workshop and a national plan of action.

For Moisés Méndez-Toribio, lead author of the study, and other members of the 2018 panel, achieving Mexico´s ambitious international commitments on restoration seems unlikely. However, he said he is hopeful that the new study will encourage, strengthen and guide restoration efforts in Mexico.

“The next step for the creation of a national restoration plan would be to bring together all the actors interested in restoration,” Mendez-Toribio said. “The objective of this gathering would be to build a common vision and to elaborate a suitable platform for building the plan.”

Méndez-Toribio and Julia Carabias-Lillo, Mexico’s former environment secretary, agreed on the importance of government programs, which have funded 73 percent of restoration projects, according to the study.

Two government programs were highlighted at the presentation: CONABIO’s Restoration and Environmental Compensation Program, which led to the execution of restoration projects between 2004 and 2016; and CONAFOR´s (National Forestry Commission), an initiative implementing a major reforestation project since 2013.

However, despite these efforts, Mexico “is lacking a program that compels the government to carry out a country-wide restoration initiative that goes beyond planting trees,” said Carabias-Lillo.

A lack of resources for implementation and the efforts required to establish agreements with land owners are the two biggest challenges, said Cristina Martínez-Garza, co-author and researcher at Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos (State University of Morelos), adding

that it is worrying that public universities and CONACYT (National Commission for Science and Technology) centers are receiving less and less funding when their participation is crucial to fulfill Mexico´s international commitments.

One finding was that in about half of the cases evaluated, the projects were carried out in ejidos (communal lands) and the other 50 percent were carried out in natural protected areas, 58 percent of which included human inhabitants, said Eliane Ceccon, co-author and researcher on restoration, environment and society at CRIM.

The communities were the main decision takers and participated in the execution of restoration projects — in around 70 percent of the cases, she said. However, they did not participate in planning the project, which is a challenge to future sustainable restoration programs in Mexico.

Local communities must get involved in the projects from its planification to its execution,” Ceccon said. “That way we can maximize the tangible and intangible benefits. Since the 1970s, those studying social participation have found that a community can more easily take over a project when they actively participate on its elaboration and execution.”

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