If you should happen to drink a glass of water in Mexico City, you should know that its journey probably began in the watershed of the Amanalco Valle Bravo Basin. There, the water was stored in the soil of the forest floor before it flowed through lakes and rivers surrounded by small farms.
But the quality and quantity of this water begins with the health of the land it flows through.
“There is a direct link between the healthiness of the basin, the land management of the forests, and the quality and quantity of water supplied to Mexico City,” said Sergio Madrid Zubirán, Executive Director of Consejo Civil Mexicano para la Silvicultura Sostenible (CCMSS).
Sixty percent of the land that supports this water supply is owned by communities and ejidos, or cooperatives of family farmers. Of course, the Amanalco basin does far more than supply water. It includes a rich resource base of over 35,000 hectares of temperate forest, 18,000 hectares of agricultural land, 5,300 hectares of pastureland and 1,770 hectares of surface bodies of water. It is home to more than eight thousand people, mostly peasant farmers earning their livelihoods from timber, forest products and agriculture. A dam also generates hydroelectric power for the surrounding region.
But in the last thirty years, the land has declined swiftly: erosion, land degradation, deforestation and fires have led to decreased crop outputs and diminished the water supply. In addition, the farmers depended on chemical fertilizers that were swept downstream, polluting lakes and causing disease. Where farmers in the valley once harvested around three tonnes of maize per hectare, now it can be as little as little as 300 kg. And the private company that managed the forest did little to encourage reforestation and prevent forest fires.
But Consejo Civil Mexicano para la Silvicultura Sostenible (CCMS), a non-governmental organization, is using an integrated approach to tackle the problems of this diverse landscape. Through building the capacity of the local famer’s union, they have strengthened the farmers’ ability to govern their own land and knowledge about sustainable land management. For instance, they helped farmers develop work plans to improve the soil quality of their plots using natural fertilizer, increasing their harvests. CCMSS also works with small forest landholders to promote better land use, such as preventing invasive weeds and restoration after forest fires.
CCMSS uses a unique approach that targets the whole family, from child to grandparent. “Every event we plan is like a picnic,” said Marcela Ortiz Aranda, Donor Relations Coordinator of CCMSS. This prevents the knowledge from being lost if one family member migrates to the city. So far, CCMSS has reached 1,500 families and assisted in forestry management over 15,200 hectares.
It is also one of the first organizations in Mexico to pilot carbon finance (REDD+) and payment for ecosystem services programs in Mexico. For their success in strengthening communities to sustainably manage the land, CCMSS was awarded the 2013 Land for Life Award by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
This blog is the third in a series about the 2013 winners of the Land for Life Award (read the first here and second here) featured during the Agriculture and Ecosystem’s month-long focus on Restoring Landscapes.
Applications for the 2014 Land for Life award are now open.