Diversity at stake : a farmers' perspective on biodiversity and conservation in western Mexico

Gerritsen, P.R.W.


This study seeks to contribute to the scientific debate on biodiversity conservation in protected natural areas that are inhabited by local farming communities. More specifically, by combining rural sociological and community forestry theory it aims at understanding the farmers' role in natural resource management in biosphere reserves. The research underlying this book took place in the Sierra de Manantlán biosphere reserve in Western Mexico. Chapter 1 presents the theoretical framework of this study, while Chapters 2 to 7 describe the results of the fieldwork. In the concluding Chapter 8, the debate on biodiversity is re-examined by reflecting on the empirical findings. The Epilogue presents 10 policy recommendations.

Chapter 1 begins with an overview of the biodiversity debate. Since the 1970s, biodiversity has been a central topic in many discussions regarding the natural environment. Biodiversity is a concept from natural science that describes the biological diversity that can be distinguished at genetic, species and ecosystem level. It has become a leading principle in conservation in general, and in the management of species and ecosystems in protected areas in particular. Limitations of the concept emerge in relation to populated protected natural areas. Biodiversity primarily reflects values attributed by scientists; it is used predominantly as a scientific concept that refers primarily to the option, bequest and existence values of natural species. Farmers also attribute values to the diversity found in the natural environment, but these are predominantly instrumental values. Such instrumental values do not only include direct use values, but also indirect use values such as cultural and spiritual values. In response to these values, farmers have often actively maintained biodiversity in their land-use systems. Nowadays the 'human nature' of biodiversity is increasingly recognised, but the concept itself is still mainly used to refer to a biological phenomenon. Consequently, this concept cannot easily be used to gain insight into the social processes underlying the multiple manifestations of biodiversity in either natural or human-influenced environments, nor the process of transformation of biodiversity from natural to anthropogenic ecosystems.

These limitations demonstrate the need to re-assess the concept of biodiversity by focussing on local peoples' perspectives rather than scientific perspectives. Such a re-assessment is of special relevance when considering best approaches towards biodiversity conservation in protected areas inhabited by local communities. The theoretical foundations of this argument lie in the acceptance of social and biological heterogeneity. In this book, heterogeneity is analysed through the concepts of co-production, farming styles and resource diversity. Co-production refers to the multiple and often mutually reinforcing relationships between farmers and living nature. The role of farmers in co-production is analysed using the notion of farming styles, which refer to shared sets of notions and ideas on farming and the active responses of farmers to local ecological, socio-economic and political conditions. Resource diversity is described as the diversity in natural resources as known and actively maintained by farmers; it is the socio-material outcome of co-production. Resource diversity is created in a process of ongoing interactions and mutual transformations of natural and social phenomena. During this dynamic process of co-production, resource diversity is constantly produced and reproduced. This ongoing socio-material process includes an organisation of time and space that results in gradual transformations of resource diversity. Rather than leading to a process of unilateral loss of biodiversity, as is often assumed in official conservation efforts, such transformations result in changing landscape mosaics with each landscape unit representing and containing its own specific form of resource diversity. These changing landscape mosaics can offer new opportunities (or limitations) for farming styles. Consequently, both natural and social conditions are set for a new process of co-production.

Chapter 2 describes the study area, i.e. the indigenous community of Cuzalapa in the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve in Western Mexico. The Sierra de Manantlán is a mountain range that covers almost 140,000 hectares. It was declared a biosphere reserve in 1987, due to its biological diversity and great potential for commercial forestry and the harvest of non-timber forest products for medicinal and nutritional purposes.Thirty percent of the total area inside the Reserve is set aside as strictly protected core zones. The remaining land is the buffer zone, where less restrictive rules and regulations govern land-use by the farming communities. The peripheral area located outside of the Reserve is called the transition zone. The land tenure regulations of the Reserve were imposed on existing properties with their attendant tenure institutions. The scientific field station in the Reserve is state property and encompasses one percent of the total area. During its 15 years of existence, the Reserve's conservation mission has expanded from protection of individual species to an integrated conservation projectwith a regional approach to sustainable development. Realising the dual mission of conservation and development in practice, however, has challenged Reserve managers.

The indigenous community of Cuzalapa is located on the southern slopes of the Reserve. The community encompasses 23,963 hectares, of which approximately 72 per cent are in the buffer zone and 19 per cent are in one of the core zones. In 1995, the community comprised 1,330 inhabitants (302 families) living in a main village and eleven hamlets.Land-use in Cuzalapa is centred on maize cultivation, although cattle breeding has become increasingly important since the 1970s. Cattle breeding is characteristically extensive in labour and external inputs: scale enlargement is necessary for farm development. With low prices for corn, it has become the most important economic activity, including the trade of pasture and crop residues. Trees and forests are important for farmers for domestic purposes and in farming practice. Due to the Reserve's regulations, commercial exploitation no longer takes place.. In Cuzalapa, the process of co-production dates back to pre-Hispanic times. However, since the beginning of the twentieth century, many changes have taken place that have set both the natural and social conditions for a new process of co-production.

Chapter 3 describes the regional farming style in Cuzalapa. The regional farming style represents the shared set of notions and ideas that farmers have regarding farming practice. The regional farming style is characterised by a resource mobilisation that mainly takes place on the farm and in the community. Links with markets and institutions are weakly developed. The regional farming style is further characterised by an internal differentiation amongst farmers, who can be categorised as either Pobres or Ganaderos.Pobre farmers are involved in agriculture, small-scale cattle breeding, and off- and non-farm activities, while cattle-breeding activities dominate Ganadero farming practice. Pobre farmers' access to resources is severely limited, in contrast to that of Ganadero farmers.

Since the late 1960s, many processes have influenced the development of the regional farming style. Since that period, cattle-raising activities have become increasingly important and have been changing farming practice substantially. Cattle breeding has been triggered by dysfunctional community institutions in the 1960s/1970s, governmental policy in the 1970s/1980s and migration to the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, Pobre farm reproduction has become more difficult, which has made sharecropping more important. Moreover, the pasture trade has become a more important income source than maize. The development of Ganadero farms is not limited by their reproduction, but by their expansion, as currently all the community's land is in the hands of individual farmers. This altered situation of Pobre and Ganadero farmers has led to new responses to local ecological and socio-economic conditions. It also suggests that a transformation of the regional farming style is taking place and that new styles might be emerging.

Chapter 4 presents seven case studies of Cuzalapa farmers. A central feature of their descriptions is an economic analysis, illustrating different income sources in the farming strategies. Five Pobre case studies describe their livelihood strategies, which indicate that maize cultivation has been displaced as a main income source for family subsistence by pasture trade, remittances and off-farming income. Furthermore, the economic data indicate new farmer strategies are emerging that no longer fully coincide with the traditional production orientation underlying the regional farming style. Two Ganadero case studies shed light on the economic situation of these farmers. Their descriptions suggest the existence of two general categories: cattle-breeders who aim at increasing pasture availability within their own farms and who apply an intensive animal care strategy, and cattle breeders who aim at increasing pasture availability by buying grazing rights. Comparing the Pobre and Ganadero case studies reveals that both groups basically follow the same farming strategy of mobilising resources mostly within their own farms and in the community. Both can be considered peasants. Both are highly market dependent in the sense that any kind of changes in markets affect their farm development, even though Ganadero farmers can buffer these changes more easily. Finally, the expansion of cattle breeding indicates a trend towards an extensification of the agrarian system in Cuzalapa.

Chapter 5 describes resource diversity as known and actively maintained by Cuzalapa farmers at landscape level. At this level, farmers distinguish three main land-use zones: home gardens ( huertos ), cultivation fields ( yuntas and coamiles ) and grazing lands ( agostadero lands). The underlying criteria of this classification are the potential for land-use of the different parts of the landscape and the management practices that farmers apply within each of these parts. Within the main land-use zones, farmers further distinguish a number of subzones. Farmers subdivide the agostadero lands according to the characteristics of fields and the vegetation that they contain. The concept of agostadero refers not only to a spatial, but also to a temporal dimension. It refers not only to different parts of the landscape, but also to different agricultural cycles. The same is also true for the other units that compose resource diversity in Cuzalapa. Farmers do not explicitly distinguish forest resources (that is forest ecosystems and secondary vegetation) as separate land-use zones, but they consider them to be part of the grazing lands (that is agostaderos ). They refer to forest-related resource units as monte and arbolera, and they further classify this main class into a number of subclasses.

Underlying the farmers' differentiation of resource units is a vast body of ecological knowledge related to landscape patchiness, specific species distribution, the relation between physical aspects and species distribution and succession processes on abandoned land, growth characteristics of specific species, etc. This body of knowledge is embedded in the different farming domains and expressed through a number of folk concepts. In other words, it is part of the regional farming style. Farmers' knowledge of their natural environment is not unlimited but bounded. The boundaries of farmers' knowledge are set by co-production, that is, by both farming practice and the characteristics of the natural resources. They are also set by other factors, such as the land distribution situation and the creation of the Sierra de Manantlán biosphere reserve. The current land-distribution situation is characterised by the de facto privatisation of all community land, while the establishment of the biosphere reserve was accompanied by a set of new rules for natural resource use and management. Both factors represent the (wider) political-institutional context, in which co-production is embedded.

Chapter 6 focuses on the use and management of the different resource units in the landscape. Farmers make use of them in many ways, which are related to the household, agriculture and cattle breeding. Use is made of both components and (agro-)ecosystems as whole. The same applies to management practices: many are applied to the individual resource units in order to increase their utility for farming as a whole. Management practices too are applied to both components and (agro)-ecosystems as a whole. The description of the management of resource diversity makes it clear that its existence in Cuzalapa is an outcome of co-production, which involves a specific organisation of time and space. This indicates that resource diversity is actively created, maintained and transformed by farmers in order to meet their needs and aspirations regarding natural resources. Since the 1970s, a process can be observed in which resource diversity in Cuzalapa has been transformed to better meet the needs of farmers in relation to cattle-breeding activities. The transformation processes that are actually taking place in Cuzalapa's resource diversity suggest an impoverishment of landscape diversity, as several land-use zones are being transformed into pasture lands, and forest vegetation is being opened up to increase pasture availability. This trend might also have a negative effect on the distribution and composition of the biodiversity in Cuzalapa, but this was not specifically studied.

In Chapter 7 , attention shifts from the Cuzalapa farmers´ perspective to the Mexican policy perspective on natural resource management. This chapter discusses four main aspects. First, attention is given to the historical conformation of conservation in Mexican governmental planning. Secondly, the application of the biosphere reserve concept in Mexico is analysed. This analysis shows that biosphere reserves are challenged regarding the role of farmer participation, the implementation of zoning regulations and the strengthening of a favourable institutional environment. These three issues are the pillars of the application of the biosphere reserve concept in the region. Thirdly, the management programme of the Sierra de Manantlán biosphere reserve is discussed, which is the legal and operative framework for all actions in protected areas in Mexico. The management of biosphere reserves is based on a partial separation of farmers and living nature, and a great number of formal rules and regulations. Due to a partial knowledge on these rules and regulations by farmers and a partial implementation of them by the Reserve's management, insecurity over access to resources is present amongst many Cuzalapa farmers. Furthermore, the rules and regulations induce a reorganisation of time and space in resource diversity, which is more advanced in the core zone than in the buffer zone. This reorganisation suggests that a trend towards decreasing resource diversity and thus biodiversity will develop unless special measures are taken.

Chapter 8 discusses the overall results of this research, as well as the implications of the study. The implications of looking at resource diversity for the management of biosphere reserves are twofold. On the one hand, the concept of resource diversity allows us to obtain insight into the perceptions regarding natural resources of actors other than biosphere reserve managers. On the other hand, it sheds light on the social dynamics underlying its constitution. The specific case of Cuzalapa demonstrated that resource diversity as maintained by farmers could be regarded as one of the social carriers of biodiversity. The creation of the core zones represents an artificial separation of farming practice and biodiversity. As the existing biodiversity was not just pristine ecosystem-based, but based on the indigenously evolved landscape pattern, such segregation can negatively influence the biodiversity composition and distribution in the medium and long term, unless special measures are taken. These measures will have to be based on farming practices, or will have to imitate their effects. On the other hand, however, the current trends in the landscape of Cuzalapa might be interpreted as indicating the need for the maintenance of strictly protected areas within the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve in order to prevent these trends from developing into an overall landscape homogenisation leading to the loss of biodiversity.

In biosphere reserves opting for co-management of natural resources, resource diversity can be a helpful tool in discussions between different actors regarding natural resource use and management. While the concept of biodiversity puts emphasis on the 'ecological side' of natural resource management, the concept of resource diversity stresses the 'social side'. Using both concepts complementarily allows us to establish explicit interfaces for negotiating sustainable land-use and tailoring intervention approaches to the specific context of local communities. Finally, all too often farmers are conceived as functional partners in conservation, who have to made 'aware' of the importance of biodiversity conservation. Co-management of protected areas is possible only within a new conservation professionalism, which, amongst others, addresses the need for conservation in local notions and processes rather than scientific concepts alone.

Chapter 8 concludes with a number of conditions that have to be fulfilled in order to strengthen endogenous conservation potential, which includes resource diversity. These conditions include the recognition of the existence of multiple perspectives on biologoca; diversity, the creation of platforms for resource management, the redefinition of participation and of the role of science and scientists and the necessity of the combination of ecological and sociological knowledge.

Finally, in the Epilogue , an attempt is made to translate the theoretical-empirical discussions of Chapters 1 to 7 into 10 practical recommendations for policy makers and practitioners.