Study sites

FOREFRONT has three study sites located in Mexico and Brazil, which face important land use challenges and conflicts. These areas reflect gradients in formal and informal institutional arrangements, governance, regulations and their local implementation. In another layer, the studied landscapes present a large variation of interactions between people and their land, defined by cultural and history, and shaped by geo-political (e.g. NAFTA; Mexico) and geo-biophysical (e.g. infrastructure, mountains, biodiversity conservation areas) boundary conditions.

In Mexico, FOREFRONT studies two landscapes located at the sub-humid tropical forest region of Chiapas: La Sepultura and Marqués de Comillas. The rural landscapes are composed of agricultural fields (pastures, cropland), regrowing forests and fragments of old-growth forests. Cattle ranching is the main economic activity nowadays, but palm extraction and smallholder agriculture also play a role in shaping the landscape.

La Sepultura, Mexico

The region of Frailesca is located in the southern state of Chiapas in Mexico. This region was intensively colonized during 1960’s by farmers practicing slash and burn agriculture for maize cultivation. By the end of 1980’s, maize profitability dropped and cattle ranching was introduced. In 1995, the La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve was created by UNESCO, aiming to foster sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity conservation. The Reserve is comprised by a core zone (8% of the area) covered by native forests and designated for biodiversity conservation, and by a buffer zone (92% of the area: 167,309 ha) where many farmers dwells. There is a marked altitudinal gradient that characterizes the native vegetation cover and the land use practices. Open rangelands are dominant at 600-900 meters above sea level (masl). At 900-1200 masl shrubby pastures dominate and are followed by rangelands forested with oaks and/or pines at the top of the gradient (1200-1600 masl). The altitudinal gradient and the historical and current land use practices promote a complex mosaic of different forest types (riparian, semi-dry and pine forests) and land use practices (milpas, maize, pasture, etc). Current practices for livestock production have resulted in soil and pasture degradation, which are particularly marked during the dry season.

Marqués de Comillas, Selva La Candona, Chiapas, Mexico

The region of the Selva Lacandona in the state of Chiapas in Southern Mexico is the largest remaining area of tropical rainforest in Mexico, and is currently threatened by an increasing deforestation rate. Embedded in the Selva Lacandona is the municipality of Marqués de Comillas (hereafter MdC), which was an nearly uninhabited rainforest until the colonization process started in the 1970’s through the 1980’s by farmers from other Mexican states and by refugees from the civil conflicts in Guatemala. Through the land reform program of the Mexican government, 27 ejidos were established, which harbour a population that has grown from 5,157 people in 1990 to 9,856 in 2010. Over this process, the tropical forest has been transformed into a mix of human settlements, secondary forests, agricultural fields, pasture lands, and a remaining 40% forest cover. Nowadays, cattle ranching remains one of the more widespread economic activities and the most common form of land-use in MdC.

Zona da Mata, Minas Gerais, Brazil

In Brazil, the studied landscape is located at the Atlantic Forest domain, at the Zona da Mata region of Minas Gerais. Little natural forests are left and land degradation, associated with cattle ranching and coffee mono-cropping is concurrent with re-ruralization and land rehabilitation towards coffee agroforestry.